Julius Randle has been the most improved player on the Los Angeles Lakers this season. The power forward looks noticeably more skilled and under control. He has improved from a one-dimensional player to one who can score, pass, and defend decently.
So what has been the key behind Randle’s huge stride forward? According to the Kentucky product, it’s a combination of multiple things, starting with the team’s progression as a whole.
Following from Randle’s appearance on The Vertical Podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski:
Guys still hate losing. It pisses everybody off but it’s a very positive environment. I think as a team we have an identity of who we can be. We’ve shown potential. Last year was so up and down. You didn’t really know what was going on. It was hard because […] I don’t think we could have really built off of things last year. This year, I think it’s different because we can build. We have an identity as a team. Everybody is kind of meshing and gelling together. I think we’ve shown potential as the team we can be. It’s just about being consistent and building off of it and I think that’s the key which is why it’s so positive and more encouraging this year.
Randle was sure to steer away from placing blame on Byron Scott, saying “I love B” regarding the former head coach. But he did maintain that certain players respond better to certain coaches and coaching styles, citing Luke Walton as the catalyst behind the Lakers’ collective step forward:
“Guys have just bought in. You see guys all the time, they go to a different team and they break out and play so much better just cause it’s a new environment. But [Walton’s] done a great job of establishing his environment, how he wants us to play. And I also think losing does that. You lose a lot and you go ‘we gotta do something different.'”
But Randle had plenty to say about his personal growth, as well. When asked about what he’s learned to do better since entering the league, Randle gave a very detailed and informed response:
“Moving without the ball, which I’m still learning a lot from. Especially now in the AAU scene and colleges and stuff like that, guys have a tough time playing with others because they’ve always been so ball-dominant in their career. So you kind of have to have that adjustment […]
And the second thing is you gotta kind of just take what’s there. You can’t really force things. If the jumpshot’s there, you gotta learn to slow down, just take the jumpshot. Or if the drive is there or if the pass is there, guys are so talented and so skilled, so long and so athletic in this league that if you don’t do that, you’d kind of be out there looking crazy. So just kind of slow down and take what’s there.”
The most promising aspect of this quote is that you can see that Randle has taken that knowledge seriously and implemented it in his game. He’s been a much better screener and roller in the half-court offense, developing a strong chemistry with D’Angelo Russell.
He has also been a more controlled player. Rather than driving to the rim with his down and throwing up a prayer, Randle has been more willing to find open shooters and cutters and more willing to use a mid-range game that is already improving, perhaps another sign of the mentoring provided by Kobe Bryant as he alluded to later in the podcast.
It’s encouraging to hear Julius Randle talk so informatively about the changes to his game and around the team as a whole. But it has been even more encouraging to watch it happen in front of our eyes as Randle continues his growth into a solid piece for the Lakers’ future..