The beginning of the season has been tumultuous, to say the least, for Lakers forward Julius Randle. After an offseason of working to get in hulk-like physical shape and trying to improve upon many areas including his three-point shooting, the pending free agent has been benched.
Randle has been noticeably annoyed with the ongoing situation and it has started to impact his play on the court. After being a starter for the majority of his career and clearly outplaying current starter Larry Nance, Jr. in preseason play there is certainly a justifiable reason for his grievance. But one thing should be clear about this dilemma, it is not a knock on Nance, Jr., he has been serviceable in his first three starts, but it is hard to wonder what the team would look like with a more talented player in his spot.
Going into preseason there was a growing hope that Randle playing alongside Brook Lopez and Lonzo Ball would help unlock some of his full potential as a player. Lopez has the ability to be a stretch big to pair with Randle that the Lakers have been searching the past three seasons for. With Randle’s outside shot being a work in progress the idea was that Lopez can space the floor while alleviating some of the burdens on Randle when he gets in the lane.
Unfortunately, we have yet to see that, due partially to Lopez missing time in the preseason with a back injury, but mainly due to the Luke Walton and the coaching staff deciding to create a competition for the starting power forward spot that, quite frankly, was unnecessary.
Over the first three games of the season, Randle has yet to play 25 minutes in a game, he has been playing the bulk of his minutes with the bench unit and you can see the frustration in his play. He has never been a consistently energetic player, and he can be known to take plays off, but since his demotion, it has been a common occurrence. That is something he will have to fix, regardless of what his role on the team is, they are a better club when he plays hard and makes an impact on the game. As discontented as he may be at this point, he is still a vital part of the team and can become a force for the second unit much like we saw in preseason alongside rookie Kyle Kuzma.
Julius has seemingly started to understand that his approach to the game must be tinkered with. After the team’s comeback efforts against the New Orleans Pelicans fell short he spoke with Serena Winters of Lakers Nation about how he adjusted prior to that game, which ended up being his best so far this year.
“For me, it is more than just my play, it’s my attitude, along with my effort & how I make other people feel.”
These types of statements will clearly have to be backed up by on the court production and energy but are a welcome sign that the 22-year old is still on board.
Walton praised Julius’ performance against the Pelicans and spoke to him about the how to make this uncomfortable transition work for him. There appears to be an open dialogue between Walton and Randle about this situation and that bodes well for not just those two, but the team as well.
This is uncharted territory for a player who has been the focal point of the team for the majority of his tenure but if the Lakers are to be a competitive team, he will need to play through the quarrels and be effective when his number is called. And who knows, maybe that will lead to him getting more time with the starters or even back in that lineup permanently.
One thing is for sure, the situation between Randle and the coaching staff has improved and it is largely due to Randle taking a mature avenue through the process.