SAN DIEGO -- Julius Randle's NBA career began with a bang as the rookie wowed the crowd at Valley View Casino Center with a thunderous dunk. It wasn't all peaches and cream for Randle during his debut in the Los Angeles Lakers preseason victory, but he looked like the NBA-ready product the Lakers gladly selected with the seventh-overall pick in this past summer.
Randle sat in the Lakers locker room soaking in his NBA debut while the media frenzy in San Diego hung onto Kobe Bryant's every word following his successful return to the game of basketball just down the hall. It's hard to imagine a better way for a rookie to start his career than a powerful dunk, and Randle said he felt "pretty comfortable after that," following the Lakers' win. For fans, it was a sight for sore eyes in need of youthful athleticism. For Randle, it was a "great way to break the ice."
Byron Scott kept Randle anchored to the Lakers' second unit, but he put in a solid 27 minutes and finished the night with 10 points and eight rebounds. The rookie showed off that lightning-fast first step and versatile finishing ability as he logged his first meaningful basketball minutes since departing Kentucky. Randle was in much better shape than he was during Las Vegas Summer League, which he said felt "faster" than his first preseason game against real NBA-level talent. Some rookies take time to pan out, but Randle looks ready to give the Lakers an early return on investment.
Randle's place in the Lakers rotation will be a hot topic until Scott ultimately gives him the nod, and he outplayed veteran Carlos Boozer in Game 1 of his journey. It feels like the only things guaranteed right now in Los Angeles are death, taxes and Randle overtaking Boozer in the starting five. Scott will likely stick to his guns during preseason as he builds chemistry and consistency between the lineups he'll rely on early in the year, but most coaches do that when they're new or dealing with a high amount of roster turnover. Scott's dealing with both and played a tight rotation through the night, divvying up minutes between 11 players while dishing out five DNP - Coach's decisions in his first test drive as head coach of the Lakers. There's still too much to learn about the key contributors and starters to get too caught up in the details of the bottom-five training camp invitees.
It's hard to imagine Scott botching Randle's rookie year, even if he's taking a measured approach by playing Boozer in front of him, though. Ultimately, the Lakers know the importance of developing for the future, and Boozer simply doesn't fit into that plan. Scott is taking things one obstacle at a time to start, and this game represented the first step in Randle's long career in the NBA. "The one thing I told [Randle] at the end is you have learn to play harder, longer," Scott said about Randle's debut. "I thought in spurts he was really fantastic. On both ends of the floor."
Randle, on the other hand, is already looking ahead to apply his first real NBA experience the next time he has an opportunity to prove himself to Scott. "I'm still learning a lot, as far as defensive stuff. Better pace on the offensive end, patience, and stuff like that,' he said. "Each game you learn something new."
There's still much to be discovered about Randle, but a great work ethic and desire to learn from everything around him are two traits he's exhibited since being drafted by the Lakers. That kind of mentality, along with his obvious talent and drive, should make for a player Lakers fans can get behind. That's without mentioning how he embraces the spirit of competition.
"It's the competitive nature. Even if it's a preseason game, it's still very competitive out there," Randle said when asked what his biggest takeaway from his first preseason game was.
The Lakers leave San Diego with a meaningless mark in the preseason win column, but meaningful takeaways from the first 48 minutes of real purple-and-gold basketball. Kobe Bryant looked like he never missed a game over the last two seasons, Steve Nash survived and thrived in 20 minutes of basketball, Jeremy Lin dished out 10 assists and started building up his repertoire with Ed Davis, and Jordan Hill notched a double-double in 19 minutes of playing time. What stands above all else in the big picture of the franchise, though, is Julius Randle's excellent debut as a Los Angeles Laker.
"That was fun, for sure," Randle said as he wrapped up discussing his thoughts on his first game as a Laker. That was fun, wasn't it? And to think, it's only just begun.