Julius Randle shook off a rough outing in the Los Angeles Lakers' preseason opener against the Utah Jazz, stuffing the stat sheet with 16 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals in a great performance. That's the kind of box score a player with Randle's versatile skillset should be able to turn in often, and it was great to see everything come together on the court.
His teammates were quick to praise Randle following his standout game. Roy Hibbert went so far as to call Randle not only the future of the Lakers, but the future face of the NBA. Kobe Bryant imagined him as Lamar Odom in Zach Randolph's body. It's hard not to get excited about seeing how his unique set of talents can shape the dynamic of a basketball game.
A play that stood out was this pick-and-pop sequence with Randle and Clarkson. It ended with a made three for Jordan, but there's more happening in the play that bodes well for the Lakers' offense, and it's possible because of Julius' ability to handle the ball.
Randle reads the defense clearly hedging the pick-and-roll and pops out to the three-point line instead of setting the screen:
He isn't a threat to shoot from that distance, but now he has his defender off balance. Julius' ability to take his man off the dribble, and his powerful first step, make him a tough cover when he's decisive. He wastes no time working his handles once he has the ball, driving into the teeth of the defense and forcing it to collapse.
Look at this move:
Randle's ability to drive gets him this far, but it's what he does next that will generate good offensive possessions for the Lakers. Kicking out should be a huge part of his game and is one of the bullet points Metta World Peace has been stressing to him. When the Lakers can compromise a defense, like they do when Julius drives in this play, they need to capitalize on the opportunity.
The entire Jazz defense is reacting to Randle while the Lakers' offense maintains its floor spacing. Kobe Bryant is cutting baseline, behind the defense. The Lakers should have a wide-open shot any time they're at this much of an advantage:
The play ends with Clarkson sinking the open three-pointer, but there are other successes to point out.
Clarkson could swing the ball one pass out to another open shooter in this scenario, while Kobe can fade to the corner or take an entry pass. Hibbert could also end up alone under the rim if Bryant forces another defensive rotation:
These types of things that break down a defense are what can make this Lakers team effective offensively, and Randle's ability to trigger these actions is a huge reason he can play a big role in the offense.
Speaking of Metta
We can't talk about Randle's impressive game without talking about his defensive presence. There were several plays he stepped out to the perimeter and zoned his man out, but this sequence of him bowling through Trey Burke for the steal and coast-to-coast dunk was certainly the highlight of what could be:
And when Randle can push the ball in transition and dish out, those defensive plays could turn into points off of turnovers:
It's fun to dream, which is why Julius' development will continue to be one of the best parts of watching this season.
What's the green circle
It was an efficient night for Randle after his struggles from mid-range in the preseason opener. What caused the contrast between the shooting performance seems evident:
Creating opportunities for Randle around the rim -- whether that's to carve his way around the rim for rebounds or entry passes, drives, or other actions -- looks like the most effective way to set him up to score for now. What areas of the court he can consistently score from will be a learning process.
Julius gave us a glance at a little bit of everything he can bring to the table. It was a statement game that should settle him down after struggling to find his rhythm going back to Summer League. We'll see if this momentum and hopefully weight lifted off his shoulders carries him to another great game Thursday night.
For those who want to see the highlight reel from his game: