Four games ago, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott benched the team's last two lottery picks, D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, citing the team's poor record and wanting to try something different. Randle and Russell were unhappy with the move, and in the first two contests Randle responded with two of the better game of his young career, scoring 15 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in 21 minutes against the Toronto Raptors, then going for 20 and 12 in 33 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Then Russell was re-inserted into the starting lineup against the San Antonio Spurs after Jordan Clarkson sustained an ankle injury, and Randle has struggled without his fellow young running mate. Since Russell returned to the starting five, Randle has averaged 5.5 points and 8.5 rebounds on 25% shooting.
Byron Scott has a theory for why Randle has struggled over the last two games, and he shared it with Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News:
"His energy hasn't been the same," Scott said. "I made the change with the first unit because the first unit was getting off to terrible starts. Now they're getting off to real good starts and the bench is coming in and not sustaining."
Average speed is not a perfect measure of energy, but Randle's average speed while on the court this season has been 4.07 miles per hour, which ranks 9th on the team out of players averaging more than 9 minutes per game. Over the last four games since being benched, that speed has dropped all the way to 4.06 mph, which ranks 7th on the team over that span among players averaging more than 10 minutes per game.
However, in the last two games he has struggled most, Randle has actually increased his average speed to 4.27 mph, 4th on the team in that span with that same 10 minutes qualifier. These are small sample sizes and average miles per hour is not an inarguable measure of energy expended, but this measurement at the very least casts doubt on Scott's theory.
A larger issue with Randle over the last two games has been the lack of weapons on the court with him has clogged the floor with teams simply not having to account for Robert Sacre on offense. Additionally, the team has played against the best defensive team in the league (the Spurs) and while the Rockets only rank 27th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, they did an excellent job stationing Clint Capela at the rim to bother Randle with his length. Those are less simple explanations for Randle's struggles than lack of effort, but they are also more accurate.
All stats per NBA.com