Julius Randle pulled down a career-high 19 rebounds against the Washington Wizards but looked like he had at least 40 more in him if the game kept rolling. He came up with seven offensive rebounds, and when the Lakers needed every point they could muster to avoid blowing a 19-point lead, keeping a missed Kobe Bryant jumper alive was one of the key sequences L.A. needed to fend off Washington.
It was the kind of possession we've come to expect from the Lakers down the stretch in tight games. Kobe had the ball with a defender latched onto him and the game in the balance. Bryant isolated, backed John Wall down, and took a tough shot that struck rim. Julius saw this shot coming from a mile away, though, and tracked it down perfectly. He crashed into the paint to snatch the ball out of Marcin Gortat and Wall's grasp, reset the offense, and ultimately kept the possession alive to the tune of two free-throws from Jordan Clarkson:
Randle has been a rebounding machine for the Lakers this season, tallying double-digit boards in nine contests. He leads the team in total rebounds (168), pulling down 9.3 per game. Those numbers make him one of the top-15 rebounders in the NBA this season, where he also ranks eighth in defensive rebounds (136), via Basketball-Reference. It's too early to call Randle an elite rebounder, but that the argument can already be made he's one of the best young rebounding big men in the NBA is a huge positive for the Lakers. It's looking more and more like the question shouldn't be whether or not he's a good rebounder, but just how good he might be.
Here's how Julius matches up with all rookie and sophomore players in rebounding this season, with a look at total rebounds, defensive rebound percentage, and offensive rebound percentage (stats via Basketball-Reference):
The Lakers already have one of the most productive young frontcourt players in their hands, moving them another step in the right direction in their rebuild. Randle leads the pack in defensive rebounding percentage (27.8 percent), which if he sustains, would be higher than Jordan Hill's peak with the Lakers in that category (24.3 percent). That's the kind of season Julius is having on the boards. He's fighting for his place among the NBA's saplings, staking his claim as one of the best rebounders.
Surprisingly, Julius defers the highest amount of rebounds per game to his teammates (3.5), according to NBA.com's player tracking data. In what is effectively his rookie season he's already packing up to move into double-double neighborhood. That he's already such a productive rebounder this early in his development is a huge boon, and one of the reasons he's playing the most minutes (28.7 per game) out of the Lakers' frontcourt rotation.
Randle coming up as the rebounding big man on defense, with his ability to pass or push up the court himself, is one of the few ways the Lakers are getting transition points as well. It doesn't hurt to have a player who can devour a shot, grab the loose ball, and fire off an outlet to his streaking young backcourt mate... :
... or run the floor to create on the break for them:
He's going to continue earning minutes by working the glass and using his athleticism to pluck rebounds away from opponents. He's a versatile threat once he secures the ball on defense, and is capable of things like this with a second chance around the rim:
Everything points to Randle becoming a double-double machine, and it doesn't look he'll have to travel much further to get there.