LAS VEGAS -- Julius Randle has a single game left before he's pried away from the game of basketball for months yet again. Yes, he wants more time to re-familiarize himself with being the versatile power forward the Los Angeles Lakers drafted with the seventh overall pick. Yes, he's outwardly frustrated about being on a tight minutes restriction while playing in five-to-six minute spurts. Yes, his fourth game back was a reminder of the amazing talent he is.
Randle unquestionably had the best game of his Las Vegas Summer League run in a narrow loss to the Dallas Mavericks. He finished with 17 points, a single assist -- though he moved the ball well and looked for his teammates -- and four rebounds in just 21 minutes of play. After spending the first few games getting to the rim without finding the net, Randle finally delivered the kind of payoff everyone was waiting for.
Julius was visibly frustrated following the Lakers' ugly loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday. He hung his head in disappointment of the final possession after he made a great read to kick the ball to the corner, only to see what should've have been a swish of the net to end the game turn into yet another missed opportunity. "I have to get my teammates going, and I've got to get myself going. I think it starts with me. I've got to be better," Randle said following the loss.
Get better he did Wednesday evening. Seeing him work his jab step and operate out of the triple threat was a joy. Randle plays a sharp game when he gets into rhythm -- a word he's used to repeatedly throughout exhibition play -- and he was more than just a raging bull trying to impale a matador in the restricted area. Julius manipulated his man into hesitating just enough for him to take whatever he wanted.
"Julius looked great. Julius was attacking the rim. Julius was finding the open man. Julius was making everyone around him better," Mark Madsen said of Randle's performance against the Mavericks. It was all clicking for him for the first time since his return to Vegas, where he's spent the majority of his NBA career competing at this point. Julius continued to beat his defender to the rim, which is something he's been capable of doing since Day 1 of Summer League last year, but his attempts in the paint were finally dropping. Even better, his mid-range game opened up what he could take from the defense.
The Lakers need Randle to become a threat from 15' and out, and he clearly knows how important it is. "It has to be a consistent part of my game. For me to reach my potential and be as effective as I want to be, it has to be a consistent part of my game," Julius said when asked about the necessity to improve his mid-range jumper. "It's something I've been working on all season."
It's still far too early to pencil Julius in as a perimeter threat, though. He drained jumpers even before he honed this facet of his game, and he'll undoubtedly continue to do so as he grows as a player. Consistency, however, remains the key. If he can force his opposing fronctourt matchup into playing up tight on him, he'll be able to play to his strengths and drive against a big man that's very likely to lack the kind of strength or speed needed to repel his ruthless drives. When a defender has to crowd him to contest his jumper, that's when he can strike like a cobra.
Randle acknowledged that finding his shot early against the Mavericks opened up what he could accomplish with the ball in his hands. The complex of the game changed once he sank a jumper in Dwight Powell's face. Veteran big man Jeremy Tyler was outright shook when he hit him with a stepback jumper that looked surgical. From there it was open season on attacking the paint with footwork, brute force and his lightning strike of a first step.
He also isn't shy about the incredible self-confidence he has in himself. "I'm able to do anything, I'm just trying to get a rhythm. That's really all it is."
Perhaps the most disheartening development for Randle has been the fact that he isn't getting the kind of playing time he feels he needs to get into a groove. He's still handcuffed to a 20-minute restriction that makes him sigh out loud every time it's mentioned by reporters. The five-minute spurts he's trying rebuild his basketball life with simply aren't enough to satisfy his hunger. He's ready to burst back into the forefront of the Lakers' future.
"It's not even the speed of the game, it's playing at my own speed, getting to where I'm going," Randle said when asked if he's had any trouble adjusting to the pace of competitive play. "Me just being decisive and having that rhythm on my shots. My touch and my shots. My timing on my passes, timing on my rebounding, all that type of stuff. That's stuff that takes reps. It's different than practice, different than workouts. It's an actual game."
Randle looked good in this "actual game," which is a positive sign for a Lakers' Summer League squad that hasn't been the most enjoyable to watch even though it's overflowing with young talent. Seeing him put it together despite his limited playing time served as a great reminder of the versatile skillset he has for a player of his size. Whether it was snagging a loose ball and going coast-to-coast for a dunk, draining a textbook stepback jumper against one of the most polished centers playing at Summer League, or showing off the handles and passing ability that's reminiscent of Lamar Odom, Julius has the tools to be an incredibly special player.
It was a slow start to Summer League for Julius, but he showed tangible progress while he both finessed and bullied the Mavericks at will. Randle finally found his rhythm and danced all over the hardwood like fans have been waiting to see. There's one last song to play before the Lakers ride into the sunset on Friday, and if he builds on what he showed against Dallas, it'll be ending on a high note.