Julius Randle, alongside Jordan Clarkson and D'Angelo Russell, is one of the key pieces of the young core the Los Angeles Lakers' is hoping can lead them back to contention one day. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports' latest column, the second year forward understands this responsibility and has been working with two members of the Lakers' 2010 championship team in order to improve both his mind and game as he prepares for the 2015-16 NBA season.
You can read about why Randle credits Kobe Bryant as his biggest help and mentor during his recovery here, but it is Randle's somewhat out of the blue summer work with Metta World Peace that could be instrumental in catapulting Randle towards stardom. Wojnarowski reports that Randle "never eaten so well, never developed his frame so fiercely, never felt stronger and surer starting a basketball season," and he and the Lakers credit much of that development to his training with World Peace:
So much of the Lakers' intrigue with bringing back World Peace at 35 years old centers on how impactful he's been in the gym for the young players, especially Randle.
Every day, Randle is mesmerized with the intellect of World Peace. Everything Randle tries on World Peace - the pump fake, the jab step, the subtle moves to create a sliver of space and a shot - are seldom successful.
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Maybe Metta used to be stronger. Maybe he used to be quicker. All Randle knows is this, he says: "He isn't biting on anything. He has the greatest hands I've ever seen play. You've got to give him everything you've got to get a bucket on him. Everything.
"I played one on one against Kobe in the preseason last year, and you'd play perfect defense against him; you can guess right on everything and it still doesn't matter. He's still going to make the shot. Metta is the same way. He's going to guess everything right. He disrupts your rhythm. You're going to have to make the tough shot over him."
If Randle is "mesmerized" by World Peace (the player, no word on how he feels about world peace as a general concept) the talent admiration is mutual. Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News interviewed World Peace, and much of their discussion centered on the Artest formerly known as Ron's thoughts on Randle:
What are your impressions of Julius' development?
World Peace: "I think he's definitely physical. I want to continue to teach him on how to use his body positioning. Right now, I think he's quick and he's physical. But he has to continue to learn the angles on the court that's going to benefit him right now. There's times he can do certain things. I'm trying to help him and continue to talk to him about how to play off the ball. I'm trying to talk to him about playing on and off the ball.
Randle also mentioned to Wojnarowski the emphasis World Peace was placing on the necessity of his learning to play both on and off the ball, with the latter telling him to "go watch how the Spurs move without the ball," when he felt Randle was ball-stopping too much during a scrimmage.
Why is World Peace so insistent that Randle learn the finer points of both on and off the ball play and the importance of ball movement? Because he understands the how integral spacing has become to the modern NBA (via his interview with Medina):
World Peace: [Randle is] going to continue to gain advantages as long as he continues to gain intelligence. I'm always talking about the intelligent part of the game. He's getting that. He's driving and kicking now. That is real important. People don't understand how important driving and kicking is. It seems simple. But it's an important part of the game. It's things like that that can make or break a season."
Why is driving and kicking so important?
World Peace: "Driving and kicking is important for a few reasons. On the kick, you're getting a lot of closeout defenders. When you drive in the back, you're getting a defender helping. When you hit the pass to that defender's man, then everybody is in scramble mode on defense. Driving and kicking is very important. It's not easy to do. You can say, ‘I can drive and kick.' But you have to have really good timing. You can't just drive and kick for no reason. Then you run into a lot of defenders.
There's little things like that that young players don't really understand. Then there's spacing. When I was a young player, I didn't understand how important it was just to stay in the corner. I didn't understand that. I always would come up [to the top of the key]. There's a big difference from being in the corner to being three steps away from the corner. That changes the whole game. That changes the whole possession. There's things like that, moving three steps to the left or three steps to the right, that can change a whole possession. It can make a really big difference on your season."
From the sound of things, if the Lakers don't sign World Peace as a player they should at least bring him on as an assistant coach. Whatever happens with his own roster status, Wold Peace has obviously been tremendously valuable to Randle as a mentor, and if it leads to any substantial growth on the court, that is something all Lakers fans should be thankful for.