Julius Randle has started the last seven games at power forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, averaging 13.4 points on 45% shooting and 11.3 rebounds in 29.6 minutes per game while getting his shot in the starting role. Randle has additionally ranked first on the team in offensive rating among players playing more than 10 minutes per game in that span, with the Lakers scoring 100.6 points per 100 possessions while he is on the floor, better than their season average of 96.9, which ranks second to last in the league. He has demonstrated how he can be a difference maker for the team on that end.
The sophomore forward will get his eight straight start against the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday night as Larry Nance, Jr. will miss another game with his ongoing knee issues. According to Lakers head coach Byron Scott, Randle shouldn't get too comfortable in that role, because while he has played well, Scott liked how the team was performing in Nance, Jr.'s starts and wants to hold an "open competition" for the starting job (As captured by Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News).
"Absolutely," Scott said. "I want it to be open competition. I think guys should feed off of that... Right now with Julius, because of Larry getting injured, he got that position back. But when Larry's healthy, he'll get it back."
"I don't know if [Nance, Jr. is] better as a starter But I think obviously we've played better at the beginning when he started. That's why I made the change because our starts were terrible in the first quarter. I thought a guy like Larry that brings energy and doesn't demand the ball would be a better fit."
Scott is not wrong about the team generally faring better overall with Nance, Jr. on the floor. While the team has a better offensive rating this season when Randle is on the floor than they post with Nance, Jr. (97.9 vs. 95), the team's defense has been significantly better with Nance, Jr (the rookie has a defensive rating of 106.6 as compared to Randle's 111.1).
Nance, Jr. is clearly a better defender than Randle at this point, which is reflected by the numbers but would probably be even more evident if Nance, Jr. had not spent the majority of him minutes with the otherwise defensively atrocious starting lineup going against opposing starters. The Lakers starters of Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams, Kobe Bryant, and Roy Hibbert give up 116.6 points per 100 possessions with Nance, Jr. as the power forward, as compared to 127.6 with Randle in that role.
However, Randle is still just 21-years old compared to Nance, Jr.'s 23, and in all likelihood has higher upside than the older rookie. An open competition could help bring out the best in both players, but both also need significant minutes to develop, so in addition to competing they should also probably play alongside one another.
In the small 44 minute sample size that Randle and Nance, Jr. have shared the floor, lineups featuring the two of them have scored 97 points per 100 possessions while giving up 103.2, which is still a net loss of -6.2 points but stands better than the team's season net rating of -11.5 (good for worst in the NBA).
In finding Nance, Jr. with the 27th overall pick, the Lakers front office again demonstrated an ability to find talent outside of the lottery, and it's worth figuring out if the Lakers' two talented power forwards can play together going forward in a league that is increasingly downsizing anyway. Nance, Jr.'s combination of low usage play while spacing the floor on offense, combined with his defensive versatility make him a theoretical perfect fit to play next to the higher usage on offense but less capable defensively Randle in smaller lineups. When Nance, Jr. returns to health, it's past time the Lakers tried the two more alongside each other.
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.