Julius Randle has had a forgettable stretch of games over the last week, culminating in a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in which the young Lakers power forward scored 2 points on 1-7 shooting to go with 8 rebounds and 3 turnovers. Randle had a rough week off the court as well that began with his coach calling out his defense in front of both his team and the local media, fueling rumors of a rift in their relationship that the two had to dispel.
The Kentucky product's time on the court hasn't been much more pleasant over a four-game stretch in which he has averaged just 3 points on a glacial 13% shooting, 9.8 rebounds (which to be fair is still very solid in 22.3 minutes per game), and 3 turnovers.
"He's just struggling. He's frustrated," Lakers head coach Byron Scott told the media after the loss to the Thunder. "He wants to do so well so bad that he presses at times, and I just have to get him to relax and just play."
Despite their disagreements and Randle's poor play, Scott still has faith Randle will regain his mojo. "He's a young kid and he wants it really bad. It will come back to him. He just has to relax a little bit."
One of the ways relaxing would aid Randle is in not forcing turnovers. Randle has used up 17.8% of the Lakers possessions while on the floor, and he has turned the ball over 25.2% of the time he has it. Being turnover prone is a problem for any player, but it is especially harmful to a Lakers team that is last in defensive rating (108) and thus cannot afford to give up extra baskets by letting teams get out on the break.
Randle's turnover issues reared their ugly head against the Thunder, like on this lazy pass to D'Angelo Russell:
Russell Westbrook used his boundless athleticism to make a great defensive play, but that is sloppy basketball from Randle, who appeared to just be going through the motions rather than putting real zip on the pass. Young players are going to make mistakes like that as part of the learning process of realizing just how important every possession is in the NBA, but it is emblematic of his recent issues with ball security.
Randle's other main issue leading to turnovers has been when his bull in a china shop aggressiveness backfires, like on this late offensive foul against Oklahoma City:
That possession started promisingly enough, with a Randle-Jordan Clarkson pick-and-roll that would be great to see more of. However, Randle has to be aware of his current situation, meaning that 1) he has five fouls already and 2) that he is rolling towards charge-taker extraordinaire Nick Collison. Randle's first instinct is always to go through his opponents like he's the Juggernaut, and it's part of what makes him so appealing to watch, but as his career continues he will have to learn when it is better to go around obstacles instead.
Randle's other issue issue over the last week that stood out in the loss to the Thunder was his shooting. As you would expect from a night in which a player went 1-7 from the field, there is a lot of blood on his shot chart. Any children should avert their eyes:
Some of this is just Randle missing good shots. The midrange attempt from the right wing was late in the shot clock, and the corner three-pointer was a good look. Two areas where Randle can improve on his shot selection were clear against the Thunder. One was settling for mid-range fallaways after failing to create an advantage:
Collison played solid defense on both of those, but Randle also didn't really test him, which is especially egregious when considering that Randle is shooting just 17.4% on jumpers from 10 to less than 16 feet and 23.1% on jumpers from greater than 16 feet to less than three-point range, according to Basketball Reference. A mid-range game would be a helpful addition for Randle, but it is clearly not there yet.
Randle's tunnel vision when headed to the basket has been another issue for him this season, like on this shot against a Thunder defense with basically all five players in the paint:
Huertas is not a great three point shooter, but he is hitting 33.3% of them on the year, and Anthony Brown has said previously he wants to become a three-and-D type floor spacer. Both were wide open with five Oklahoma City defenders either in or around the paint, and Randle chose to put up and shot and was stripped. He will have to learn to recognize these opportunities to make a play for his teammates more consistently if he wants to reach his full potential.
It's been a rough week for Randle, but it hasn't been all bad. "I point out the fact that he competed and that he's playing hard," Scott said. "Everything else will come, it just takes time. Every player in this league has gone through phases where they are just not playing well. So he's no different."
Playing hard has never been an issue for Randle, who had missed all six of his shots prior to making his seventh and final attempt, an offensive rebound that demonstrated that his struggles on that end have not led to a decrease in activity:
Randle continues to work the boards, and eventually his shot will start falling again as well. The player who Mitch Kupchak thinks would win rookie of the year this season if he was not listed as a sophomore based on a technicality is not quite at that level yet, but he has shown promise despite his recent struggles. Randle has not even played half of his first full season yet, and at age 21 he still has plenty of time to regain his starting spot and grow into the player Lakers fans hope he can be.
All quotes transcribed via Lakers.com All stats courtesy of NBA.com.
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