The Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t weather the storm that is Russell Westbrook in their loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Lost in the wreckage, though, were more indicators that Julius Randle is on track to do plenty of damage of his own both this season and beyond.
Randle was easily the Lakers’ best player in Oklahoma City. The third-year forward was tied with D’Angelo Russell for first on the team in scoring with 20 points, but did so on ten fewer shot attempts, going 7-10 from the field to go with his nine rebounds, three assists, and three steals.
The effort was just about a full display of what believers in his skills hope Randle can be. There were full-court drives, bouncing off of opponents to finish in traffic, and growing instincts as a playmaker. Randle’s demonstration left Lakers head coach Luke Walton impressed, even if it came in a loss.
Luke Walton said Julius Randle was “the spark” to start the game, said it was the best start they’ve had so far (on @SpectrumSN).— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) October 31, 2016
“The spark” Walton cites Randle giving them came in the form of 14 first half points for Randle, who did all of his damage right at the cup. Randle showed off a variety of finishes around the basket, both of the orthodox variety:
Esta es la versión de #DonJulio @J30_RANDLE que todos esperaban ver esta temporada (@AGMLA y @PintoLakers en @spectdeportes). pic.twitter.com/Y9FJ0BKOA5— Los Lakers (@LosLakers) October 31, 2016
This how dominant Julius Randle can be on a nightly basis. #BBN #Lakers pic.twitter.com/kk679RBjfk— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) October 31, 2016
As well as the probably unsustainable type:
Julius Randle's been dominating down low with 14 points in the first half. #LakeShow ( : @SpectrumSN & @spectdeportes) pic.twitter.com/91DnST1Msy— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 31, 2016
Either way, what’s important to note is that Randle is finding ways to get his shot off amongst the trees so far, something that many project to be an issue for him due to his short (for an NBA player of his size) arms. It’s not a significant sample yet, but Randle has been unstoppable around the rim so far:
All of that green circling the basket doubles as a description of the color of light Randle has from the Lakers’ coaching staff to take rebounds and go. Randle had that decision making power last year, but there are a few major differences between then and now.
For one, Randle isn’t suffering from tunnel vision to nearly the degree he did last season. Additionally (and how much to blame for Randle’s “tunnel vision” this is is unknowable), the Lakers are vastly improved at running lanes and providing spacing in transition, leading to sequences like this one:
Randle has also found Russell on several sequences exactly like the one above so far, a trait Russell praised after the game:
D’Angelo Russell said there’s times Randle is going to have more assists than him b/c of his ability to rebound & lead the break (on SPSN)— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) October 31, 2016
The pair has shown great two-man chemistry in semi-transition as well:
...y cuando @J30_RANDLE está encendido, eso le abre un mundo de posibilidades a la ofensiva (@AGMLA y @PintoLakers en @spectdeportes). pic.twitter.com/hX0oH9pjfu— Los Lakers (@LosLakers) October 31, 2016
It’s early in the season. Team’s will get the scouting report on Randle and the Lakers as the year goes along, and start to take away some of these easy pet passes he’s making, forcing quicker or more complex decisions for the young forward. Still, Randle can only answer the questions he’s being given, and so far, he’s passed most of these defensive tests with flying colors.
In the process, Randle has also demonstrated why the Lakers are so high on him, and why he fully deserves the opportunity to show he can work as the team’s long-term starting power forward after a mixed sophomore campaign.
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.