Lou Williams’ 40-point game will (deservedly) draw all the headlines following the Los Angeles Lakers’ 103-100 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, but one moment featuring Julius Randle and head coach Luke Walton is worth noting.
No, it wasn’t because Randle had some unbelievable or unforgettable game against Memphis. He didn’t, tallying just six points on eight shots to go with six rebounds in almost 30 minutes.
That’s been below the norm for Randle in his third season. The burly, versatile forward has become a do-it-all weapon for Los Angeles, taking on scoring, rebounding, and playmaking duties while on the floor. He’s upped his defensive effort and ability as well, and all of those traits have solidified him as a key member of the Lakers’ young core moving forward.
Walton has noticed, and had to pull Randle aside due to his lack of production during the loss to the Grizzlies at one point. His comments on why following the game were illuminating about his and Randle’s relationship, and how valuable he sees Randle as being to the team:
Luke Walton on his teachable moment on sideline with Julius Randle during Lakers' loss to Memphis pic.twitter.com/I7DlEVmXTC— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) December 4, 2016
For his part, Randle appreciates how Walton has related to him:
Julius Randle called those conversations and that “open dialogue” with Luke Walton important.— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) December 4, 2016
A ton of the moves Walton has made this year can be tied to how much he trusts and values Randle. Moving Clarkson to the bench wouldn’t have been possible if he didn’t want Randle to be his secondary playmaker and scorer with the starters, rebounding and running the floor to generate early offense.
Walton has empowered Randle to use 22.1 percent of the team’s possessions while on the floor, the fourth-highest rate on the team and the highest of any non-guard. That would have been dangerous last season when Randle was prone to black hole tendencies, assisting on just 11.5 percent of the Lakers’ buckets in his minutes with a usage rate only a smidge lower.
Randle has upped that to assisting on 19.8 percent of the Lakers’ points while on the floor this season, a significant jump and a meaningful indicator of his progress as a well-rounded player. He’s down so while upping his turnover rate around five percent, but as he better learns to see the floor and gets more comfortable in the new offense that could easily improve.
Walton’s actions back up his words. The team expects Randle to be great, and Walton’s move towards having him facilitate more will not only help make the Lakers’ better, but it should also help tilt locker room dynamics more towards the team being Randle’s “as much as anybody else’s.”
Additionally encouraging is how open Randle is to Walton coaching him up, or calling him out when he isn’t as great as the Lakers’ need him to be. The two men have exhibited a strong relationship thus far this season, which can only help Randle be more receptive to Walton’s help as he continues to grow.
As Walton makes clear, that’s something that the Lakers not only expect, but need from their promising young big man.
All stats per NBA.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.