Julius Randle had his 30th double-double of the season in the Lakers 107-100 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday night, but it was a stat he didn't get double figures in that stood out most. More than his 13 points and 14 rebounds, Randle's career-high five assists practically jumped out of the box score.
The Lakers sophomore forward has developed a (somewhat deserved) reputation for being a bit of a black hole on offense, unwilling to pass when he thinks he can get off a shot. Randle's game is barely-controlled chaos, the burly 6'9 forward often seems to have very little, if any, plan during his pell-mell drives to the hoop before throwing up a shot. Randle has been prone to tunnel vision on said drives, but against Memphis, he showed the full potential of his offensive arsenal if he ever becomes a consistent playmaker when defenses collapse on him.
On the play below, Randle finds Kobe Bryant on the right wing for a three-pointer when Memphis' defense collapses on his transition drive (courtesy of Whip Clip):
Instead of going right into the teeth of the defense and forcing an awkward finish, Randle quickly diagnosed the fact that if three Grizzlies were defending him, it meant someone else was open. The key on this play was Randle reading and reacting quickly, rather than pausing at the elbow to think about his options and survey the floor, as he has done so often this season.
That play offers a glimpse of the best-case scenario for Randle as an offensive threat in transition. He gobbles up a board and then pushes the ball up the floor himself. If he becomes a more willing passer like in the play above, defenses will be essentially forced to concede something, either a jumper or a drive from Randle. This additional threat (combined with the Lakers acquiring more consistent shooting) will open up the floor for him even further.
That play was good, but Randle also needs to improve as a passer in halfcourt sets. Against Memphis, he showed what that might look like on this pass to Jordan Clarkson for another three-pointer:
Randle noticed Clarkson's defender, Tony Allen, sagging into the lane to cut off Randle's driving angle. Instead of trying to go through him, a habit Randle has been prone to this season, Randle quickly fired a pass to Clarkson on the wing for an easy three-pointer.
Randle's lack of utility as a passer has been the biggest knock on his game offensively this year, and the numbers back up that narrative. Randle assists on just 10.2 percent of his teammates baskets while on the floor this season, which is the second-lowest rate on the team, only ahead of (you guessed it) Nick Young. Against the Grizzlies, Randle assisted on 32.4 percent of his teammates baskets. That's an unsustainably high number, but it is illustrative of Randle's value as a passer against Memphis.
Whether or not this newfound vision is a lasting change or a random outlier remains to be seen, but if Randle continues to grow his game with simple passes like this it raises his ceiling as a cornerstone of the Lakers' rebuilding efforts quite a bit.