One of the few bright spots in the Los Angeles Lakers' 106-77 defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks was the strong play of Julius Randle. The sophomore power forward scored 16 points on 7-14 shooting and snared 10 rebounds in his 26th double-double of the season.
Randle's whole toolbox was on display against the Hawks, and fans of the Lakers weren't the only ones impressed with the performance. Hawks big man Al Horford offered some big praise for Randle, telling Ryan Ward of Lakers Nation that "[Randle] can shoot the ball now, he sprinted the floor, he's just a guy who is going to develop into a great player."
Horford's praise was spot-on. Randle was given the opportunity to fire away because the Hawks were packing the lane, and Randle made them pay (as much as you can make a team "pay" in a 29 point loss), making four of his seven shots outside of the paint. Randle even made one of his two three-pointers on the night, and in doing so demonstrated the type of confident stroke he will have to consistently display if he wants teams to respect him on the perimeter instead of sagging off into the lane:
On the play above, D'Angelo Russell flings a cross-court pass to Anthony Brown out of a pick-and-roll with Randle, who retreats behind the arc to space the floor. When the Hawks' defense scrambles to account for Brown while also rotating to cover a wide-open Roy Hibbert, they abandoned Randle. Based on prior results this was the right process, but on this occasion Randle saw no one was guarding him, fired away with conviction, and knocked down the three.
Horford was also right about Randle getting out and running in transition, most impressively when he jumped Thabo Sefolosha's passing lane and bounded down the court in less than four seconds to finish with an emphatic flush:
Randle got to showoff his more traditional big man skills as well on this quick hitting post-up of Paul Millsap:
This play was just a simple high-low passing sequence between Randle and Hibbert. When Millsap relaxed a bit after being lulled into thinking Randle was heading out to space the floor, the burly sophomore veered back towards the paint and got right into Millsap's body. Randle already had a foot inside the restricted area when Hibbert hit him with the pass, and all he had to do from there was use one backside bump to move Millsap back and draw a foul on the lay-in.
It's hard to take too many positives from such a lopsided loss, but Randle playing so well on a night that Russell fell back to earth from his hot streak while the Lakers were without their top-three scorers was a good sign. He still needs to work on his defense, but the same is true for all young players. Sometimes it's even hard to assign individual blame on certain plays with a defense this bad, because of just how many things are going wrong at once.
Randle's progression in his first full-year in the league is one of the only things left to watch for as the Lakers' careen towards another trip to the lottery, and it can't be a bad thing that he left one of 2016's top free agents walking out of Staples Center impressed, right?
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.