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Julius Randle picked apart the Memphis Grizzlies with his passing in the Lakers’ win

“The Juggernaut with handles” made his debut appearance on Tuesday.

Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Whatever Luke Walton had said to Julius Randle at the Los Angeles Lakers’ practice on Tuesday, the third-year forward didn’t like it. Walton didn’t like what he was seeing from Randle in the Lakers gym in El Segundo, and he let Randle know about it.

“Yesterday he pissed me off in practice challenging me, wanting me to do more,” Randle told Mike Trudell on Spectrum Sportsnet following the Lakers’ 116-102 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. Pissing off one’s players might not always be the best strategy, but it was hard to argue with the result.

“It worked,” Walton laughed after his strategy paid off in the form of Randle putting up 19 points, 14 rebounds, and a career-high 11 assists for his third career triple-double.

“I called him and asked if he was still mad at me and he said ‘no,’ but he was glad to know that I cared,” Walton said. “And I said, ‘no, you misunderstand the question. I don’t care if you’re mad at me, I just want to know if you are still mad at me or not.’”

If Randle was still pissed, he made sure it was the Grizzlies who didn’t like him when he’s angry. Randle smashed his way through Memphis’ defense in a manner resembling a certain big, green, Marvel comics character, but since Nick Young already called Randle the Hulk a few weeks ago he had to come up with a different unstoppable comic book antihero to compare him too.

"He just turned into the Juggernaut with handles,” Young said. “He went full beast mode. It’s hard to guard somebody that can move like that and carry 260 pounds, and be 6’11.”

It’s even harder when they’re willing and able to give up the ball to teammates like Randle was. When a point guard racks up 11 assists, more often than not it conjures the mental image of them whipping the ball around the floor out of pick-and-rolls or dribble penetration.

For Randle, his prolific passing night was mostly based on awareness of his options and making the simple play. For most of his assists, Randle was just quickly recognizing and feeding the open option within the Lakers’ offense:

“I just took what the defense gave me,” Randle said. “I'm not trying to force anything, just getting my guys going and just making the right reads."

His coach agreed.

“I told him I thought he was really, really good tonight, and not because the numbers, I don’t care about the numbers,” Walton said. “The thing that I like most about his game tonight was that he was alert the whole game. He still made mistakes, but there was never a time he was on the court when he was kind of standing up and checked out of a possession.”

“That’s huge progress,” Walton continued. “The numbers will come and go, but that type of alertness while he’s on the court is going to make us a lot better.”

It also resulted in Randle alerting the Grizzlies’ defense to his presence on one of the plays he’s become most adept at this season.

Randle often spends a decent portion of his pregame warm-ups working on his two-man game with Lakers assistant coach Jesse Mermuys, who Walton also said has been showing Randle film of when he’s playing alert and when he’s not.

The tandem’s efforts have resulted in Randle ranking first on the Lakers and 20th in the NBA in screen assists with 3.2 per game, and he added a few more to his belt on Tuesday night:

As Jordan Clarkson put it:

Randle’s success moving the ball has been treated as a novelty by some, but his teammates aren’t surprised.

“I honestly think he’s a pass first type of guy,” said point guard D’Angelo Russell after ending up on the receiving end of a few of Randle’s feeds. “When we’re making shots it just makes him anxious to keep getting us the ball.”

That type of versatility and potential are why Walton stays on Randle when he feels he isn’t giving 100 percent.

“We talked about why I got on him at practice, and I told him because I think he can be great, I’m going to continue to hold him to higher standards,” Walton said. “He obviously responded pretty well and gave us a real nice effort tonight.”

Randle wouldn’t have it any other way, even if it will sometimes result in Walton pissing him off and having to make more late night phone calls to check if he’s still angry.

“It’s great. He challenges me,” Randle said. “I just try to accept the challenge and be as coachable as I can be. He called me last night, just trying to challenge me and truly help me step up and be the leader of the team, and we have a great relationship.”

If that relationship leads to efforts like Randle’s triple-double on Tuesday night, the Lakers will be happy to watch their head coach and promising young forward go back-and-forth for years to come.

All stats per and All quotes transcribed via Spectrum Sportsnet. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

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