The Los Angeles Lakers have a good problem that could slowly turn into an ongoing issue in their forward rotation. Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Luol Deng and Kyle Kuzma are all in the mix for minutes at power forward, and lately it’s been Nance Jr. getting the call as the starter.
That was the case in the Lakers’ final three preseason games, and how head coach Luke Walton grouped teams in the final practices leading up to the opener. That decision on opening night, however, may have affected Randle’s mentality when he had his number called off the bench.
“Julius has been great the last week in practice, he’s obviously a little frustrated about the starting thing,” Walton said after the game. “I’ve explained it’s not about whoever being better or playing better, it’s about what units play well and Julius was playing really well with that second unit, Larry was playing really with the first unit.
“I think when he stepped on the court, for whatever, that he wasn’t ready to go like he has been for the past week, so I pulled him out to tell him about it.”
Randle played just under 18 minutes, scoring nine points and grabbing six rebounds. He also had the worst +/- on the night at a discouraging -25 that points to him. He’d also agree that the first game of his contract season wasn’t the best.
“Nah, with a loss like this and me not really being able to contribute and affect the game, no I’m not,” Randle told media when asked if he was happy with his individual performance.
Walton is hopeful that, in time, Julius will come around to thriving in a role off the bench. The way he talked about this being a “learning experience” may point to Randle continuing to play off the bench to start the season.
“It’s an adjustment, but it’s something that you have to do. When you’re coming off the bench, when you get put in the game you have to be ready to go that moment. It’s not easy, but he can do it and he’ll be fine. I just think it was, like a lot of tonight, a learning experience,” Walton said.
Nance Jr., meanwhile, had a strong game with the starting unit. He logged the only Lakers double-double on the night, scoring 14 points with 12 rebounds. Based on the quotes coming out of Laker Land, and context of what we saw unfold on opening night, his place with the front five seems to be solidified for the time being.
*All quotes transcribed via Lakers.com postgame coverage