Julius Randle’s contract year got off to a rocky start, with the disgruntled power forward having a hard to coming to grips with his role off the bench. We’re now over two weeks into the season, and it seems to already be turning around for Randle.
Randle has become the first big off the bench, even moonlighting as a small-ball center fairly consistently at this point. The allure of “pace and space” has taken over not only the Los Angeles Lakers, but the entire NBA. Suddenly, Randle’s become a not only viable, but good option when teams are sizing down.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton, who was critical of Randle’s attitude to start the season, gave Randle due credit for turning things around so quickly.
“He's been really good ever since we kind of started playing him in that backup five role, he's just been playing with great energy. Defensively he's been switching onto point guards, and containing, and staying in front.
“He can change games, and he did tonight with the way he came in and played with that second unit in the first half, and he had a very solid game for us again,” Walton said after Randle led the team in scoring against Detroit.
“My focus is just to come in the game with a tremendous amount of energy, just focus on my energy and how that affects the game, and it works out for me. Everything else takes care of itself,” Randle told media after the Lakers’ win.
Walton has been creative — at least, that’s one way to put it — with his rotations and lineups thus far. That, along with Randle’s initial lack of focus, may be one of the reasons he’s averaging only 19.1 minutes per game. There’s reason to believe the Lakers may be actually better off if Luke finds more time for Julius going forward.
The Lakers are averaging 97.1 points per 100 possessions through seven games, which spikes up to 106.6 when Randle’s on the floor. The only player with a higher on-court offensive rating is Tyler Ennis (116), but with a 29-minute sample size, that’s essentially out of the conversation.
What happens when Randle is on the bench? The Lakers’ offense hits rock bottom, the team averaging its lowest PPP (91.2) while #RunTheJules is on the pine. It’s a balancing act between lineups, matchups and rotations, and Walton might have another reason why he’s using Randle in spurts.
“[Randle] plays really hard, and that's when he's at his best, so the stretches aren't going to be as long, obviously,” Walton said. “When he plays that fast, but yet under control, he's pretty tough to stay in front of or to deal with. When we put him in depends on the matchups we're playing, and how the game’s going.”
Walton and Randle seem to both be settling into the idea of the fourth-year big man being the Lakers’ wrecking ball off the bench, and Julius has done enough to start earning more minutes going forward. Watching how this situation evolves, especially with his impending restricted free agency, will be key for the Lakers’ decision making this summer.