At the start of every season, NBA analysts are always asking ‘What young player will make the leap this year?’ very few had Julius Randle of the Los Angeles Lakers making that leap. New Laker head coach Luke Walton has empowered Randle to play more like Draymond Green from the Golden State Warriors, turning him into a playmaker for his teammates. Walton knows first hand how devastating a playmaking forward can be. Randle’s development is far from over but the building blocks are there as he continues to take the leap.
As the Lakers are a surprise team in the West, Randle has made massive improvements in his ability to create opportunities for his teammates. Standing at 6’9” Randle has a great ability to grab a defensive board and push the ball in transition like he did against the San Antonio Spurs. He collected the rebound off of the missed shot and didn’t need to find an outlet pass like other bigs. Randle can just turn and lead the break, which he did here. He pushed the ball up the court and found Nick Young wide open for a three ball.
A big that can dribble and has the vision of a guard is a weapon that can be unleashed in many ways. When the Brooklyn Nets pressed the Lakers in their most recent game, the ball was inbounded to Randle who while on the move dished the ball off to Timofey Mozgov for a dunk to extend their lead.
Randle also has the ability to create in the post for his teammates. More and more teams are beginning to run their offenses from the post not to score but to create scoring opportunities for others. Randle posted up against the New Orleans Hornets and as D’Angelo Russell slipped the split screen at the top, Randle anticipated where he’ll be and led him right to the hoop for an easy score.
Randle has improved his passing by doubling his assists per game at four and according to ESPN.com he is fourth in assists for all power forwards and only 0.6 assists away from being second. He’s also doing this while playing about five minutes less than the other guys on the list. He has made strides defensively as well. According to basketball-reference.com last season he was a zero on Defensive Box Plus/Minus (a box score estimate of the defensive point per possession over a 100 possessions) this year he’s a plus 1.6. In overall Box Plus/Minus, which includes offense and defense plus/minus, he has improved by six total points to be at 2.4 this season.
Julius Randle has also improved his shooting range from last season’s 22.7% for shots from 10-16 feet to this year’s 50% showing he has put time in the gym. For him to continue to be a threat offensively he has to hit the pick-and-pop shot like he did against the Spurs. This will open up the floor for him as defenders will have to run at him in those situations and he can use his first step to blow past them. Over time he must extend his range to three, right now he is shooting just 20% from there but with the way the game is changing; he needs to get that up to at least 33%.
In the preseason Green commented on people comparing Randle to him by saying “He has the potential to be better”. Walton has said this is a “good comparison” but remarked Randle’s jump shooting has to improve. Having coached both players Walton knows firsthand what Randle will have to do to meet those comparisons.
Julius Randle is in the middle of a leap year; he has improved his playmaking ability and slowly increased his range. He mustn’t stop there, he must continue to improve defensively and be able to switch onto guards as well as extend his range to three. So far this season he has shown he’s capable of making the leap.