After a devastating leg injury curtailed his rookie season just 14 minutes into things, Los Angeles Lakers power forward Julius Randle has bounced back nicely in his second NBA season.
Although he’s somewhat undersized for a four-man and lacks the gangly wingspan that would greatly benefit him defensively, Randle has proven to be tough-minded young-pup with the ability to do a slew of things that benefit this Lakers team that has fans gushing over what may be.
Randle has the capability to post up, take his defender off the dribble with his lighting-quick first-step, or barrel through you with his brute force. His shot has proved to be flukey thus far (shooting 30.7% on jumpers this season) but the Lakers acknowledge that tinkering with Randle’s shot going forward is a must if they want to maximize the great potential that oozes out of his 21-year-old body.
In addition to reconfiguring Randle’s jump shot, Los Angeles must ameliorate Randle’s ball-sharing tendencies before the current one’s become the norm. Randle has resembled somewhat of a blackhole in the early portions of this season, and some of the statistics regarding his passing, or rather lack thereof, are concerning.
Randle has played 456 minutes, but has only recorded 36 assists. That’s good enough for fourth-best on the Lakers behind D’Angelo Russell, Kobe Bryant and Jordan Clarkson, but then you realize that Los Angeles is 27th league-wide in assists per game at 18.6, and that only two of LA’s top six players in minutes have 43% or more of their baskets assisted on. 63.4% of Randle’s baskets have been unassisted, second behind Lou Williams (65.2%).
Amongst the players who have amassed at least 450 minutes this season but have dished out 36 assists or less are infamous chuckers such as Dion Waiters, Isaiah Canaan and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (whose shot selection has undergone some welcomed alterations this season). Not good company for Randle to keep.
To me, this does not come as a surprise for a team that touts ball dominant guards such as Bryant, Williams, and Nick Young, but what does open some eyes is Randle’s proclivity for isolation basketball.
According to NBA.com/stats, 64.2% of Randle’s shots come after he holds the ball for 2-6+ seconds, (47% 2-6 seconds, 17.2% 6+ seconds,) which tells me he’s eyeing the defensive landscape, and or sizing up his man in preparations to make the best possible play that he can. Sadly, Randle’s surveying has been mostly to see what he can get for himself, so it’s no surprise that he’s ninth league-wide in total isolation possessions (56) and that 25.5% of his plays are one-on-one’s.
Randle’s 25.5% iso frequency is higher than the likes of LeBron James, Paul George, Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook, and his efficiency in these situations is modest. Randle is generating 0.91 points per possession in isolations, lower than all of the aforementioned players, excluding Westbrook, who’s at a surprising 0.64 PPP.
Another alarming statistic pertaining to Randle’s iso’s is his 12.5% turnover frequency in these scenarios, marking him as one of five players in top-ten in total isolation possessions with a double-digit turnover frequency (Jahlil Okafor, Brandon Knight, James Harden and Westbrook are the other four).
There have been instances in which Randle’s mind is so fixated on attacking and creating for himself, that he’s missed elementary reads that could have resulted in: A.) A better shot or B.) A pass that initiates good ball movement for a better shot. I’ve seen plays in which Clarkson or Russell were meandering around the three-point line on the strong-side when Randle had the rock, waiting for their defenders to double-down in hopes of receiving the ball back to hoist up an open triple or look to repost Randle.
Instead of making the simple play, Randle will at times complicate things by trying to rumble his way into the painted area, only to get up a wild fling that doesn’t come close to grazing anything. Pinning the blame completely on Randle would be unjust of me, as it’s evident the Lakers exhibit minimal trust in each other offensively, with many possessions ending in ugly Kobe heaves against the shot clock or solo theatrics from one of their wings. Byron Scott hasn’t instituted anything close to a functional offensive system, and the lack of structure and fluidity on that end could have Randle’s numbers somewhat skewed, but the numbers are what they are, and some of them are unnerving.
Maybe I’m just a nitpicking Lakers fan in the midst of enduring one of the toughest seasons in recent memory. Los Angeles has mustered up a measly two wins so far this season, and the Kobe Bryant farewell tour has officially commenced as he announced his plans to retire at the conclusion of this regular season campaign, his 20th in the NBA, this past weekend.
As Randle’s game continues to mature, and he becomes more of a seasoned NBA basketball player, my gripes about his passing will become faint whispers. Understanding when to dish it off, and which passes to make when you do decide to move the rock is all apart of the growing process, and hopefully the Lakers, who have shied away from analytics and advanced metrics in the past, will gloss over these numbers with Randle, as they can really provide him with some insight on what he does not do well (besides shoot from the perimeter and finish with his right hand.)
I’m not asking Julius Randle’s game to undergo a complete makeover, but for him to become sharper instinctually from an offensive standpoint. Becoming a better and more willing passer will add a new dimension to not only his game, but to this Los Angeles Lakers team as well. We’ve seen the immeasurable value playmaking-four’s such as Draymond Green, Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap have had on their respective ball-clubs, and it’s time for Randle to join that fray.
It may not occur this year or next as this is not something that can be rectified in a day, especially when you’re trying to fragment on-court habits you’ve spent your entire playing career building, but when it does occur, that’s when we may begin to murmur again about the Lakers as a perennial playoff team spearheaded by their glut of young talent.