Julius Randle wasn’t the tallest or fastest draft prospect in the lottery and isn’t known for his outside shooting.
But the Los Angeles Lakers snatched him up in a heartbeat when he dropped to the No. 7 spot on June 26.
What Randle does have is a bull-in-a-china-shop mentality—gobbling up rebounds, muscling his way to the basket and offering the kind of fundamental tangibles that could help create a new identity for the Lakers in future years.
That approach to basketball wasn’t a priority under former coach Mike D’Antoni, who favored a spread offense and ball movement to create open shots from the perimeter.
The uptempo experiment wasn’t solely to blame for the team’s woes—rampant injuries were the major reason for the worst loss record in Lakers franchise history. It didn’t help, however, that D’Antoni’s belief system ran contrary to his biggest stars over the course of two seasons—Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
That’s now all in the past, even if the past seems so painfully recent.
The Lakers will shift back to more traditional strengths as Bryant returns to action after nearly a season off with injuries. It’s no secret that the Mamba likes operating out of half-court sets, using strength, footwork and his legendary pump-fakery to score and often get to the line for the and-1.
As Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said about Bryant in May, per Arash Markazi for ESPN LA, “He's gotten a little bit older. I think he's become more effective. I think you'll see a lot more of him posting up.”
That's a perfect fit for Randle, who does the majority of his offensive damage either at close range, where he’s a devastating finisher, or out to mid-post, where he’s highly effective with hesitation moves and the pick-and-pop. And while he doesn’t have a particularly impressive standing reach, he still has an innate ability to clean the glass, often accounting for offensive putbacks.
Randle grew up idolizing Bryant and emulates the same aggressive, no-nonsense attitude—qualities that will help as he begins his NBA career. On draft night, during an interview with Lakers reporter Mike Trudell, per Lakers.com, the new power forward fell right into lockstep:
(Bryant) may get tired of me because I'm going to be bugging him trying to learn stuff from him. I demand a lot from my teammates as well, holding each other accountable, putting extra work in was what I had to do at Kentucky.
Kupchak added a touch of deadpan humor that night, combining Randle’s positives with Bryant’s reputation for being tough on rookies, also via Lakers.com: “The bottom line is that he plays and competes at a very, very high level. He loves contact. Although I don’t expect Kobe to talk to him until January, I think he’ll like him.”
There’s still much work to be done with Randle—his first pro training camp is months away, after all. His outside jumper is a work in progress, and he’s overly reliant on his dominant left hand for baby hook shots and inside finishes. There have also been complaints about his supposedly short arms, but in fact, he was measured with a 7-foot wingspan at the 2014 NBA Draft Combine, which for a height of 6’9” is not bad.
It’s at the defensive end where Randle shows the most deficiencies. His off-ball awareness was lacking during his one-and-done season at Kentucky. There’s no reason to believe he can’t bring his read-and-react time in line with other positives, however—such as leading the nation with 24 double-doubles.
Randle comes to play—he’s a fiery competitor and delights in using his 250-pound body to clear space under the basket like a purposeful wrecking ball. He’ll bring a team commitment and a worker mentality that can too often be lacking in elite draft prospects.
The number of lottery draft busts are legendary in the NBA—too many find themselves wandering from team to team, trying to recapture that fading dream never fully realized.
Julius Randle doesn’t seem like a lightning-in-a-bottle guy. Instead, there’s a feeling among Laker fans that this time, they landed someone strong and authentic who will forge an identity the old-fashioned way—he’ll earn it.