There's a good chance the Los Angeles Lakers could end up stinking next year—at least relative to other teams in the Western Conference and traditional franchise expectations. And Julius Randle isn't changing that.
Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker wouldn't change it, either. It's just not in a rookie's power to move the needle for his team.
Like every organization should with its rookies, the Lakers should expect inconsistency from Randle—inconsistency tied to the trial-and-error process of figuring out what the heck works and what doesn't.
Quite frankly, this process might be a bit more laborious for Randle, whose transition to the pros could require some serious adjustments.
Credit that to his preferred spots on the floor, which will be occupied by bigger, stronger and longer 4s and 5s, as well as his particular style of play. Randle does just about all of his damage in the paint, where his view of the rim won't be nearly as clear as the one he got in college.
Through four Las Vegas Summer League games, Randle saw some of his "big-man numbers" (field-goal percentage and rebounding) fall off from the ones he put up last year at Kentucky. Randle only shot 41.9 percent (shot 50.1 percent at Kentucky) and pulled in just 4.3 boards in 23.5 minutes.
Of course, the sample size is tiny, but it's reasonable to assume some of the problems he had in Vegas could carry over into the regular season.
The fact that Randle can't score away from the rim has to be a bit worrisome. Randle averaged 12.5 points in summer league on 18 made field goals, and every single one of them came in the paint. It's really a tough place to make an exclusive living these days.
Long term, this isn't the biggest issue in the world, considering Randle can always expand on his skill set over time. But short term, a non-existent perimeter game should lead to plenty of rookie turbulence.
Not having a jumper makes Randle somewhat predictable as a scorer. It allows defenders to sag back and only worry about getting beat left and occasionally right. And that makes it tougher for Randle to get to his spots or blow by his man.
Right now, he just has little to no confidence in his shooting stroke. Randle didn't tell me this. I know it from watching him pass on open jumpers for more difficult shots closer to the basket.
And I know it because he took just 1.3 jumpers a game and converted only 17.3 percent of them at Kentucky, per DraftExpress' Derek Bodner via Synergy Sports Technology.
Without a jumper to space the floor or shoot with balance, Randle will end up playing in some heavy traffic and tight spaces within 12 feet from the rim. And considering his strength is no longer as overwhelming as it was against 19- and 20-year-olds, he could have trouble finishing or getting quality looks against NBA-caliber rim protection.
We even saw him struggle with this at times last season—Randle was held to three field goals or less on 10 different occasions.
The paint just isn't always available for business every game, and considering Randle uses it as his primary place of work, we could see him get shut out from time to time.
You might also want to prepare yourself for some sloppy play and unforced errors. Though he improved his ball security as last season progressed, Randle tends to get a bit wild with his moves, shots and passes. Expect turnovers and ugly possessions, whether he's spinning into traffic and losing the ball, forcing up a bad shot or running an out-of-control fastbreak.
At this point, Randle gets most of his buckets by tapping into beast mode, his athleticism and his feel around the rim. He needs more polish from a skill perspective, particularly to his right hand and back-to-the-basket game. Despite his glowing offensive reputation down low, Randle only converted 39.3 percent of his post-up opportunities last season, per DraftExpress.
Physically, he should be ready to roll for the Lakers as a rookie. But his bully style of play from college won't work on a full-time basis in the pros.
Expect some bumps along the way for Randle, who'll have a few tweaks to make as he transitions from one level to the next.
Expected Bright Spots
He racked up 24 double-doubles last season, the second-most ever by a freshman. If nothing else, Randle should bring loads of activity to the Lakers frontcourt.
You'll see plenty of putbacks off misses—he had 56 of them last season, according to Hoop-Math. He also finished fourth in the country in offensive rebounding.
He's got a live motor with built-in navigation, given his energy and instincts toward loose balls. Interior activity is something he should offer L.A. from Day 1 on the job.
As a scorer, expect to hear the "matchup nightmare" term get tossed around throughout the year. At 6'9", there just aren't many guys his size who have the lateral foot speed to contain him in space.
And that's where Randle is most dangerous, whether he's facing up in the mid-range or from the elbow, where he can attack his man and finish with touch on the move. His first step is quick, while his body control is smooth.
You'd like to think the Lakers coaching staff will be looking to get Randle the ball in his sweet spots, where he'll have angles and room to make a move. DraftExpress shows only one other power forward drafted last June recorded more plays in isolation.
Expect Randle to hit some tough shots as a rookie (and a veteran), and expect all of them to come with only one hand on the ball. Randle loves the flip and push shots, and he's capable of making some pretty nutty ones at some pretty crazy angles.
You can also expect to see some unique playmaking ability for an interior-oriented big man. His decision-making isn't always spot on, but Randle can handle the ball in the open floor and, in turn, draw help defenders off the dribble.
In these spots, we've seen him showcase his passing and vision, from drive-and-kicks to no-look dimes in transition.
"I think it's a part of my game," Randle said of his playmaking ability to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times. "Whether it's create for myself or create for others, yeah, I think so."
Against Wichita State in the NCAA tournament, he dished out six assists in a game that had scouts buzzing over the progress he's made as a passer.
Count on some coast-to-coast takes off defensive rebounds as well. With room in front of him, whether he's 80 feet from the hole or 10, Randle is a weapon with the ball, thanks to a capable open-floor handle and a devastating blend of power and agility.
He'll be doing a lot of wowing as a rookie, flashing glimpses of potential and eye-opening versatility. I wouldn't bet on any double-double records, but he'll pick up his fair share, as well as the occasional 20-point offensive explosion.
Inconsistency might limit his impact, but Randle should give the Lakers some solid rookie production, whether he's coming off the bench or starting.
|Projected Rookie Stats in 2014-15 (Averages)|
With the Lakers having signed Carlos Boozer, and a new head coach in Byron Scott taking over, Randle will need to earn his minutes on the floor.
But assuming the Lakers eventually fall out of the hunt, I wouldn't be surprised if Randle gets his crack at the starting lineup, given the importance of his development over Boozer's meaningless production in a potential throwaway season.
Just looking at the Lakers roster, Randle already appears to be the team's top frontcourt athlete. That alone should land him a role early on, given how stiff Boozer, Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly and Ed Davis might be as a group.
My guess is that the Lakers ease Randle in until they realize there's no point of holding him back.
Expect plenty of ups and downs throughout his rookie year, but at the end of the day, expect Randle to solidify himself as this team's power forward of the future.