None of this, of course, is to say that Randle is the second coming of the Mamba; however, the fact that he's only one year older than Bryant's entire professional career symbolizes a changing of the guard.
Lakers fans are finally starting to see what life after Kobe could potentially look like, and while that transition won't be made with the drafting of one player, Randle is set to be a key cog for this group moving forward.
At this point in Randle's life, it's safe to say he's officially living the dream. Not only is he preparing for his first season in the NBA, but he's doing it for the franchise he admired as a child.
Oh y'all didn't know I grew up a LAKER fan? http://t.co/Dsjx8zBknf— Julius Randle (@J30_RANDLE) June 27, 2014
According to Randle himself during pre-draft workouts, via Serena Winters of LakersNation.com, "From a little kid, I grew up and I was the biggest Lakers fan; probably more of a Kobe fan, but it didn’t matter!"
Randle continued, saying, "I was just the biggest Lakers fan and it was just humbling coming from where I come from going through what I go through. To finally, being on this court playing and practicing it was definitely crazy for me.”
Randle played his solo year of college for the Kentucky Wildcats. He was brought on as the top high school power forward in the country (No. 2 player overall), according to Rivals.com, and needless to say, he lived up to the expectations that came with being so highly recruited.
After leading his eighth-seeded Wildcats to the NCAA championship (coming in second), Randle decided to take his talents to the NBA, where he became L.A's first single-digit draft selection since James Worthy in 1982. He told Winters, in the article linked above, that he didn't care where he was drafted, and that he was going to work hard wherever he landed (you know, all of the politically correct things we expect to hear); however, he admitted that landing with the Lakers had its appeal.
"City of Los Angeles, that expects nothing but championships," Randle said. "What more could I ask for? I’m a little prepared for it because coming from Kentucky, you lose a game and they go crazy!”
Strengths and Weaknesses
One thing that we do to rookies, whether it's fair or not, is compare them to their NBA counterparts before they ever step on an NBA floor. In the case of Randle, that topic leads us straight to one of the most productive power forwards in the game today as a potential pro comparison.
As stated by B/R's Jonathan Wasserman in the video above, "[Randle] reminds you a lot of Zach Randolph because of his ability to take over a game inside the paint as a scorer, as an offensive rebounder."
Along with Randle's ability to successfully play at—and often times below—the rim is his willingness to handle the ball in both transition and isolation sets. Because of this unique skill set not owned by many 6'9", 250-pound power forwards, B/R's Kevin Ding made two comparisons after the prospect's first summer league game: Lamar Odom and Chris Bosh.
If Randle can become anything close to a Randolph-Bosh-Odom combo, he's going to be exactly the player the Lakers dream he can be. He can already score in both backdown and face-up situations, and he's an elite rebounder with an incredibly high motor.
So what could keep the former Kentucky product from becoming this superstar presence? For starters, defense.
Although the three players mentioned above aren't exactly known for their defensive prowess, it's a trait that will be desired (if not required) in a Byron Scott system. At this juncture, Randle lacks the sheer athleticism to make up for his defensive lapses, making that end of the floor a priority if he wants to avoid hearing words such as "underachiever" and "liability" early in his career.
Additionally, Randle is coming off of a one-and-done NCAA career that saw him struggle with consistency shooting the ball. Stretch 4s have become near necessities in today's NBA, and while we shouldn't expect Randle to hit that status anytime soon, developing a more reliable jumper will only complement the versatility he already has down on the block.
Despite being a No. 7 pick, Randle must be ready to compete for minutes in what has become a crowded Los Angeles frontcourt. The team has brought in Carlos Boozer and Ed Davis to bolster the 4-spot (not to mention Ryan Kelly), and as B/R's Adam Fromal put it,
If the Lakers plan on being competitive and easing Randle—whom they're more committed to than anyone else in the frontcourt, given his status as the No. 7 pick and his unmatched upside—into the rotation, Boozer will receive heavy minutes. But if he's there to serve as an offensive mentor and provide occasional sparks off the bench, he won't.
While the Boozer signing has rubbed some fans the wrong way, Fromal is correct that the veteran will play decent minutes, especially at the beginning of the season. He's proven what he can do throughout his career, and after all, Randle will experience bumps in the road as he adjusts to a quicker, more physical game at the professional level.
All that said, picture the following scenario: The Lakers start the year hoping to compete, but by All-Star weekend it's clear that another finish outside the West's top eight is inevitable. This is where the team takes the leash off Randle, using Boozer as teacher while the rookie takes the reins.
Nash and Boozer might start the season as starters but Lin and Randle will finish the season with more starts.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) July 19, 2014
Amid the ambiguity, both within the rotation and within the team's immediate outlook, one thing is certain: Randle gives this fanbase a reason for excitement. B/R's Kevin Ding may have put it best when he said, "If you think Jordan Hill was horribly overpaid, don't believe Nick Young is a serious professional and have concluded Linsanity was a total fluke, you still have Julius Randle."
Barring a drastic turn of unexpected events, the Lakers will not be contenders for at least two seasons. But with this group eyeing relevance and not greatness in 2015, a gradual approach to Randle's role should pay dividends, especially as the team grooms its next star to become not just a lifelong fan but an integral part of a return to prominence.