Blueprint for Julius Randle to Earn Starting Role with Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers enter the 2014-15 season as a team in flux. A slew of new faces are in the fold, including head coach Byron Scott, so the starting lineup and optimal rotation are far from set.
One of the biggest questions entering training camp is how the staff will utilize rookie Julius Randle. The 6'9", 250-pound youngster is agile and hungry, but he's still far from his prime. Will the Kentucky product start at power forward to begin the season, or will he fight for minutes off the bench while developing?
Scott and Co. could be leaning toward the veteran experience and polished skill set of free-agent newcomer Carlos Boozer, but Randle has a decent shot to win the starting role. He'll have to work hard to earn it, and he might not even get the nod right off the bat. There are several areas he needs to address.
If he tackles the following blueprint, however, he'll find himself shedding the warm-ups at tipoff.
Polish That Jumper
Randle has great jump-shooting potential and a workable delivery, but he's not yet a proficient shooter.
Right now, he's an attack-the-rim forward who's only intermittently successful at hitting outside shots. With Kentucky in 2013-14, he shot 35 percent on two-point jumpers and 17 percent from three-point range, per Hoop-math.com. His ShotAnalytics.com shot chart isn't pretty once he ventures outside the paint.
In order to be a competitively versatile power forward in the NBA, Randle needs to make 12-17-foot shots off ball reversals, pick-and-pops and dribble pull-ups.
He doesn't have to hoist a ton of them, and he doesn't need to launch from three-land as a rookie. He just has to prove during training camp and exhibitions that he can execute from mid-range when called upon.
If he can sink those at a respectable rate, it will keep the Lakers offense flowing and force opponents to stay honest. A thousand jumpers per day wouldn't hurt.
Connect with Kobe
The Los Angeles Lakers are still Kobe Bryant's team. He'll remain the centerpiece of the offense and unquestioned leader on the floor for the next couple seasons, so it's imperative for the peripheral pieces to connect with him philosophically and strategically.
You can bet Carlos Boozer will do everything he can to jell with Kobe, especially as a passer and low-post option. Randle must do the same as he battles to win the superstar's trust during offensive sets and must-stop situations defensively.
He can form a connection with Bryant by proving his work ethic and demonstrating reliability during a variety of basketball situations.
That's easier said than done, but Darius Soriano of Forum Blue and Gold thinks Randle could be the better fit for Kobe at power forward.
For one, Randle’s quasi-perimeter oriented game should give Kobe more space to operate in the post and at the elbows offensively. Secondly, Randle’s ability to slash off the ball and make the catch to either finish or make the next pass will come in handy if/when Kobe draws extra defensive attention.
Meshing with Bryant is an essential part of the blueprint for Randle. It's a basic prerequisite.
Defense: Pick-and-Roll and Help-Side Rotations
Due to his quickness and agility, Randle has a chance to be a more intriguing defensive asset than Boozer in the near future. He's got to pick up Byron Scott's system, though, and he's a largely unproved interior defender with just one college season under his belt.
Scott is taking over a Lakers program that floundered on that end in recent years, failing to stop or slow down nearly everyone. He's already made it clear he wants to establish more structural consistency and continuity. The coach talked to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, giving an example of his expectations:
When I go into the season, there are three ways we’re going to guard side pick-and-rolls, for example: we’re going to down it, hard show, or red it (trap). If you do it from day one, guys get better at it because they’re working on it every day in practice. I want to establish those things day-to-day, and if you do that, it takes a lot of the thinking away and gets back to reacting. We’ll have a plan, but it will depend some on how guys play in training camp.
Lakers assistant Mark Madsen also discussed defense (via NBA.com), adding some specific tasks for Randle to master:
"We want Julius to learn how to 'hard trap' the ball-handler on a high pick-and-roll," said Madsen. "We want Julius to be able to understand how to give defensive help while not violating the three-second rule."
Grasping these techniques could go a long way in giving Randle a chance to outshine Boozer defensively. The rookie must soak up all three levels of learning: game film, walkthroughs and game-speed application.
He's already significantly more athletic than the old-timer, so if he can deliver mentally, his overall value as a stopper will be higher. Defensive activity could be the X-factor that eventually earns him the starting role.
Keep Working on the Off-Hand (Right Hand)
One of Randle's most noticeable weaknesses as a draft prospect was his overreliance on his left hand. At Kentucky, he tended to drive left, spin left and finish left even when there was more space to the right.
Hopefully he's been doing skill drills over the summer to become more ambidextrous on the court. He needs to keep up the regimen as training camp approaches and then apply his right hand during team drills and scrimmages.
Randle is a great southpaw ball-handler for a big guy, and he loves to square up his opponent and drive. B/R Senior Writer Kevin Ding likens him to face-up 4s such as Chris Bosh and Lamar Odom when it comes to lefty slashing. If he could cross over to his right like Odom, he would be an extremely dangerous threat.
We saw glimpses of him using his off-hand during Las Vegas Summer League, and maybe we'll see more during the preseason. Confident usage of the right hand would enable him to go anywhere on the floor and serve as a more versatile isolation attacker.
Guys like Boozer, Jordan Hill and Ed Davis aren't much of a threat off the bounce, so this is an area where Randle could really separate himself as a weapon.
Take Care of Ball in Byron Scott's Sets
Every coach values players who can create, find open teammates and limit turnovers while attacking on offense. The majority of Byron Scott's teams have been in the top half of the league when it comes to curbing giveaways. On a couple occasions, his squads were in the bottom five in total turnovers.
Randle needs to make good reads and sound decisions while running Scott's mixture of Princeton and pick-and-roll sets. In order to earn the coach's trust, he must be able to convert the crucial passes and make plays without coughing the ball up too frequently.
The aggressive youngster wasn't always sloppy for Kentucky, but there were some stretches where he was somewhat of a black hole. In conference play, he committed 3.1 turnovers per 40 minutes while dishing just 1.5 assists.
Fortunately, he's showed a willingness to share the rock. He flashed some quality passing sequences during the NCAA tournament, and he also notched back-to-back three-assist nights during summer league.
Turnovers are inevitable, but he'll have a better chance of starting early in 2014-15 if his creativity-to-turnover tradeoff is bearable. Randle must show he's in control during intrasquad scrimmages and preseason games.
Maximize Explosiveness for Both Ends
Randle isn't the most towering power forward in the NBA. His 7'0" wingspan is solid, but he's 6'9" with shoes on, and his 8'9.5" standing reach isn't great for a post player.
In order to compete with opponents at the rim for blocks, rebounds and buckets, he will have to be in perfect shape and summon every ounce of bounce from his legs.
He didn't play much basketball leading up to summer league due to an ankle injury, so he seemed slightly out of shape in July and wasn't as spry as we would have hoped.
"I'm just trying to get back right, getting my wind back up," he told reporters in Las Vegas (h/t Basketball Insiders).
With training camp looming, conditioning is paramount. A robust workout regimen will help his game stamina, strengthen his legs and give him the explosiveness he needs to duel with NBA bigs. His athleticism, rebounding tenacity and quickness could be a major factor in garnering the starting role, especially if L.A. wants to roll with young energy.
Utilize Back-to-Basket Moves
Although face-up drives are Randle's bread and butter, he should sprinkle in some bruising post-ups. He needs to put his bulky physique to use and set up shop on the block a few times during training camp.
Randle's back-to-the-basket exploits showed promise in college, as he cleared space to shoot and also took advantage of quick drop-step spin moves and pump fakes. The basic footwork, scoring instincts and sheer power are there, which is a good foundation for low-post success.
He has loads of room for further refinement and improved efficiency, though. Derek Bodner of Draft Express breaks down his underwhelming post-up numbers:
While 20.9% of his offense coming from post-ups is far from an insignificant amount, it ranks as only average in this group, as does the 0.79 points per possession he generated in these instances...further refinement of his skills and becoming more comfortable using his right hand will be needed in the future as well. The 39.3% he shot on post-up opportunities was well below average among power forwards we looked at...
If he wants to be a high-level starter in the near future, his inside game needs to consist of more than drives and rebounds.
Therefore, he should work every day on his back-to-the-basket repertoire—and then showcase a couple of moves for the coaches during each practice.
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