Julius Randle had the utter misfortune to suffer a broken leg in his rookie debut for the Los Angeles Lakers in October. But the No. 7 draft pick should be ready to sail back into action next season—hopefully paired with a top free agent.
When it comes to the most effective partnership for the 20-year-old power forward, it would make sense to bolster the frontcourt to maximum effect. That means finding the most complementary center to put next to the talented, but still inexperienced product out of the University of Kentucky.
So how best to build a bomb-proof dominant front line for a team that, at present, is giving up the most points in the league at 106.3 per game?
First, Randle at 6’9”, is a versatile, two-way player. A lefty shooter, he can score at the rim or from mid-range, and also has a fondness for romping coast to coast on fast-break opportunities. He’s also a natural rebounder.
But there’s also room for defensive improvement, and the Lakers would benefit from pairing him with someone who could absorb his mistakes.
It has to be remembered that Randle was drafted after his freshman year in college and will essentially be starting over from scratch next season, as someone who might as well still be taking his first NBA baby steps.
Randle should at least have another round of summer league action under his belt, however, according to Lakers coach Byron Scott, per a report from ESPN LA’s Jovan Buha.
And, as Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding reports, Randle has also had plenty of time to study the game, including writing detailed game analysis for general manager Mitch Kupchak.
"I've watched a lot of basketball, but never this much NBA basketball,” said Randle. “You see the pace of play, the flow of the game. Put yourself in positions that you can be in the game. It helps you mentally be prepared to know what to do when you are out there."
And so, the ideal situation would be to pair our willing student with a dominant big man who can help cover defensive lapses, enjoys dwelling near the rim, and can timeshare in the mid-to-outer paint where Randle likes to shoot his highly effective baby jumpers.
DeAndre Jordan, C, Los Angeles Clippers
DeAndre Jordan could be Randle’s ultimate frontcourt teammate. The 6’11” center is still young at 26, but is in his seventh NBA season. He offers both experience and future value, and will be one of the most pursued unrestricted free agents this summer.
Jordan would provide the perfect low-post anchor to Randle’s free-flowing versatility. As the league’s leading rebounder at 14 per game, as well as the third-leading shot-blocker, the current Clipper would plug the kind of holes that have plagued the Lakers in recent years. NBA Central outlines Jordan's recent stats:
During an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver, Jordan said: “Defense all starts with the ball and the rim-protector is the last resort, the last line of defense. I take pride in that. If two guys get beat, then they are depending on me to make a play or help them or take a charge.”
Plus, the big man can also score, leading the league in field-goal efficiency at 72 percent.
Jordan and Randle together would offer an unholy frontcourt alliance that would lay wreck to its adversaries.
The Memphis Grizzlies will do everything they can to bring Marc Gasol back next season, but the unrestricted free agent is keeping all his options open, saying per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: “I won’t say no to anything right now.”
Gasol is a big load at 7’1” and 265 pounds. And, pairing him with Randle would make for an incredibly rich combination of looks on both ends of the court. The younger brother of Pau isn’t quite the glass cleaner that Jordan is, but he’s definitely a more complete and versatile player.
Schooled in the Spanish league for three years prior to joining the Grizzlies, Gasol has a breadth of skills and has continued to evolve his game. The NBA Defensive Player of the Year for 2012-13, he is also averaging a career-high 18.2 points-per-game.
At age 30, Gasol would be the sage frontcourt maestro to Randle’s unbridled young enthusiasm—guiding the semi-rookie in the ways of the paint.
Greg Monroe, C/PF, Detroit Pistons
Greg Monroe of the Detroit Pistons doesn’t quite provide the same balance to Randle’s game as Gasol or Jordan. But a Monroe/Randle frontcourt would still be fierce.
Now in his fifth NBA campaign, the 24-year-old played center for his first three seasons and has shifted more of his focus to the 4 since then. He shares some common qualities with Randle—excelling in transition as well as having a solid face-up game and the ability to attack the basket off the dribble.
The former No. 7 pick out of Georgetown is riding a hot streak right now, with 11.2 rebounds per game over the month of February; he also has 27 double-doubles for the season.
Monroe doesn't possess the same fundamental strength down on the block as Gasol, and isn't at the level of Jordan when it comes to rim protection. And, he often lets opponents get around him to the basket. But he's still young and hasn't reached his NBA ceiling yet.
All-in-all, the combination of Monroe and Randle could be fascinating and could even result in Randle sliding to the 3 depending on certain matchups.
As with Jordan and Gasol, Monroe will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
There’s certainly no guarantee that any of these three dominant big men will get shaken loose from their present environs this summer. But you can bet the bank that a staggering number of rich offers will be thrust upon their respective agents.
Ultimately, the Lakers need help at all positions across the board. And there are persuasive arguments as to why max money should be offered to any number of players not mentioned above.
But pairing Julius Randle with either Jordan, Gasol or Monroe would definitely send a statement—that the Lakers now have a front line that is not to be trifled with, and that a purple-and-gold resurgence is looming.