Julius Randle has played just one game as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. Yet, he's already managed to change the trajectory of the entire organization.
That one game—the 2014-15 season opener against the Houston Rockets in which Randle broke his leg—played a part in Gary Vitti's decision to retire after 32 years as the Lakers' head trainer, per the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan. Randle's devastating injury set the tone for the rest of what became a dismal campaign, one marred by setback after setback on the way to a franchise-worst 21-61 record.
But out of that din came the All-Rookie First Team arrival of Jordan Clarkson and the lottery luck that bore D'Angelo Russell as the fruit of the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA draft.
No longer will Randle's impact be judged by his absence. Now, with his leg healed, Randle, the No. 7 pick in 2014, will not only have an opportunity to make a difference on the court, but will also be expected to as one of the tent poles of the Lakers' bright but murky future.
So far, Randle seems ready for the challenge. He looked rusty and overeager during Las Vegas Summer League (11.5 points on 39.5 percent shooting), as is to be expected from a young player seeing his first live game action in more than eight months. But the Kentucky product looked to be in solid physical shape, rarely (if ever) dogging it up and down the court, as he did fairly frequently last July.
When it comes to his game, Randle won't fit neatly into either of the major archetypes that have long defined Lakers lore. He's not a dominant, back-to-the-basket big in the mold of a Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Shaquille O'Neal. And he's certainly not a playmaking guard along the lines of a Jerry West, Magic Johnson or Kobe Bryant.
This isn't to say, though, that Randle doesn't fit these two molds at all. He's big and burly enough (6'9", 250 lbs) to battle on the boards and bully his man down low like some of the former:
And, like the latter, Randle can handle and move the ball on occasion:
Chances are Randle won't be spending much time down low in 2015-16, not with Roy Hibbert manning the middle in L.A. And with playmakers like Russell and Clarkson as his long-term partners, Randle doesn't figure to spend much time running Byron Scott's offense—not yet anyway.
This may all be for the best. At this point, Randle is, first and foremost, a face-up forward. In the half court, Randle is at his best using one or two quick, powerful dribbles to attack the basket, but he is also capable of hitting mid-range jumpers off the dribble.
Where the Dallas native really shines, though, is in transition. With his size, strength, speed and comfort with the ball, Randle is more than capable as a one-man fast break, ripping down the rebound on one end and finishing in traffic on the other:
When comparing him to recent Lakers, Randle comes off as a cross between Lamar Odom and Metta World Peace. Odom in particular could pop up for quick jumpers in the half court and was notorious for his ability to go coast-to-coast:
But Randle isn't as tall, as long or as fluid as Odom was. Nor can Randle hold a candle to Odom as a passer.
On many (if not most) counts, Randle resembles a taller, more athletic World Peace. There's a certain herky-jerkiness that these two share in the way they move around the court, particularly with the ball. Both are distinctly barrel-chested, with the ability to bulldoze their way through the opposition. That combination of style and stature lends itself, in each case, to more than a few bull-in-a-china-shop moments.
Surely, the Lakers wouldn't mind if Randle developed into an All-Defensive Team performer like World Peace, who took home Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2003-04. As for World Peace's penchant for physical confrontation, L.A. would probably prefer that one of its future franchise faces steers clear of such controversy.
Then again, a tough-minded, old-school coach like Scott might not mind seeing his budding star set the tone. At the very least, Randle has the requisite physical tools to hold his own in that role.
As it happens, Randle and World Peace went head-to-head at the Lakers' practice facility prior to the start of Las Vegas Summer League.
"They were bumping and grinding," Scott told the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina. "It was kind of fun to watch. Metta is the old wily vet and you have this young bull. Every now and then, Metta got the best of him. But when he hit Metta, Metta bounced off of him."
In truth, finding Randle's best purple-and-gold comparison may require a deeper dive into the history books, long before Odom and World Peace wound up in L.A.
Prior to Randle's selection, the Lakers hadn't picked higher than seventh in the draft since 1982, when they nabbed James Worthy out of North Carolina with the No. 1 pick. Like Randle, Worthy also suffered a season-ending leg injury as a rookie, though his came in mid-April rather than late October.
Once healthy, Worthy became one of the foremost finishers in NBA history. "Big Game James" was quick and powerful, with a tremendous feel for filling the lane on the fast break and a soft touch at the rim. He also knew as well as anyone how to use a dribble or two to get where he wanted to go in half-court sets.
Worthy, then, would seem a strong model for Randle to pattern his game after—even more so when factoring in team roles. In all likelihood, Randle will spend most of his time on offense playing off the ball, with Russell or Clarkson handling the lion's share of the Lakers' creative duties. Back in the halcyon days of Showtime, Worthy did just that as Magic's top target.
Just beware of any comparisons between Johnson and Randle's current compatriot.
"Let's make this very clear, Russell is not Magic Johnson," Scott said during summer league, per the Los Angeles Times' Eric Pincus. "Magic came on the scene, and instantly he's a Hall of Famer. D'Angelo has a way to go, there's no doubt about that."
So too does Randle. He's far from affirming the Lakers' draft-day faith in him, let alone earning All-Star nods and compiling a Hall of Fame-caliber resume.
Fortunately for him, Randle will have plenty of resources at his disposal when it comes to coaching and mentorship within his role. Worthy is still active within the Lakers organization as a TV analyst. Scott, as one of L.A.'s other transition maestros in the 1980s, understands firsthand how to employ a player of Randle's (and Worthy's) talents.
To succeed in the modern NBA, though, Randle will have to do more than replicate Worthy's skills. As with any power forward worth his salt these days, Randle will have to fashion himself into no worse than a respectable three-point shooter.
"For me to reach my potential and be as effective as I want to be, it has to be a consistent part of my game," Randle said of his jumper at summer league, per Silver Screen and Roll's Drew Garrison.
On that count, Randle is already hard at work, as Garrison wrote:
Randle hasn't had much of an opportunity to show his improved outside stroke, but he's repeatedly made it clear how important it is to be a threat from mid-range. Forcing his defender to play off-balance while being able to drive straight through them like a bowling ball makes Julius a tough cover, and he showed that throughout Summer League.
If, in time, Randle is able to sharpen his jump shot and graft elements from the games of Lakers past onto his, L.A. may well have its next great forward already in its midst.
And, the Lakers hope, one who'll be physically fit to lead the organization out of its current quagmire.
Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.