If there was any lingering worry as to whether Julius Randle would show any signs of rust after recovering from a broken leg, his first week of play has put them to rest.
The Los Angeles Lakers have been absolutely miserable in the first week of the season, but it’s certainly not because of Randle. The sophomore (though, for all intents and purposes, rookie) has been one of the few bright spots for the Lakers thus far. He’s averaging 14 points and eight rebounds (his 31.4 defensive rebounding percentage is particularly impressive) per game, doing so while sharing the court with the likes of Nick Young, Lou Williams and Kobe Bryant, none of whom are known for their propensity to share the ball. His motor still runs nonstop, and he’s shown no fear in facing any opponent, whether it was Kevin Garnett, Draymond Green or Kenneth Faried, who was on the wrong end of Randle’s latest vicious dunk.
Randle’s also surprised with a diverse skill set. The Lakers are already trusting him to ignite the fast break if he gets the chance, knowing his speed, vision, and advanced handles give him an advantage in the open court. What comes from the vision and the handles, however, has been a mixed bag. Randle sports the starting unit’s third-highest assist percentage (14.7) but also the unit’s second-highest turnover percentage (14.9). Turnovers are the most common plague of a rookie season, and not all of them are necessarily Randle’s fault. He’s not exactly playing with top-flight teammates, nor is Byron Scott’s offense…well, it’s just not good. Period.
There’s also the matter of Randle’s defense to consider. It was his biggest concern coming into the draft, and remains so. The Lakers surrender 5.2 points per 100 possessions fewer with Randle on the bench. He’s not a rim protector, and probably never will be due to his relatively short wingspan. In time, given his considerable strength and build, he could become at least a reliable team defender, but he probably won’t ever lock an opponent down in the post.
The Lakers will live with that for now, both because they have to and because they understand Randle is still in the early stages of his development. He has the chance to be special, and has shown both the skills and willingness to become so. Even if he’s never a shutdown defender, he’s going to cause matchup nightmares for defenses on the other end. He has a long ways to go before he reaches that point, but his first week was a huge step in the right direction.
*Statistical support for this post courtesy of basketball-reference.com