It’s Still Too Early To Give Up On Julius Randle

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Julius Randle is a former lottery pick who has improved each season he’s been in the NBA. And yet, there’s a chance he won’t be on the Lakers past this season for reasons that have little to do with how he has developed over the last four seasons.

The primary reason? The Lakers plan to clear as much cap space as possible to give them an opportunity to sign LeBron James and Paul George in the offseason, meaning they’ll have to move on from most of the players currently on their roster. Some of those decisions won’t be difficult for them to make — Corey Brewer, Brook Lopez, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are all on expiring contracts and are unlikely to return — but the Lakers might have to part ways with a young prospect like Randle, who has a cap hold of $12.4 million as an unrestricted free agent, to make room for two superstars.

If that’s the case, there are a handful of teams that should consider acquiring Randle. The situation will be important, though, because he isn’t the type of player who can be plugged into any system. One of the knocks on him coming into the 2013 NBA Draft was that was a center stuck in the body of a power forward, and he hasn’t done much in the years since to change that narrative. Of the 259 baskets Randle has made this season, 239 have come directly in the paint. He has only attempted 44 shots from midrange (of which he has made 12) and he’s spent even less of his time on the perimeter. According to NBA.com, 146 forwards and 26 centers have made more 3-pointers than Randle this season.

The combination means his defender can help off of him whenever he doesn’t have the ball in the paint — as Tyler Zeller has no shame in doing on the following possession — which can hurt a team’s spacing in a big way. It’s still possible that Randle develops some semblance of a jump shot in the future, but it doesn’t seem as likely as it once did based on how little he has improved in that regard since he was drafted.

Fortunately for Randle, there’s been less of a need for him to step out of the paint lately. While he was seen as a power forward coming out of Kentucky, he’s only logged a quarter of his minutes at that position this season. (It’s quite the change from his second and third season with the Lakers when 69.0 percent of his minutes came at power forward). The rest of his time has come at center, and it has helped him play to his strengths as an offensive player.

Randle, for example, has generated 14.9 percent of his offense as the roll man this season. He’s not the most explosive big man in the league, but it hasn’t prevented him from ranking in the 78.6 percentile with 1.24 points per pick-and-roll possession. He has good hands and enough athleticism to provide some vertical spacing at the rim. He can read and react to the defense, too, which separates him from the more traditional centers in the league who struggle to make plays in traffic.