One of the most tragic images from last season is of Julius Randle holding his broken leg and grimacing in pain on the Staples Center floor. In an instant, the highest draft pick the Lakers had selected in 32 years was gone, and even worse, an important opportunity for the development of a young core player was lost. Heading into the 2014-2015 season, Lakers fans were cautiously optimistic about their new prospect, who had spent his lone season at Kentucky using his brute force and athleticism to smash everyone and everything on his way to the rim. While detractors claimed that he was undersized and that his brand of bully ball wouldn’t translate well to the NBA, Randle’s play during preseason was electric enough to have Lakers fans convinced that they had found their power forward of the future, which made his untimely injury all the more dreadful.
From the limited time we have seen Randle on the floor, it’s clear that he has some serious talent. For a player with his size and strength, he is incredibly quick off the dribble, which makes him a nightmare matchup for most fours. He frequently uses his quick first step to get the defender reeling backwards, and then bulldozes them underneath the hoop so they can’t block his shot. It’s a grown-man move, which is impressive to see from a 20 year old. Here he takes Kristaps Porzingis to the basket and has two defenders collapse on him, but uses his strength to finish anyway:
Of course Randle isn’t without his flaws, and in spite of his gifts, he has some real improvements to make before he can be considered a core piece.
While his bread and butter may currently be attacking off the dribble, it’s the development of a consistent jumper that will likely make or break Randle on the offensive end. Like Clarkson, not only will a deadly jumper improve his ability to get to the rim, but it will also free up the rest of the Lakers offense by preventing defenders from sagging off of him to clog the paint.
The development of a few go-to moves with his right hand will similarly be important, as defenders currently anticipate the spin back to his left, making finishing at the rim more difficult than it should be. Randle also needs to be comfortable scoring within the system of an offense rather than relying on isolation plays, but that will come with time.
Defensively, he doesn’t project to be much of a shot blocker, but Randle’s quick feet and strength can eventually make him a plus defender as long as he establishes proper positioning and makes the correct rotations.
To Randle’s benefit, one of the newer trends in the NBA is the playmaking four, which is a power forward who can put the ball on the floor and create for others. Draymond Green is the prime example of this (as was Lamar Odom), and while Randle will probably never have Green’s three-point shooting ability, he could fit into this role very nicely.
Of course, staying healthy should be the prime objective for next season, but Randle has a real chance to be a special player in this league if he can add a little more polish to his smashmouth-style game.
CONTINUE SLIDESHOW: Clarkson, Randle, Russell Hold Keys To Lakers Future