Julius Randle is one of the Los Angeles Lakers brightest young stars and early on this season, he showed everyone why the Lakers were so high on him when they drafted him last year. Randle’s combination of strength, speed, and ball handling ability is very tough for opposing big men to match.
Now that there is more game footage on Randle, however, some of the places where he comes up short have been very apparent. Going into Friday’s game against the Raptors, Randle had failed to reach double-digit points in five of the last six games, as teams simply play far off and force him to his right.
Randle has yet to show an ability to consistently finish with his right hand. That, combined with a very inconsistent jump shot, has made Randle easier to guard. If Randle can’t get the ball back to his left hand, it usually leads to a miss.
Another point of contention for Randle has been his lackluster defense. While he does a solid job when matched up one-on-one, he struggles severely with weakside help and rotations and often leaves Roy Hibbert out to dry when the latter helps on a penetrator. The difference between Randle and rookie Larry Nance Jr. on that end is pretty glaring.
There is no doubt that Randle has a ton of potential, but he will need to make some improvements if he is going to take that next step in his career. We asked our panel of experts what they believe is the biggest thing Julius Randle must improve to take his game to the next level. This is what they had to say:
Ryan Ward (@Lakers_Examiner): There are two things in particular that Julius Randle needs to focus on to take his game to the next level. I’d say both are equally as important.
One, finishing with his right hand. Randle is becoming far too predictable with the second-year forward seemingly incapable of using his right hand. Any decent defender in the NBA can simply sit on his left and force him right every single time he touches the basketball. Randle has some brute strength that sets him apart from other players at his position, but it will only get him so far without making the right adjustments.
Secondly, developing a consistent jumper. Randle can hit mid-range shots on occasion. There are times where I’ve been surprised when he hits a shot at certain spots on the floor, but it’s not something the Lakers can count on moving forward.
Without the threat of a consistent jumper or the ability to finish with his off hand, Randle will quickly become one of the most predictable players in the game. It will not be much of a challenge for opposing defenses to figure out how to contain the 20-year-old therefore making his impact on the floor minimal at best.
There’s no doubting Randle’s potential. The Kentucky product does have a bright future if able to master these two aspects of his game in the near future.
Jabari Davis (@JabariDavisNBA): Even though most of us had high hopes for Julius Randle’s potential, I’m not sure anyone could have anticipated quite how strong the 21-year-old looked coming off two procedures (leg/foot) within a 3-month period. From both a physical perspective and in terms of how effective he’s been in the early going, he looks quite remarkable. His agility and versatility have each been impressive on the offensive end, and his defensive effort has been better than advertised.
The most comforting aspect of his game for fans, coaches and teammates alike would have to be the fact that even though he’s shown plenty of positive signs along the way, Randle still has plenty of room to improve on both ends of the court; and an apparent willingness to continue developing while learning from the veterans in that locker room.
While his effort on the defensive end and particularly on the backboards has been stellar, his focus and communication on that end of the floor still needs improvement. There have been several occasions where he’s looked flat-out lost both in transition and within the halfcourt sets (particularly against the pick-and-roll), but that schematic awareness should increase over time.
Beyond becoming more fluid with his face-up jumper, the obvious hole in his offensive game would be in developing his right hand in all senses. Growing more comfortable attacking to the right and being able to finish in traffic or with pressure would open things up for him. His left-handed jump-hook is solid, but developing countermoves and an ability to finish with either hand at or around the rim could be the difference between being able to simply “get the job done” and Randle becoming one of the league’s top post threats over the next few years.
Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane): Julius Randle has certainly been a pleasant surprise for Lakers fans this season. After spending last year on the sidelines due to injury and most of the Summer League looking out of sorts, it appeared that Randle was going to need some time before he could make a real impact.
Instead, Randle has thrived and now has a stranglehold on the starting power forward position. Like all rookies he has been on a bit of a roller coaster ride, with brilliant performances sprinkled in amongst some clunkers, but overall he has been impressive.
That said there are a number of holes in Randle’s game that he needs to work on if he is going to get to the next level.
For one thing, his right hand is essentially non-existant right now when it comes to finishing around the basket. We have seen him badly miss multiple layups with it; I can’t recall another NBA player who was so weak with his off hand before. He makes up for it with brute strength, which he uses to force the ball back to his dominant left hand, but a respectable right hand is going to be a must if Randle is going to fulfill his massive potential.
Similarly, Randle has also struggled to finish against longer defenders, which was one of the knocks on him coming out of college. It’s something he will have to work on as he grows as a player, as is his defensive awareness.
However, the most important skill for Julius Randle to develop is a jump shot. He has a unique combination of quickness and strength that few others can match, but currently teams can sag off of him because they know he isn’t a great shooter from the perimeter. He has developed a nice fading jumping in the paint where he floats to the right a little, but ultimately Randle needs to be able to at least consistently hit the 20-footer, and ideally even be able to step out to the corner three on occasion.
Given his work ethic, I believe Julius Randle will get there eventually. He has been a pleasure to watch thus far, and Lakers fans should be excited to see how he develops over the next few years.
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH): My first thought when thinking about this question is to point to his defense. Randle’s lack of awareness off the ball is really hurting the team as his late rotations constantly give Roy Hibbert’s man an easy layup or offensive rebound. The Lakers failures on the boards many times can be attributed to this.
While that is something that needs work, the most important thing for Randle to develop is his right hand, particularly finishing around the rim with it.
I understand the argument can be made for fixing his jumper, but even without it nobody has been able to stop Randle from getting to the rim. Teams play off of him, but he can still overpower them and get to the basket. The problem is he can’t finish once he’s there and that is because he’s making the shot tougher by going back to his left, or he’s trying and failing with his right.
The great thing about Randle is that he has continued to impact the game despite his offensive struggles. His rebounding and playmaking have remained excellent. He also has an excellent work ethic and will surely put in the work to improve his shortcomings.
It may not happen in the near future, but I would be shocked if we didn’t see some serious improvements in Randle’s game near the end of the season.