Coming into the 2015-16 NBA season, Julius Randle was viewed as the Los Angeles Lakers power forward of the future, and that still is likely the case. However, Randle was moved to bench in favor of rookie Larry Nance Jr. and Nance has proven to be an excellent player himself.
In his last five games, Nance is averaging 9.8 points and 8.6 rebounds while providing a number of plays that don’t show up on the box score. Nance is also an excellent defender who is farther ahead of Randle when it comes to understanding help defense and rotations.
Randle, for his part, has been great as a reserve, averaging a double-double of 11.2 points and 10 rebounds. He has continued to be one of the Lakers best players and his play would seem to warrant a promotion back to the starting lineup.
The problem is that Nance is improving seemingly every game and it would be difficult to bench someone who is playing as well as he has been.
So, we asked our panel of experts if they believe Larry Nance Jr. should lose his starting spot to Julius Randle. This is what they had to say:
Jabari Davis (@JabariDavisNBA): For a staff that experimented with the frontcourt pairing of Ryan Kelly and Brandon Bass for a considerable stretch earlier in the season, why not see what Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. might be able to do together for a block of games?
Sliding Nance Jr. next to Randle makes more sense than playing either of the two off the bench. For all of starting center Roy Hibbert’s 7’2 size, even his best defensive efforts haven’t been enough to prevent these Lakers from being one of the league’s bottom-five teams when it comes to defending the paint. Nance Jr. might not have the bulk and size of Hibbert, but the 6’8 forward definitely brings the type of energy and effort the coaching staff has been asking to see on a consistent basis.
Of course you can always utilize Hibbert’s length against the remaining low-post oriented bigs or against particular match ups where the young guys are struggling, but Nance Jr. and Randle are each versatile enough to develop into a really interesting pairing on both ends of the floor if given the time.
Randle is clearly tenacious on the offensive glass, but Nance Jr. has been just as active on both ends of the court during his time on the floor. While both of them must continue to develop their outside shot, they each possess the types of athleticism and physical tools that allow them to be effective even while actively expanding their skill sets.
With the development of the young core being the organization’s main focus, pairing these two young bigs and allowing them to experience both the taste of success and take their unavoidable lumps/lessons simply makes sense.
Alan Huerta (@Alan_Huerta24): Although Larry Nance Jr. has exceeded expectations by far this season, including in his starting role (averaging 6.9 points and 5.0 rebounds in 13 starts), I still think Julius Randle should get the nod over him at power forward.
Randle doesn’t have the leaping abilities that Nance has, but he’s still a more valuable asset to the Lakers’ young core with his versatility and “bully ball” style of play. Alongside D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson, Julius is the third piece of this young trio that is already showing glimpses of what’s the come in the next chapter of Lakers basketball.
With Randle coming off the bench, his minutes and role have been reduced which doesn’t allow his skill sets to develop. In a lost season like the one Los Angeles is currently in, the only positive that can come out of it besides Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour is developing the young core. Although that includes Nance, Jr. as well, I believe Randle’s ceiling is higher therefore he should be out there with the first unit.
On a side note: Randle seems to play angrier and with a chip on his shoulder coming off the bench and although I do believe he’ll regain his spot, I think it’s lifted his work ethic and on-court production which will benefit him in the long run.
Kevin Chan (@Kevin_Cruiser): There’s no logical reason why Julius Randle shouldn’t be starting for the Lakers this season.
He needs to get as much playing time as possible so he can become more acclimated to the NBA. Nance may make less mistakes than Randle at this stage and may be a more solid player, but I think Randle has more upside than Nance.
It’s silly for the Lakers to draft Randle with the 7th overall pick and leave him on the bench in favor of a late-first rounder. The Lakers have to give Randle more playing time so that he can develop.
Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane): Larry Nance Jr. has been a pleasant surprise for the Lakers this season, going from a shocking selection with the 27th pick to fan favorite thanks to some particularly nasty poster-dunks.
He has also shown flashes of a solid mid-range game (even occasionally stretching to the three point line), and his quick feet and athleticism have allowed him to be an effective, high-energy defender and rebounder. There is no question that Nance has out-performed expectations, and as such the tendency is to say that he shouldn’t lose his starting spot to Julius Randle because he doesn’t deserve a demotion. That line of thinking, however, is short-sighted.
Long-term, Nance projects to be an excellent change-of-pace player off the bench; the kind of guy that can come in and make things happen by flying all over the court for 20 minutes per game. That’s not a bad thing at all, and for a 27th pick being the first big off the bench is phenomenal.
Randle, on the other hand, may be performing at a similar level to Nance currently, but he is also two years younger. While both are blessed athletically, Randle’s ability to handle the ball and create off the dribble is a unique skill for a player of his size, and as he matures his defensive awareness will improve.
Ultimately, as great as Nance has been, Randle simply has a higher upside and needs to be given as many minutes as possible to grow, particularly against starting-caliber players. He struggles with longer defenders and his jumper is inconsistent, but allowing him to learn on the job and bang against the top power forwards in the league will help him more than playing against reserves, where he can get away with bad habits.
The bottom line though is that, regardless of who is starting, the Lakers power forward position for the future looks bright.
Nathaniel Lastrapes (@NathanielP2): Larry Nance Jr. has been very impressive in his starting role with the Lakers. I bought in to Nance the first time I saw him in a game situation.
This is a tough question, because Julius Randle has had his spurts of nice basketball and I would love to see him on the floor as much as possible. Nance fits well with the starting unit because he does not need the ball in his hands to have an impact on the game. His midrange jumper has been automatic as of late and he has the ability to be a starter in this league in the future.
However, impressive as Nance has been, I still think Randle should be in the starting lineup. Byron Scott has been playing small lately with Brandon Bass at center, so I can imagine a scenario where both Nance and Randle are on the floor at the same time.
Teams are scoring easily in the paint against Roy Hibbert, so his value has plummeted. For this reason, I think Scott should try a starting lineup with both Nance and Randle in the frontcourt. The Lakers would be incredibly small in the paint, but they would be great in transition, both offensively and defensively.