The Los Angeles Lakers have made a shocking jump in defense to start the season, and after a sluggish start, Julius Randle has been at the center of it.
The Lakers are currently allowing opponents to score 101 points per 100 possessions, the 10th-best defensive efficiency in the NBA, and Randle’s improved switching ability has appeared to be a key for the team down the stretch of numerous games. Lakers head coach Luke Walton has taken notice via Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report:
“[Randle’s defense has] been a big factor and it’s why it’s tough, especially in the fourth quarter, to take him out of the game,” Walton said. “Even when Larry, [Kyle Kuzma] and Brook [Lopez] are playing good, [Randle’s] ability to switch on to point guards and contain them and make them take contested jump shots is a big factor.”
Randle has undoubtedly improved as a defender during his fourth NBA season, with his improved fitness and conditioning turning him into a more dogged and unrelenting presence on that end of the floor, compared to past years when he would sometimes look lost or disinterested.
But while Randle has gotten better, the advanced stats tell a different story than Walton and the eye test do. The Lakers are actually better defensively with Randle off the floor, holding opponents to 99.9 points per 100 possessions when he sits compared to the 102.7 they allow while he’s in the game.
That noted, it’s also important to pay attention to how small of a sample size we’re dealing with. Yes, the numbers paint a picture of the Lakers being worse defensively with Randle on the floor, but nine games into the season the sample of minutes is also minute enough that if Randle was on the floor for one big run that wasn’t even his fault, the numbers would say he’s not good defensively.
Stats aren’t everything, which is why watching basketball is still a critical point in understanding what players do and don’t do well. Randle isn’t Draymond Green, but he’s clearly been much better defensively this year.
Combined with his improved offensive efficiency, he’s going to be hard to take off the floor, especially now that Larry Nance Jr. is out with a broken hand. As his playing time continues to increase, the numbers will probably start to more accurately reflect Randle’s growing defensive impact.
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