Things haven’t gone according to plan lately for Los Angeles Lakers big man Julius Randle. After spending the last two seasons as the team’s starting power forward, Randle discovered that this year he would be asked to take on a new challenge: becoming a backup center.
The starting power forward job instead went to Larry Nance Jr., and after Nance was lost to a hand injury, it was rookie Kyle Kuzma who was the next man up, not Randle.
With his rookie contract expiring at the end of the season and restricted free agency looming, the timing couldn’t have been worse for the versatile lefty.
Yet, after some early struggles to adapt, Randle has taken to his new role quite well, and is currently averaging 11.4 points per game on 61 percent shooting and 6.5 rebounds despite playing only 19.2 minutes, nearly 10 less than he saw last season as a starter.
Head coach Luke Walton spoke to Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times and credited Randle for accepting his new role:
“I think he is accepted what we are kind of asking him to do right now and he’s been brilliant at it honestly,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “The running, switching on defense, the setting screens, and being a dynamic roller to the rim, he has been a great energy, his productivity and the ways he is getting things done in the second unit isn’t really possible without him in that second unit.
What doesn’t show up in the traditional box score is how good Randle has been on defense. He’s making a real effort to contest shots at the rim, and while he still isn’t the type of player to lock down the opponents’ best scorer, Randle’s ability to switch onto smaller players has been crucial to the team’s defensive schemes, and as Walton noted, he deserves a large chunk of the credit for the bench rotation’s success.
Ultimately, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski recently noted, the Lakers will have to make a tough decision on Randle. With his contract ending, they will have to either trade him before the deadline or risk having to let him leave despite being a restricted free agent while they hope to lure stars like LeBron James and Paul George.
Those decisions are likely still a few months away if not more, and for now, Randle is doing what he can to prove that he deserves a lucrative new contract next season, whether it be in Los Angeles or somewhere else.
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