Julius Randle has earned a place with the Los Angeles Lakers long-term. The 23-year-old has transformed from an enigmatic former lottery pick into one of the most reliable power forwards in the NBA. While the Lakers value salary cap flexibility, the impending restricted free agent has played well enough to earn a spot with the franchise moving forward.
After taking Randle with the seventh pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Lakers couldn’t seem to figure out how to use him. He was an undersized post player, who could rebound but didn’t seem to fit the direction of the franchise. Especially once Luke Walton took over as the team’s head coach.
After an up-and-down season under Walton in 2016-17, Randle took on the challenge of fitting in. He worked his tail off to get into absolutely insane shape this offseason, and it has shown on the court. He’s quicker, faster, stronger and is far more well-rounded. He’s one of the few power forwards who can handle the ball coast-to-coast and still finish with strength at the rim.
Randle is averaging a career-best 14.8 points per game, while hitting a career-high 56.1 percent from the field. He’s also posting career-highs in points per 40 minutes (23.7), true shooting percentage (60.1), usage rate (24.2) and PER (19.63). He’s eighth in the league in field goal percentage, and 11th in two-point percentage (58.4).
Most of all, Randle has become a leader for the Lakers and is a guy the team can rely on in key situations. He’s a bull in the low post, but can also create his own shot going to the basket. While he needs to be a much better 3-point shooter (22.5 percent), his transformation this season shows he’s capable of taking leaps forward. He also plays with tremendous hustle and desire. He sets an example for the entire roster.
Randle has also improved as the season has progressed. Early in the year he struggled coming off the bench, but eventually became a key piece of the rotation. Now, since returning to the starting lineup he’s been fantastic. In February he’s posted his best month of the season, averaging 19.4 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 31.9 minutes. He’s also shooting 58.9 percent from the field.
Yes, the Lakers want to add two max contract players at some point in the next two offseasons. This year, Paul George and LeBron James will be targets, and there’s a bumper crop in 2019 as well. But Los Angeles is rolling right now.
The Lakers have won 11 of their last 16 games, and 15 of their last 22. The young group is finally beginning to gel and deliver on its promise. Randle, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball all look like the real deal. Why would Magic Johnson and company want to disrupt things?
Yes, adding two All-Stars would bring a lot of sizzle to Los Angeles, but giving up on a rapidly developing 23-year-old would be a mistake. George and James essentially play the same position, and could also overlap with what Kuzma does. Bringing both of those guys in and casting Randle off could lead to a log-jam on the wing, while creating an opening in the post. With Larry Nance Jr. gone, Randle is the only reliable post player on the roster.
The Lakers’ young core is developing well and Randle is a big part of it. The Kentucky product won’t turn 24 until November, and given the work he’s put in, he deserves the chance to play in Los Angeles long term.
Could signing Randle end the team’s pursuit of two All-Stars? Absolutely, but it’s the right thing to do for the franchise. He’s earned his place in the team’s future.