Earlier this week, the NBA announced the players selected to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star weekend. Omitted from the list of players selected was Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle.
Lakers head coach Byron Scott said that leaving Randle out of the Rising Stars Challenge “is an injustice” and “kind of a slap in the face.”
When asked about being left off of the list of participants, Randle declined to discuss the matter.
“No comments, no comments,” Randle said.
While Randle didn’t have much to say about being excluded from the Rising Stars Challenge, he has certainly made a strong case for himself with his recent play. Over his last five games, the second-year power forward out of Kentucky is averaging 15.2 points, 11.2 rebounds and one assist per game while shooting 49.2 percent from the field.
Randle put together one of his best overall performances against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, finishing with a career-high 23 points, 14 rebounds, one assist and one steal (although he did have six turnovers). He scored with a combination of drives to the rim, put backs on the offensive glass and a few jumpers. Randle displayed the offensive skill set that made him one of the most coveted college players in 2014 and led to him being drafted seventh overall by the Lakers.
“I just let it come to me, I didn’t force anything, took the shots that were available,” Randle said after the game. “[I’m] just trying to stay extremely confident in my [jump shot]. … Finding my pace, when and when not to take it. Sometimes I settle too much, sometimes I don’t take it enough, so just trying to find that balance and still be aggressive and attack.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Randle is still looking for balance in his game and within the team. Randle is just 21 years old and is basically a rookie since he played just 14 minutes total last season as a result of breaking his leg on opening night. Add in the fact that Randle’s role and playing time have fluctuated this season (he has started in 27 of 48 games), and it becomes even more clear as to why Randle consistently struggles with certain aspects of the game. On Friday night, Randle’s biggest issue was turnovers.
“I had too many [turnovers] myself with six,” Randle said. “We had a spurt in the third quarter, took the lead and then had like five straight turnovers. Then in the fourth, when we were trying to make a comeback, we got a couple turnovers in a row, so you just can’t win like that in crunch times.
“We have to learn from it, there were passes there that I tried to make that weren’t there.”
While Randle has struggled with some shortcomings in his game this season, it’s clear that the talent is there and that Randle has a bright future. One thing Randle is already excelling at is rebounding. Randle is currently 12th in the league in rebounds per game (9.7), fourth in defensive rebound percentage (30.5), 11th in total rebound percentage (19.2) and seventh in total rebounds grabbed this season (464). Randle has a nose for the ball, uses his body to effectively box out opponents and usually continues competing for a ball where other players might give up. We can see some of these facets of Randle’s game in this clip.
In addition, Randle is already very effective at attacking the rim off the dribble. He is a solid ball-handler for his size and is very good at absorbing contact and finishing over defenders – a rare combination of skills in a young power forward.
Randle is usually able to take his man off the dribble and get close to the rim for a shot. However, defenses will often sit back and dare Randle to take mid-range jumpers since he is shooting below league average from that distance. This allows defenses to crowd the paint, deterring Randle from attacking the rim. Randle’s shooting mechanics are pretty solid and he is working hard on adding consistency to his jumper. Once Randle is able to hit shots from that distance consistently, he will have more room to attack the rim off the dribble, which he already does quite well for a player his age and size.
Furthermore, Randle has the unique ability as a big man to grab a defensive rebound and effectively handle the ball in transition. Only a few big men like Blake Griffin, Draymond Green, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are capable of grabbing a rebound and going coast-to-coast the way Charles Barkley used to so often. Randle isn’t exactly Barkley, but he has shown that he can be a threat in transition, which can be a major weapon for a team that struggles to generate points in the half-court.
“He is just getting better and better,” Byron Scott said about Randle. “He still has some things he has to continue to focus on, but I liked what I saw tonight.”
Randle’s rookie teammate D’Angelo Russell echoed Scott’s praise for Randle.
“He had that pop about him tonight that allows him to separate himself from anyone guarding him,” Russell said. “Honestly, you say that he had one of his best games, but I know what he’s capable of. I know he can do much better.”
Randle has had his struggles this season, which is to be expected. He can be overaggressive at times, he often forces the action rather than taking what defenses are giving him and he still has a long way to go as a defender. However, over the last five games we have seen a glimpse of how effective Randle can be when all of his notable skills are harnessed effectively and consistently.
Randle won’t play in the Rising Stars Challenge on All-Star weekend, but he can take solace in the fact that he is one of the most promising young power forwards in the league and is showing signs of significant improvement in his overall game.
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