NBA PM: Lakers’ Rookies Making Statement

Julius Randle comes to L.A. poised and ready to make an immediate impact on the Lakers, but what should realistic expectations be for the 19-year-old versatile big man?

Jabari Davis profile picture
Updated 1 year ago on

7 min read

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As fans of the ‘Purple-and-Gold’ adjust to the somewhat anti-climactic results of a highly-anticipated free agency period that failed to yield the big-name free agent(s) many would have liked, it is important not to lose sight of the promise that comes along with a rare lottery pick in power forward Julius Randle.

The Lakers may have headed into the summer with big ideas and grand plans about simply “reloading” rather than accepting a full-on rebuilding process, but given the way things have developed it certainly appears that “Plan B” (or ‘C’ or beyond…) entails fully embracing the potential reality of having to build a winner completely from the foundation and up.

We couldn’t fault you if the addition of point guard Jeremy Lin (plus a future first & second round pick) and returns of both Nick Young and Jordan Hill (while each positive moves on varying levels) clearly weren’t enough to remove the sting of not only missing out on free agents like Carmelo Anthony and perhaps Isaiah Thomas (among others), but also with one of their very own in Pau Gasol. Randle and fellow rookie Jordan Clarkson – whom the Lakers actually paid the Wizards a reported $1.8 million to select with the 46th pick – although understandably less-heralded than some of the established talent previously on the market, should also be factored in as young, salary-controlled talent when judging the offseason so far.

Randle’s Las Vegas Summer League experience may have been delayed by the initial free agency wave, but the 6’9 power forward definitely hit the ground running after finally signing his rookie contract just moments before the Lakers played their second game of the summer over the weekend. To his credit, Randle doesn’t appear concerned with proving where he should have or might have gone in the draft.

“Just getting back sharp again,” Randle told Basketball Insiders when asked of his current focus. “I haven’t really done anything other than workouts. So I’m just worried about getting back sharp, competing and just getting my feet wet again. I’m just trying to improve right now. That’s all I’m really worried about.”

While shaking off the natural level of rust that comes along with only doing drills and participating in portions of practice sessions, Randle immediately showed signs of why some analysts believe the Lakers may have gotten a top-3/4 talent with the eventual #7 selection. Sparing you the overused pre-draft player comparisons, Randle combines power and agility in the low-post, and appears to be slightly more athletic than previously advertised. His mid-range game will need to improve, but the 19-year-old does possess a versatility that should lend itself to an effective “turn-and-face” game as he continues to develop.

“I was looking forward to the opportunity to learn from [Pau Gasol], but I still got a couple guys like Kobe and those vets,” Randle said. “I learned a lot from him – from watching – but you know he’s not on the team and I don’t worry about it. I have a great organization…soon-to-be great coach, so I’m not really worried about [Gasol’s absence] right now.”

The Lakers, having previously waited to make a decision on an eventual head coach following an extensive search and vetting process, finally appear ready to make a decision within the next couple weeks. Bryon Scott has been considered a frontrunner for the position for some time, but given how the offseason has gone, it actually appears to be a far more fluid process than some may think.

Fellow (former) Coach-of-the-Year George Karl is another candidate that has been mentioned in relation to the Lakers’ vacancy, but the organization also has the option of continuing the current league-wide trend of selecting a first-time NBA head coach from the current assistants’ crop. Longtime Italian and Euroleague coach Ettore Messina had even been rumored as a potential option, but much like several other viable candidates, Messina finally agreed to take a position as an assistant with the Spurs, while the Lakers reportedly continue their search.

Regardless of the direction, that coach will be charged with the task transitioning from the Bryant era while working in new talent, and the responsibility of developing a couple young building blocks.

It may have been nice to see him able to lean upon an experienced big man like Gasol for pointers and guidance, but Randle isn’t allowing any residual disappointment over his absence to derail his singular focus. He genuinely comes across as a young player that simply wants to improve and show progress on a daily basis.

Clarkson may not have come with quite the fanfare or even the expectations of a top pick, but it is evident the team saw enough within the 6’5 guard to buy its way into the second round specifically to select him. Beyond his game-winning put-back that produced a fun moment for the Vegas crowd and averaging 18.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists through his first three Summer League games, Clarkson has actually shown signs of being a potential combo-guard at this level. You can never have enough athletic perimeter players with size that can also spread the court from beyond the arc, and Clarkson appears to be a candidate to eventually fill this type of role. While his ballhandling –especially when under pressure – could stand to improve, he already has an apparent “feel” for the game while in a playmaker’s role.

It is always important to maintain perspective on Summer League and eventual preseason totals when it pertains to evaluating young players. That said, although the stats may be inflated, it is possible to assess whether a player passes the proverbial “eye-ball” or “smell” test(s); and each of these rookies have done that so far. Clarkson will have his work cut out for him to find minutes in a crowded backcourt (Bryant, Lin, Young, Nash, Marshall), but Randle is a guy that is expected to make an immediate impact whether or not he views Gasol’s absence as a clear opportunity for him to step onto the big stage.

“It may or may not. I’m not worried about it,” Randle said. “What I can do it work hard, go out there and keep improving every game…keep learning and create opportunities for myself.”

Part of the appeal of Randle, even at such a young age, is his cool demeanor whether dealing with the media or playing beneath the bright lights. It does seem to take a certain makeup and mentality to not only perform in the unique setting that is the Los Angeles market, but to fully comprehend and be able to appropriately compartmentalize some of its perks and potential distractions.

That type of poise under pressure is imperative, but Randle’s ability to place perspective on the process of becoming a professional while maintaining focus upon day-to-day improvement is absolutely vital.

“[I’m] just trying to get back ‘right’ and getting my wind back up. Just sharpening my skills. You know, I’m not disappointed in how I played or anything like that, because I haven’t done anything. But I expect improvement from this game to the next game, for sure.”

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Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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