The Lakers selected rookie Julius Randle with their seventh overall draft pick, believing he would become a significant piece toward their rebuilding process. But the Lakers never anticipated the impact would happen right away.
Randle instantly gushed about playing for his favorite team (the Lakers) and teaming up with his favorite player (Kobe Bryant). But after starring for one season at the University of Kentucky, Randle hardly expected to receive a starting nod, immediate praise and instant success in the NBA.
So it hardly seems surprising that Randle has encountered some initial struggles. Or that Lakers’ coach Byron Scott has offered some tough love both with Randle’s playing time and public comments about him.
The most vivid example happened in the Lakers’ 119-86 preseason loss on Thursday to the Utah Jazz in Anaheim. Then, Randle posted only four points on 2-5 shooting and one rebound before sitting out in the entire second half.. The Lakers reported Randle had blisters on both of his feet, but Scott said he still sat so he could benefit more from watching the game unfold from the sidelines.
“I still don’t think the last couple of games he could play as hard as he could play,” Scott said of Randle after the game. “It’s a much faster game. He has to learn how to let the game slow down. But the biggest thing is the effort and physical part of it and playing hard every single time he’s out there. I know he’s thinking a lot right now. There’s a lot to think about on both ends of the floor. I know it might take some time, but I expect him to get it.”
After spending the end of Friday’s practice working endlessly on post drills with various Lakers assistants, Randle walked over toward a small group of reporters. A friendly albeit reluctant talker, Randle seemed to anticipate what was coming.
What did he make of Scott’s harsh criticism?
“He should,” Randle said. “Those [veterans] are proven. I shouldn’t be treated the same as those guys. I haven’t done anything. I have to hold myself responsible. I can’t worry about what other guys do. The only thing I can do is hold myself accountable and improve every day.”
Part of that entailed Randle refusing to address his lack of playing time against Utah with Scott.
“That’s not my job to worry about that,” Randle said. “I go out there and play. That’s my job. I haven’t talked to him.”
The media does talk to Scott, though. He has stayed persistent with his criticisms about Randle.
Scott has touted veteran forward Carlos Boozer as more deserving of starting at power forward. Scott has constantly mentioned Randle needs to improve his conditioning. Following the Lakers’ 125-105 preseason loss last week to Golden State, Scott said that Randle “looked lost” for much of the first half. Scott singled out the Lakers’ big men for not communicating consistently on defense and leaving the guards exposed during pick-and-roll plays.
“My communication wasn’t there. That led to defensive breakdowns,” Randle said. “It starts with the bigs. A lot of times with the guards when they’re getting screened, they don’t really know what’s going on behind them.”
Yet, Randle’s lip service only goes so far.
He respectfully disagreed that he has struggled adapting to the pace of an NBA game. Randle countered that the professional game seems slower than his lone season with the Wildcats, saying the Lakers have “so many good, skilled players” that help slow the game down.
“I’m not really lost I would say. I would say it’s not really the pace of the game,” Randle said. “We have to learn how to play with each other.”
And Scott admits he also has to learn how to maintain the fine line toward providing the Lakers’ rookie with tough life and positive reinforcement.
“He’s still a baby. I’ve been a little hard at him at times,” Scott said. “Every now and then I forget and that he has a lot to learn. It’s not that he’s unwilling to learn. He has to put forth the effortt It’s a lot harder here than it was at Kentucky. This is a big boy’s league.”
And with that entails Randle accepting and anticipating that his dream with playing for the Lakers would not initially become an easy experience.
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