The complimentary words poured out of Byron Scott’s mouth like a streaming river. After once lamenting their inconsistency, Scott praised how rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell and second-year forward Julius Randle have handled their reserve roles for nearly the past month.
“I liked the way they have played so far off the bench.,” Scott said. “I know both of those guys want to start. But the one thing I haven’t seen from one of those guys is them pouting or them worrying about it. They’re still coming in and getting pretty good minutes. They’re still going out there and trying to produce.”
Yet, the Lakers (7-27) enter Sunday’s game against the Phoenix Suns (12-24) at Staples Center in a precarious position. Scott originally made lineup changes amid the Lakers’ poor starts and sluggish record. But Scott has resisted making lineup changes amid the Lakers coming off a two-game winning streak.
“If we go out and win tonight, there’s no need to change if we have a three game winning streak,” Scott said. “Obviously it depends on how we play tonight.”
The numbers show that Russell and Randle have performed similar in starting and bench roles.
Russell has averaged 11.8 points on 38.2 percent shooting, 3.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 26.3 minutes off the bench, while averaging 11.6 points on 40.6 percent shooting, 4.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 28.5 minutes as a starter. Randle has averaged 11.5 points on 40 percent shooting and 9.9 rebounds through 24.5 minutes as a reserve, while averaging 11.7 points on 43.3 percent shooting and 9.2 rebounds in 28.4 minutes as a starter.
But Scott’s decision about handling his young players seems to be more complicated for Randle than for Russell. While shooting guard Lou Williams has averaged 14.5 points on only 43.7 percent shooting in 31.1 minutes as a starter, rookie forward Larry Nance Jr. has compensated his 7.0 points per game average with more shooting efficiency (56 percent) and better defense.
“Their energy level has been fantastic,” Scott said of Russell and Randle. “They’ve taken the role with coming off the bench a little different. It’s not a demotion. Instead, it’s a chance to go out there and have an impact on the game. They are also looking at it as a chance to get better and see what’s going on when they get out there.”
Did Russell and Randle always think that way?
“It might have bruised their egos when I first did it,” Scott said of Russell and Randle. “They were both shocked and disappointed. But now they have the chip on their shoulder where they want to get it back and earn it back. In doing that, they know they have to come out and play well. That’s what they’ve done.”
Randle had never questioned Scott’s decision-making. But Randle admitted having trouble building his rhythm in the middle of the game with new teammates. Though Randle has posted 12 double doubles this year, he has also logged six games where he scored six or fewer points.
“It’s easier to get into a rhythm when you play hard and when you go out and compete and don’t worry about certain things,” Scott said. “You can’t have an agenda when you walk out there. The biggest thing when you walk out on the floor is you want to try to impact the game in any way possible. That’s what he’s done. His rhythm will come and his rhythm will go. But that energy and intensity is something you have to keep at a high level.”
Randle has also recently shot at a high level by hitting 47 percent of his field-goal attempts in the last three contests. That has caused many of Randle’s teammates to shoot more. But that has become a work in progress amid his previous inconsistency with his mid-range jumper.
“When he catches the ball in that 17-foot area, his problem is he catches and hesitates and thinks about it. Then he shoots it, and it’s too late,” Scott said. “You have to catch it when he’s in a rhythm and then shoot it without thinking about it so much. If you make a couple, shoot it again. If you miss a couple, swing it and run side pick and rolls.”