Amid a season that started off with fluctuating roles and frustration, Lakers forward Julius Randle could end the 2015-16 campaign writing a relatively happier ending.
Nothing will change the missed playoff fortunes surrounding the Lakers (11-44), which enter Friday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs (45-9) at Staples Center with the Western Conference’s worst record. But Lakers coach Byron Scott plans to keep Randle as the starter both tonight and beyond for one simple reason.
“With the way he’s played,” Scott said. “He’s played so well.”
So well that Scott plans to bring Nance off the bench in limited minutes both to accommodate his health and Randle’s play. So well that Randle has averaged 12.8 points and 11.8 rebounds since starting for the past 13 games amid both absences and limited playing time to Larry Nance Jr, who has nursed a sprained right ankle. So well that Randle leads his sophomore class with 21 double-doubles. So well that Randle has shown steady improvement in his field-goal percentage in December (39.3%), January (40.7%) and February (46.2%).
“Some of it comes down to slowing down,” Scott said. “A lot of it comes down to his mechanics and fundamentals as well. His shot has gotten much better. The form and look of it has gotten much better. The rotation of the ball has gotten much better. All of those things, he’s put into play. I’m real happy with where he is with his shot, but I know he can continue to get better with it.”
In the Lakers’ 27 remaining games and beyond, Scott would like to see Randle perform a few things. Scott would like Randle to improve his rhythm in catch-and-shoot opportunities. Scott would like Randle to keep the same amount of repetitions he has completed before and after practice. Scott would like Randle to reduce his turnovers (1.9 per game). Scott would like Randle to push the pace faster after he grabs a rebound.
But all those little nuances Scott hopes Randle can perfect marks a stark contrast toward the Lakers’ original big-picture outlook on Randle’s development. Scott originally stripped Randle’s starting position 20 games into the season both because of the Lakers’ poor starts and Randle’s inconsistency. Scott then foreshadowed Randle would not be able to fix his shooting stroke until the offseason by virtue of the NBA’s schedule that puts more premium on games and travel than practice time.
Instead, Randle worked extensively on his own as well as shooting coach Tracy Murray to accelerate the development with his shooting.
“We weren’t going to mess with it during the season,” Scott said of Randle’s shooting stroke. “He wanted to work on it and tried to put it in play right now .He started doing that and you’ve seen some benefits from it where he started making shots and getting comfortable with it. There’s still times he hesitates and it’s going to be a process and will take a little bit of time. But I’m extremely happy with where he is compared to where I thought he would be.”
Scott still resisted featuring Randle and Nance together because of matchup concerns against taller lineups. But Scott said closing games out with D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Randle serves as “a big part” of his late-season priorities.
“I want to get them out there as much as possible and see how they’re going to react to certain situations,” Scott said. “But the No. 1 task is still to win games. The No. 2 task is develop our young guys. In that order.”