The Lakers’ promising young player sprinted up and down the floor with grace. He sank open shots with ease. He kept an eye on his teammates, and quickly set them up when they had open looks.
Lakers rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell may have placed most of the blame on himself for the recently stalled ball movement. But in the Lakers’ 116-105 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday at Staples Center, Julius Randle played the bigger role in reigniting an offense based on team concepts instead of one-on-one play.
While Russell left in the second quarter with a moderately sprained right ankle, the 21-year-old Randle became the youngest Lakers player since Magic Johnson to record a triple double that included 13 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists. The performance marked what Lakers coach Byron Scott called the “only big time positive” in a game that featured very little defense and uncertainty surrounding Russsell’s health.
“We haven’t been moving the ball great,” Randle said. “We really haven’t been getting each other going the last couple of games. So I just tried to look at it differently and get my guys going.”
The 21-year-old Randle sure played differently as he became the youngest .
After never collecting more than five assists beforehand, Randle reached that total nine minutes into the game. After occasionally dribbling too much, looking for his shot and forcing himself inside, Randle found a seamless balance in mastering all his various skills. After grabbing the rebounds, Randle took a larger initiative in leading the fast break and running the offense.
Yet, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant maintained he was “not surprised by it,” before reminding everyone he had described Randle before the season as “Lamaro Odom in a Zach Randolph body.”
“He’s a great passer. He has great vision and can handle the ball,” Bryant said of Randle. “It’s just a matter of him getting a feel for the NBA game and where he sees actions take place. That comes from experience and study.”
Friday night marked a good first step.
“It’s been something I’ve been doing my whole career. I can get better at it and it can be something I do to contribute to the team,” Randle said. “I feel like today came naturally. I wasn’t’ forcing it. I was just making the right play and getting my guys going.”