EL SEGUNDO — When he bulldozed his way into the lane, it did not appear anything could stop Julius Randle. The Lakers’ third-year forward has a chiseled 6-foot-9, 250-pound frame that can overpower nearly anyone in his way. Randle can veer defenders off by relying on his predominately left hand. He has started to give his opponents fits with an emerging jumpshot. There is one main thing that can stop Randle from dominating, though.
Though Randle finished his third year averaging 13.2 points on 48.7 percent shooting and 8.6 rebounds through 72 games, he logged single-digit performances in 22 of those appearances. He became frustrated when whistles were called against him as he averaged 3.4 fouls per contest. For better and for worse, Lakers coach Luke Walton often observed Randle’s level of engagement determined his effectiveness level.
Randle nodded his head in agreement with that assessment as he attributed his “mindset” and “preparation” fueling both his good and bad performances during the 2016-17 season.
“A lot of times I noticed practices carried over into the games. So how hard you’re going in practice or how hard you’re working will have a carryover as far as intensity,” Randle said. “It’s not going to guarantee you that you make every shot. But as far as intensity level and how hard you’re playing, it carries over. Usually when I’m into it and my intensity up and is playing hard, I’ll have a good game. But I have to be more consistent in bringing that energy and that effort and consistently having that motor going and powering my team.”
To ensure that consistency, Randle pledged he will work on various “skills stuff” this offseason.
He will continue to sharpen his right hand so that using it becomes more instinctual instead of forced. He will study film to minimize his learning curve with his helpside defense. Despite already showing improvement in his conditioning and diet, Randle called that the “biggest focus for me this summer.”
“I can go miles. But it’s a lot more as far as the level I can take it to as far as my body and fitness,” Randle said. “I think it’s about my diet and getting better at that. It’s a huge step I can take.”
Randle already took huge steps in his third season.
By averaging 13.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists this season, Randle joins an esteemed set of Lakers that have posted those numbers. Only Magic Johnson, Kareem-Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Vlade Divac and Jim Pollard had maintained those averages for a season with the Lakers. Only Randle, Johnson and Baylor matched those numbers during their third season.
Randle became the first Lakers to log three triple doubles in a season since Kobe Bryant collected five in the 2004-05 campaign. Randle, Johnson and Bryant are the only Lakers to post such numbers in a single season. And by posting a career-highs in points (32) and field goals (13) on March 17 against Houston, Randle became the first Lakers forward to reach the 30-point mark since Antawn Jamison had 33 points on Nov. 30, 2012 against Denver.
In other words, Randle has become a different player than when he first entered the NBA. After playing only one game before missing the rest of his rookie season with a fractured right leg, Randle lost his starting spot 20 games into his second season under Byron Scott partly because of his inconsistency.
“This year, I did a lot better job of not having to force things so much,” Randle said. “I just took what was there. I have to work on being consistent with that and taking what’s there. As long as you keep them honest, I can get into the paint whenever I want to. I just have to keep them honest.”
To do that, Randle has become honest with his struggles.
He downplayed whether it might be unfair for the southpaw to develop a right hand when very few right-handed players have a strong left hand.
“Left handers are unorthodox and there are not many of them. I guess it’s a greater focus on it, I can say that,” Randle said. “It doesn’t bother me. I’m a basketball player. What I have to do to get better is what I’m going to do.”
Although he acknowledged it was “hard” becoming a new father since December to his son, Kyden, Randle said, “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
Despite his improvement on defense, Randle argued he “got a ways to go” particularly with helpside defense. He has spent time with the Lakers coaching staff watching clips of Warriors forward Draymond Green on how he excels in that area. Randle also spent part of his exit meeting discussing his defensive deficiencies with Lakers coach Luke Walton, preside of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka.
“It’s me being in a stance the whole possession. A lot of times I get caught straight legged and I react to it too slow. If I continue to watch the game, learning the game and learning patterns throughout the game with what’s happening defensively, I can read it before it happens,” Randle said. “I definitely feel more comfortable guarding someone one-on-one. But I think my biggest thing is helping and seeing things before they happen. I have to become a better shot blocker and stuff like that.”
Should Randle improve all of those areas, perhaps the Lakers will no longer wonder about his level of engagement.
“It’s part of being a professional and taking every games as serious as the one before and the one that is coming up,” Randle said. “I have to be more consistent with my play. Things switch from game to game. Teams play you different with different schemes. So you never know from night to night coming in there. You have to be there as a professional and you look at the matchups and what a team is doing and how they’re playing and know this is what I need to do.”