For at least one game, Julius Randle will not have to worry about his role and his minutes will entail.
Randle will start for the eight consecutive game when the Lakers (9-40) host the Charlotte Hornets (22-25) on Sunday at Staples Center with forward Larry Nance Jr. staying sidelined with recurring soreness in his right knee. But after that, it’s anybody’s guess. Presuming Nance Jr. returns soon, Lakers coach Byron Scott plans to have Randle and Nance Jr. fight for the starting spot.
“Absolutely,” Scott said. “I want it to be open competition. I think guys should feed off of that.”
But here’s the challenge: both Randle and Nance Jr. have seemed more well fed when both start. In the past seven games he has started, Randle has posted four double doubles and shot 51.4 percent from the field in just under 30 minutes per contest. Throughout the season, Randle has fared better as a starter than as a reserve in points (12.1, 9.5), field-goal percentage (43.8%, 37.2%), rebounds (7.9, 7.0) and minutes played (28.7, 24.5). The same thing applies to Nance Jr. in his starting and bench roles in points (7.3, 3.9), field-goal percentage (55.6%, 50.8%), rebounds (6.0, 3.6) and minutes played (23.1, 16.8).
Yet, Scott said he hopes that Randle earns the starting spot because of the big-picture implications.
“I want him to go against some of the best players in this league. That’s mostly starters. It is a priority,” Scott said. “Right now with Julius, because of Larry getting injured, he got that position back. But when Larry’s healthy, he’ll get it back.”
“I don’t know if he’s better as a starter,” Scott said of Nance Jr. “But I think obviously we’ve played better at the beginning when he started. That’s why I made the change because our starts were terrible in the first quarter. I thought a guy like Larry that brings energy and doesn’t demand the ball would be a better fit.”
Scott has generally liked Randle’s recent play, calling his 23-point and 14-rebound performance in Friday’s loss against the Clippers “one of his best games overall.”
“I loved how aggressive he was and how well he played,” Scott said. “I hope he can keep progressing like he has and keep hitting that mid-range shot. He obviously has gotten a lot more consistent with it. I think he feels more comfortable taking them.”
But Scott then argued Randle has “still has a ton of room of improvement” after committing six turnovers and not taking enough advantage of his size on defensive switches.
“Some of it is trying to go too fast and some of it is trying to go through two defenders,” Scott said. “Sometimes you just have to say, ‘I can’t beat them right now. Let me bring it back out.'”