By Scott Howard-Cooper
Posted Jul 18, 2014 8:23 AM
LAS VEGAS -- Neither the departure of Pau Gasol nor the arrival of Ed Davis were expected to affect Julius Randle and the start of his NBA career that much. Not when Gasol's departure could be seen coming from months away whether the Lakers added a replacement power forward in the draft or not and Davis signing for the minimum as a free agent indicated the level of belief around the league he is capable of holding down big minutes.
Then came Thursday and news the Lakers won the amnesty bid for Carlos Boozer.
Here and now, it means nothing. Randle is playing pretty well, especially considering he didn't have a five-on-five practice until he signed his contract Sunday and played later that day, averaging 12 points and four rebounds in 23.1 minutes while playing in three of the four L.A. games. Same with deep into the future, when Boozer will be gone, possibly after one season and the roster turnover will have continued with Randle as someone to build around.
But his 2014-15 has just changed, perhaps enough to impact the Rookie of the Year race that begins in earnest in October. Since using the No. 7 pick to get Randle as a one-and-done out of the University of Kentucky, the Lakers allowed Gasol to leave once their push for Carmelo Anthony had failed and the need to retain the veteran big man at eight figures a year had faded, re-signed Jordan Hill, signed Randle on Sunday, agreed to terms with Davis on Wednesday and added Boozer on Thursday. That's an eventful five days in the life of a 19 year old.
While it remains to be seen who starts at power forward on opening night -- because it also remains to be seen who will be making the decision as the coach -- it is possible Randle outplays Boozer and earns the job. Randle is physically ready and can score inside, while Boozer is 32 and coming off a season where he lost the job in Chicago to Taj Gibson and went from 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in the regular season to 9.6 points and 7.8 boards in the playoffs.
But the opposite is also possible, that Randle just lost a big chunk of minutes with either spot on the depth chart as the Lakers remain committed to bringing in experienced players around Kobe Bryant. There are more options now rather than being forced to let Randle play through rookie mistakes if the priority in 2014-15 is still on winning over developing prospects, even their best prospect.
Suddenly, there was an ankle issue to worry about Thursday, in addition to the knee issue to worry about every night. Noel left the game against the Bulls and headed right for the locker room, presumably for the rest of the contest considering their cautious approach to his comeback. But Noel returned and played in the fourth quarter.
2. JARNELL STOKES, Grizzlies (2)
The second-round pick, No. 35 overall, finished Orlando averaging nine rebounds a game in 26 minutes, without ever playing more than 30 minutes. Though struggling with his shot at times, Stokes still scored 10, 16, 11 and 12 points in the limited time.
3. T.J. WARREN, Suns (3)
He had another 26 points in 29 minutes Wednesday while making 11 of 18 shots in a loss to the Timberwolves, putting Warren at 80 points in 92 minutes in Las Vegas. The No. 14 pick continues to score in bunches, just as he did at North Carolina State. Phoenix plays again Friday.
4. DOUG McDERMOTT, Bulls (4)
He struggled Thursday, missing seven of 10 shots overall and five of six three-pointers while scoring 11 points. But that was after 31 points in 27 minutes against the Nuggets and 20 points in 26 minutes against the Timberwolves, with the Minnesota game also including six assists and five rebounds.
5. JAMES ENNIS, Heat (5)
Leaving Monday after 14 minutes and sitting the next three games will only hurt him in the rankings if Jordan Clarkson continues to put up big numbers or someone else makes a massive late charge. In five full games, Ennis has scored at least 17 points four times, while also contributing 5.5 rebounds in 22.2 minutes per game.
6. JORDAN ADAMS, Grizzlies (6)
Adams left Orlando on a bad note, by making just five of 13 shots and scoring 11 points against the 76ers, but that was after scoring at least 19 points in three of the four previous games. The Grizzlies are not playing in Las Vegas.
7. JORDAN McRAE, 76ers (not ranked)
Jabari Parker was not long for the Ladder world as of Wednesday night, and McRae knocked him out Thursday by going seven of eight from the field and 10-for-10 from the line en route to 25 points. Then McRae kept climbing. In truth, it should have happened before -- his lowest output is 18 points.
8. JORDAN CLARKSON, Lakers (7)
The second-round pick with a lot to prove, though with the benefit of playing on a team that needs bodies, had an opening statement of 21, 16 and 19 points the first three games, before 11 points and six rebounds Wednesday. Six assists and 13 turnovers costs him the chance to move higher.
9. ELFRID PAYTON, Magic (8)
While the 1.75-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is a bad number for a point guard, Payton did a lot of other things well in Orlando. He shot 59.3 percent, added 5.2 rebounds from the backcourt in five games, and showed signs of the potential on defense.
10. GARY HARRIS, Nuggets (9)
The one bad game was really bad: one make in 12 shots against the Bulls, including four tries and four misses from behind the arc. Two other games, though, were piling up 33 and 18 points, even if he just six of 21 on threes, before the 15 points on Wednesday.
Dropped out: Jabari Parker (10).
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