Randle Ready to Roll

Randle Ready to Roll?

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

What can Julius Randle become in the NBA?

It’s a bit hard to tell, considering we have just 14 minutes of actual regular season evidence since Randle fractured his leg against Houston on Oct. 28, 2014.

But we do have some evidence, as the potential for stardom has always been there. The Dallas native has been among the top players in his age group since he was a kid. At 6-foot-9, 250, Randle was one of the 10 semi-finalists for the Naismith College P.O.Y. award in his one year at Kentucky. He averaged 15.0 points and 10.4 boards as a freshman, one year after going for 32.5 and 22.5 in high school. Heading into the 2014 Draft, there were a few concerns about a foot injury that he suffered at Prestonwood Christian Academy potentially needing future work, so he slipped a few spots, making the Lakers all too excited to nab him with the No. 7 pick in the NBA Draft.

Now, his leg is fully healed, and he’s heading into his rookie, er, second year. At least one NBA Hall of Famer who happens to now be on staff with the Lakers thinks Randle’s rare combination of physical gifts and mental acuity will make him a star sooner than later.

“Julius has an extra dimension to his game that you can’t teach or work on,” said Big Game James Worthy. “He’s a natural. He’s a natural ox. He’s very physical, but he’s extremely quick. His first step is really impressive and it reminds me of one of my first step moves.”

Worthy isn’t the first Laker to call Randle an ox after observing his slimmed-but-still-powerful frame over the summer. In fact, whether it’s been his teammates, coaches or scouts around the practice facility, there’s been a consistent murmur out of El Segundo that Randle’s been beasting his way through the summer months. How has he gotten here?

If we rewind a year, Randle was progressing steadily in Lakers training camp, averaging 15 points and 8.5 boards in the final two preseason games (27 minutes per game). Then came the fracture, an operation and a subsequent surgery on his foot that was preventative in nature, not mandatory, since he was already out for the year.

Lakers head athletic trainer Gary Vitti kept him on a pretty strict system throughout his rehabilitation, which included limiting Randle to 20 minutes per game in the Las Vegas Summer League. He had the expected struggle of establishing a rhythm as a result, but he showed some real flashes that had the coaching staff excited.

Returning to Los Angeles, Randle was in the gym every day this summer. Lifting, doing cardio, shooting, texting Kobe Bryant and playing 1-on-1 against Metta World Peace, along with scrimmaging with D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and many other teammates.

And with the start of training camp, he’s now working with Big Game.

“He’s one of the greatest players of all-time, so to be able to pick his brain and learn various things is huge for me,” said Randle after Tuesday’s practice in Hawaii. “I’m excited. It’s a lot of footwork stuff. Different scenarios where I can continue to (better) use my physicality and quickness in more effective ways.”

Randle’s always had the type of hunger to want to be the best, but he’s smart enough to recognize the treasure trove of resources in front of him to help speed up that process.

“That’s just me,” he offered. “I have that hunger in me regardless. It’s a huge opportunity, but I’ve always had big goals. It’s self-driven already.”

Yes, it’s nice to have the confidence of a Hall of Famer, but nobody’s more confident about Julius Randle’s future than Julius Randle.

BIG GAME JAMES ON RANDLE

After Byron Scott’s first training camp practice, we sat down with Worthy to talk more extensively about Randle. Here’s what Big Game had to offer:

Q: On what he sees in Randle and what Worthy’s trying to impart upon him:
Worthy:
Julius has an extra dimension to his game that you can’t teach or work on. He’s a natural. He’s a natural ox. He’s very physical, but he’s extremely quick. His first step is really impressive and it reminds me of one of my first step moves, but what I’m trying to do with Randle is get him to slow down a little bit. He loves to compete, he loves the contact, and sometimes he even initiates and tries to force the issue. What I’m trying to do with the footwork and the drop steps and all that is simplify so he doesn’t have to be so physical all the time. But he’s in great shape, he’s a beast and he’s actually showing a lot of leadership as well.

Q: On that first step, and the importance of footwork:
Worthy:
For me it was a gift. Understanding the talent that you have is important, and I knew I was quicker than most, so I implemented that into my game. Plus, we had a track coach for a little while that showed us how to utilize the first step, but it was mostly natural for me. And for Julius it’s natural instinct. The first step for Julius eliminates the weak-side defense, because they can’t rotate and get there quickly enough. The second thing is to put you in a position to make a counter move when the defense does recover. Right now he’ll still try to bully his way to the bucket; what I’m trying to get him to do is recognize the weak-side defense and know where it’s coming from. With his first step, he can beat the first line of defense, it’s just that when guys recover, he’ll be able to do a counter move, and there are plenty of them.

Q: On if Randle can become a real All-Star:
Worthy:
I think so. Anybody who’s that young with that much talent who is receptive to learning (has a real chance). He’s hanging out with Kobe. He hangs out with his peers too, but he has an edge about him and he wants to be a leader. He’s an intelligent ballplayer, because things I told him last year he’s pretty much mastered. That was facing the bucket: when he faces the bucket it puts a lot more pressure on the defense because they back up, that gives him the opportunity to shoot. When he has his back to you, the defender can press him a little bit and he can’t see the weak-side defense.

Q: On the development of Randle’s jumper:
Worthy:
I know he’s working on it. What we’re trying to get him to do is catch and shoot, not catch and hesitate. When he catches and shoots automatically without thinking about it, he’s a higher percentage shooter. When he catches and looks at where the defense is (it’s less effective). If the defense is up on you, you know you don’t have the shot. When you catch and they’re not close, it should be a natural thing. But he’s getting there.

Q: On the development of his working with Randle:
Worthy:
I love Julius, in part because we had the same injury. My heart dropped when he (broke his leg) last season and that’s why I made the phone call late at night. Then I found out he wanted to work with me. He knows he only had one year of college and that the learning curve is still pretty big for him. He’s just eager, and he wants to learn.

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