Luke Walton didn’t need many words to describe Julius Randle after Friday night’s 117-97 drubbing of the title-favorite Golden State Warriors at Staples Center:
“He’s a monster.”
“I mean he is,” the first-year head coach, now 3-3 overall and 2-0 at home, continued. "He’s as big, strong and quick as anyone in the league.”
Randle punctuated a strong start to his third NBA season with 20 points, 14 rebounds (six offensive), two assists, a steal and a block in helping L.A. to a third win on Nov. 4 that didn’t come last season until Dec. 2.
“When he’s playing in attack mode, and I don’t mean attack mode like looking to score, I mean attack mode like hitting the offensive glass, setting quick DHO’s [Dribble Handoffs], shooting when he’s open, passing when the defense collapses, that type of attack mode,” Walton continued.
The Texas-born big man, however, thought he could have played better.
“I missed a lot of easy shots, but my teammates kept confidence in me, kept getting me the ball,” he said in his walk off interview on Spectrum SportNet. "I just tried to get on the boards, make something happen, have a positive effect on the game, and we were able to come up with a W.”
He may have missed a few shots, but he still converted 10 of 18 (55.6 percent), and is now shooting 59.3 percent on the season, way up from 42.9 percent in what was essentially his rookie year of 2015-16 since he played only 14 minutes in the 2014-15 opener before breaking his leg.
Randle is averaging 13.8 points, 8.3 boards, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.8 blocks in 27.8 minutes per game, which translates to 17.9 points, 10.8 boards, 3.0 assists. 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes.
Though he deserves a good deal of credit himself for being the Laker most often found in the gym over the summer, Randle is quick to mention his new coach.
“From the beginning of the summer, he’s put a world of confidence in us,” said Randle. "Trusts us every day to make plays, play the right way. He’s put the power in our hands as a player to be leaders of the team, hold each other accountable. I don’t know man … I love the guy."
For his part, Walton’s just as excited about what Randle’s shown on the defensive end of the floor. He’s been showing Randle film of Draymond Green, whom Walton grew close to as a Warriors assistant. Green’s built a well-deserved reputation as a terrific defender who can essentially guard all five positions, being comfortable defending both big men and guards when switching.
Walton’s installed some similar defensive concepts for the Lakers in part due to the versatility of his bigs like Randle, Larry Nance, Jr. and Tarik Black, calling them “phenomenal” at handling themselves in switch situations.
Randle made the key defensive play of the game to clinch Wednesday evening’s road victory over previously undefeated Atlanta. He switched over to point guard Dennis Schroder, stayed attached on a drive to the rim, and swatted his attempt off the glass with 38 seconds on the clock and L.A. up 118-114. Nick Young drilled a three on the ensuing possession to bury the Hawks.
Through six games (two at home, four on the road, all against likely playoff
teams) Walton’s Lakers rank 10th in offensive efficiency and 17th in defensive efficiency. And this while they’re still learning precisely what Walton wants, figuring out how to play with one another and trying to grow through their collective youth.
As a point of reference even with this small sample size: last season, the Lakers were
29th and 30th, respectively, in offensive and defensive efficiency.
With his play on both sides of the ball, L.A.’s “monster" is an important reason for the improvement.