Fast-paced Pelicans optimistic about upside and versatility of Julius Randle

When asked how Julius Randle might fit into a frenetic, up-tempo offensive attack like the one New Orleans prefers, Pelicans three-year head coach Alvin Gentry referenced a statistic that could bode well for the free agent’s ability to adjust to his new NBA team. Among the league’s 30 squads in 2017-18, Randle actually played for one of only two clubs that relied on a faster pace than the Pelicans.

“The pace is not going to be a problem,” a smiling Gentry said, alluding to the fact that the Los Angeles Lakers were No. 1 in that stat last season, at 102.78 possessions per 48 minutes. “Obviously Luke (Walton) is kind of from the same school I am, from a pace standpoint and (being recent assistant coaches at) Golden State. We’ll give (Randle) an opportunity to continue to play in the open court. I think that was the thing that was most attractive to him (about signing with the Pelicans).”

The 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward and center is coming off a career-best campaign with the pace-pushing Lakers, averaging 16.1 points on 55.8 percent shooting from the field (he ranked No. 10 in the league in accuracy, while Anthony Davis was 16th at 53.4). Randle is joining a New Orleans team that finished third in pace, at 102.73, which only increased during the second half of the regular season (104.23 after the All-Star break, second to only Phoenix).

In the halfcourt attack, the Pelicans like the Kentucky product’s multidimensional skill set, including an athletic and powerful frame to get buckets in the paint, driving ability, as well as above-average passing for his position (career 2.6 assists per game; Davis averages 1.9). Randle also averages 8.9 rebounds over his four-year career, despite never logging 30-plus minutes per game in any year.

“What stands out is his ability to handle the ball and playmake, especially for his position,” Pelicans Director of Player Personnel David Booth said. “He can score on the low block and his rebounding is something we thought would really be able to help us in the future.

“I think he has different looks to his game. He can get to the basket, pass to other guys. He’s a go-to scorer in the low block, if you need him to do that. He’s also able to guard fours and fives. With the lineups we have with AD, Niko (Mirotic) and Cheick (Diallo), he’ll be able to come in and fit with those guys.”

Gentry: “He’s going to be able to get out on the floor and be a facilitator. I think it’s a good match.”

Randle played just one year of college hoops at UK, so even though he’s a four-year NBA veteran, he’s only 23. The Pelicans believe Randle has more room to improve at this early stage of his career, with some of that optimism coming from the work ethic and dedication Randle has already demonstrated. He was a very reliable player for the Lakers, highlighted by playing all 82 games last season, despite being on a team destined for the lottery after an 11-27 start.

“He’s very competitive and plays hard,” Booth credited. “A guy we thought could add to our culture and we thought would be great playing next to AD, because of his physicality. His energy level is excellent. He’s a blue-collar guy, a hard worker who you don’t have to question if he’s going to play hard every night. He brings his lunch pail and hard hat every night. That has always stood out to me.”

“He’s been a hard worker, and that’s part of it,” Gentry said of one factor why Randle has improved his production each successive season in the NBA. “And he’s a really young kid. Everyone forgets about that. It’s not like we’re signing a 30-year-old guy. It gives you an opportunity to grow, and hopefully he’ll be one of our core guys for our team for a long time.”