If Julius Randle and Isaiah Thomas are bonding during their half-season as Los Angeles Lakers teammates, it wouldn’t really be surprising given how much they have in common.
The undersized former MVP candidate and the fourth-year wrecking ball with handles might seem like an unlikely pairing, but both Thomas and Randle are ferocious, fiery competitors, as well as bound by their shared status as afterthoughts in the team’s future plans with the front office sent to chase bigger fish this summer.
And while tons of attention was paid to the heated confrontation between the two that led to teammates having to separate them during the a loss to the Golden State Warriors, less has been given to Randle and Thomas becoming the Lakers’ (and one of the NBA’s) most dominant duo.
Of two-man pairings to play more than 200 minutes together, Randle and Thomas lap the rest of the Lakers’ field. Lakers lineups featuring those two have outscored opponents by 14.5 points per 100 possessions.
For comparison, lineups featuring Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have a net rating of 13.8. Chris Paul and James Harden have posted a 13.5 in their minutes together. This isn’t to say Randle and Thomas are better than those duos, but more to demonstrate just how effective they’ve been in their limited time together.
On the Lakers, things aren’t even close. The team’s second-ranked pairing to play over 200 minutes together is the recently traded tandem of Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson (5.9), while Thomas and Lonzo Ball (5.5), Thomas and Kuzma (5.3) and Ball and Hart (4.2) round out the top five.
One takeaway from that list is that despite some high-profile stinkers like his game against the Heat last Friday night, Thomas has been really good for the Lakers. But the biggest conclusion to take away is that he and Randle have rampaged all over teams at a rate many wouldn’t necessarily expect.
Some of that could be small sample size, but Lakers head coach Luke Walton feels like the reason is even simpler.
“They’re both really good,” Walton said. “Julius with his physical abilities and Isaiah with the way he sees the game and can run a play from the point guard position. With his passing ability and his shooting ability, you’ve got to pick and choose how you’re going to guard things.
“When (defenses) play for Isaiah to be a scorer then it’s a crafty pass to Julius who’s coming downhill, and it’s tough to stop him when he gets going downhill. And if they try to make it like, ‘We’ve got to contain Julius,’ than Isaiah has the skill to make you pay with his shooting ability.”
Just how hard Randle is to stop going downhill out of a pick and roll with Thomas was on display early against the Heat, with the little man feeding his much larger compatriot for an easy lay-in when Justise Winslow was briefly paralyzed from recovering to Randle because of the threat of Thomas’ shooting.
By the time Winslow recovered after his brief dalliance with Thomas, it was too late. Randle already had a step, after which defenses just have to pray he’ll miss.
He didn’t, and that’s been a theme since Thomas joined the team. Over the 15 games since L.A. acquired Thomas, Randle is shooting a scorching 69.5 percent with him on the floor compared to a still-pretty-good 57.3 percent with Thomas on the bench.
Those splits don’t work the other way, as Thomas is actually shooting better when Randle sits (40.6 percent) than when he plays (36.2 percent), meaning that their success would appear to be predicated on how much better Thomas’ skill set makes Randle than the other way around.
Perhaps it’s an awareness of how much easier the veteran guard has made things on him that left Randle seeing the bigger picture after Thomas missed on the final play against the Heat despite the possession being drawn up for Randle.
“That’s what he’s made his career off, making all the big shots. I don’t have a problem with it at all,” Randle said.
Now Thomas is just helping Randle get big baskets, and while both might be gone after next season (it seems nearly a certainty that at least one of them will be), until then, how dominant Randle and Thomas have been together is worth appreciating.