The Los Angeles Lakers chose not to extend fourth-year forward Julius Randle this week before the deadline to do so, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like his game.
Randle put in work all summer to get into the best shape of his career, which resulted in averages of 13.3 points and 7.5 rebounds during six preseason games, the last few of which he came off the bench. The burly forward suffered an intercostal strain in the team’s final preseason game, but he still thinks he’ll play in the season opener.
Whether or not he’ll start if he plays remains an open question.
Although Randle basically played better than any Laker other than Kyle Kuzma during the preseason, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN made it sound like the team doesn’t necessarily see that as a reason to put him in the starting lineup. They like what he can do against other bench players, via ESPN Los Angeles’ Twitter account:
“They like Julius in any role he’s in but they love the idea of him being able to dominate against second units.”
— ESPNLosAngeles (@ESPNLosAngeles) October 18, 2017
Randle might fit better alongside presumed starting center Brook Lopez than any of the Lakers’ other frontcourt players, but the same is true of just about every other four on the Lakers’ roster. So while Lopez’s ability to stretch the floor and protect the rim would help Randle, the latter’s newfound mobility might allow him to better protect the rim if the Lakers go small with him at center off of the bench.
There is also the question of how much Randle’s ballhandling would be properly utilized in a starting lineup that appears set to put the ball in Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram’s hands a ton, and Randle doesn’t have a ton of utility without the rock.
If he came off the bench instead, he’d likely serve as more of a fulcrum of the Lakers’ offense, which is arguably a much better use of his particular set of skills than starting him.
Demoting Randle to the bench might not seem like an endorsement in a contract year, but it also might be exactly the type of move that allows Randle to best showcase what his role should be going forward in the league and fully unleash his full “Lamar Odom in Zach Randolph’s body” potential against opposing second units.