When the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Brook Lopez over the summer, common thought held that he’d serve as the perfect frontcourt complement to Julius Randle, with his ability to space the floor opening up driving lanes for Randle to bulldoze his way to the rim.
That theoretical vision didn’t come to pass early on, with Lakers head coach Luke Walton electing to first start Larry Nance Jr. alongside Lopez and then going to Kyle Kuzma when Nance was hurt. All while mainly using Randle as the team’s primary backup center.
Walton’s decision making nearly paid off. Lopez has played at around his career levels, while Randle has responded with the best season of his young career, averaging 12.2 points per game on a by-far-career-high 54.9 percent shooting.
The Lakers are also over five points per 100 possessions better with Randle in the floor than when he sits, and the team is never worse (-4.6 net rating) than when he’s on the bench. That success is in part why Walton decided to finally try pairing him with Lopez.
“Julius has been great no matter who we’re playing him with,” Walton said. “I think it’s important with Julius that we have some space for him to be able to do what he does best, and for us to be able to shoot the ball at a certain level that allows Julius to be able to drive lanes, play-make, and do all those things.”
In 23 minutes together, lineups featuring Randle and Lopez have an offensive rating of 107, meaning they’ve scored at a rate that would equal 107 points per 100 possessions. That tandem has also posted a defensive rating of 74.7.
The 32.3 net rating means meaning the Lakers outscored opponents at a rate that would equal that many points per 100 possessions.
The Lakers have been an average defensive rebounding team overall, and that hasn’t changed so far in minutes featuring Randle and Lopez, in which the Lakers’ defensive rebound percentage has went up from a 13th-in-the-league 78 percent to 81.3 percent.
The percentage of offensive rebounds the Lakers grab has actually decreased in that sample size, going from a middle of the pack 21.7 percent (16th in the NBA) to 12 percent, which would rank dead last.
And while it was theorized that Lopez’s floor-spacing skills would lead to a rise in Randle’s shooting efficiency, the opposite has thus far been true in their limited minutes together.
When paired with Randle, Lopez has shot 6-of-11 (54.8 percent) overall and 3-for-7 (42.9 percent) from three, promising early returns and higher than his averages of 44.8 percent and 30.6 percent, respectively, off the court.
Randle’s overall percentages have gone the opposite direction when paired with Lopez thus far. However, he has shot a slightly higher percentage around the basket (66.7 percent) when Lopez is on the floor than he does when Lopez isn’t (65.5 percent), lending credence to the theory that Lopez’s ability to shoot would benefit him.
“As a unit, Julius becomes the big man that’s sprinting down the lane, or switching out on guards, and he’s playing more of the traditional forward,” Walton said. “That continues to allow Brook to continue what he’s doing, score the ball and play a traditional five-spot.”
Twenty-three minutes isn’t anywhere close to enough to decide whether a Randle-Lopez pairing works or not, but the early returns are promising and Walton likes what he’s seen from the experiment so far.
“They’ve been good,” Walton said. “That combination has worked well for us.”
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