After Julius Randle scored a career-high 36 points to lead the Los Angeles Lakers past the Cleveland Cavaliers, head coach Luke Walton joked he “missed” his dynamic forward. Randle’s effectiveness the two games prior was limited due to him being under the weather.
Part of what made Randle’s career night all the more impressive was he made 14 of 18 shot attempts, and added 14 rebounds, seven assists and two blocked shots. He became the first Lakers player with at least 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists in a single game since Kobe Bryant had 36-14-8 in March 2008.
“We’ve definitely made it a point to get him the ball more, over the last month or so,” Walton explained. “But we also know if we’re playing the way want to offensively and we’re moving it, that he’s going to get plenty of shots because he’s too gifted not to.”
That talent is what Walton spent the early stages of the season attempting to tap into. He regularly pushed Randle to be more on both ends of the court. Walton even kept Randle in a bench role for a stretch of he season, much to the former first round pick’s chagrin.
But the two now seem to have gained an understanding and are on the same page. It’s perhaps what factored into Walton further prodding Randle despite his stellar performance against the Cavaliers.
“He was pretty special, showed a lot of what he can do. And the crazy thing is, I still think he can be better,” Walton said “He had some lapses on defense where he had a hand down. I told him, ‘You’re so gifted, if you want to do multiple things on every possession, you can.’ He was unbelievable and still has room for improvement.”
Rather than bristle at or become upset with the notion, the 23-year-old Randle embraced it. “I can,” he responded when asked if Walton was correction in his assertion. “Absolutely. There’s a lot of things I can continue to work on, continue to grow, build on and get better. And I will.”
That Randle has hit his stride not only is of benefit for the Lakers, but on a personal level as well. Randle is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, and though once considered an afterthought, he perhaps has played his way to the forefront of the Lakers’ plans.