For a Los Angeles Lakers team that was decimated by injuries throughout the season and in particular over the final weeks, Julius Randle represented the one constant. Not necessarily in the lineup, but on the hardwood as a whole.
Randle was the only Lakers player to appear in 82 games this season, and he was one of 26 in the entire league to accomplish as much. “That’s incredible. That’s a badge of honor in this league,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said.
“And when you play as hard as Julius plays night in and night out, he should get a lot of praise and love for that. I think that’s part of the toughness we’re talking about. We want guys that are always going to want to play, no matter what.
“If they’re injured, if they’re not. If they’re mentally tired, whatever it is, they want to keep playing. Julius did that all season long for us, and he should get a lot of love for that.”
In January, Randle suffered a fracture in his right ring finger that he put a splint on and continued to play through. His 16.1 points per game tied with Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram for the team lead.
Randle’s 26.7 minutes per game was seventh-highest on the Lakers. Both averages may have been higher if Walton had not eased the workload on his physical forward once the calendar flipped to April.
From Feb. 2 to March 30, Randle played at least 30 minutes in 22 of 25 games. He did so just twice in the Lakers’ final seven games, and logged a combined 35 minutes against the Houston Rockets and Clippers.
That Randle developed into a key piece for Walton’s Lakers could not have been predicted at the outset of the season. The 23-year-old was moved to the bench and often clashed with his head coach.
But Randle and Walton eventually reached an understanding, and the prodding and constructive criticism led to impressive results on the court.
Last offseason, Randle transformed his body. This summer, he’s in strong position to reap the fruits of his labor as a restricted free agent.