As Julius Randle has had a breakout season for the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the subplots has been his growing relationship with head coach Luke Walton.
Things didn’t start off so rosy for the two, with Walton benching Randle to start the year. It led to the fourth-year forward and 2018 restricted free agent looking frustrated with his situation more times than not.
But at some point the two began to reach an understanding, with Randle openly speaking about wanting to reward Walton’s faith in him and not let his coach down.
Randle hasn’t done that, averaging career-highs of 16.1 points per game on 56.4 percent shooting, all while grabbing a team-high 7.9 rebounds per game. It’s a level of production that leaves Walton feeling as though his burly big man is only scratching the surface of his full potential, per Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times:
“He’s still only, in my opinion, at the very beginning of what kind of player he’s going to be in this league,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said.
At just 23 years old (and less than a full year older than rookie teammate Kyle Kuzma), Randle still has plenty of time to grow into the type of star Walton and many others believe he can be.
Randle has already been the Lakers’ best two-way player this season as a switching, do-it-all defender who can push pace and score in transition while also serving as an offensive hub for the team in their halfcourt offense.
If Randle’s jumper improves and he keeps refining his skills as a defender and finisher in pick and rolls, then whatever team that signs him in restricted free agency this summer will be getting a bargain on their hands.
None of those improvements are a given, but if the Lakers do not re-sign Randle go and he makes those improvements, they’ll probably look back on their decision and regret it.