Luke Walton has reformed the Los Angeles Lakers. They look like a different team in the post-Byron Scott and post-Kobe world. And in every sense, the team has become better for it.
D’Angelo Russell looks like a future star, Jordan Clarkson looks like a future Sixth Man Of The Year contender, Lou Williams is a Sixth Man Of The Year contender, Nick Young has become a positive NBA player, and Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. are developing nicely. But, the most impressive improvement has been in Julius Randle, who looks like a future star point forward. In fact, he is coming off his second career triple-double last night against Brooklyn, with fifteen points, fourteen rebounds, and ten assists.
Put simply, Luke Walton saw Byron Scott using Randle as a back-to-the-basket, post-up, slow, rebounding power forward. And ten years ago, it is very possible Julius Randle would have had success in that role, a la Zach Randolph. But in today’s NBA that is wasting Randle’s tremendous talent. Put statistically, per NBAWowy, Julius Randle is averaging 1.21 points per shot and 1.07 points per possession this season compared to .96 points per shot and .94 points per possession last year. Let’s dig deeper into other statistical improvements that explain why Randle has gone from a net-negative to borderline all-star level player this season.
This graph shows immense statistical improvements in Randle’s game. The first three stats – true shooting percentage, assist percentage, and rebound percentage – reflect the efficiency at which Randle scores, creates assists while using an offensive possession, and gathers rebounds when a rebound opportunity exists. What this shows is that Randle is scoring significantly more efficiently, creating more opportunities for his team, and rebounding less. All three of these factors can be explained by understanding Julius Randle’s new role for the Lakers: he has become a point forward.
Last year, Byron Scott wanted #30’s primary job on offense to be to get offensive rebounds and score garbage buckets. We can see the effect of this below.
Essentially, on two offensive possessions, you can see the problems that plagued Randle all year under Byron Scott. On the first play, because yet again all Randle had been told to do was rebound, he ends up clogging the lane for D’Angelo Russell to drive and score. On the second play, the ball is sent into Roy Hibbert in the post. Here, due to Julius Randle’s sole offensive responsibility as a rebounder, he ends up standing around doing nothing.
This has changed significantly under Luke Walton. The new Lakers head coach has decided that two of Randle’s greatest, unused offensive skills are his strength and passing ability. Consequently, while teams do not need to fear Randle’s outside shooting, they do need to respect his brute strength, and this lets him utilize his passing ability. We can see why below:
Thus, what you see here are three plays where Randle’s passing ability generates open shots for D’Angelo Russell. On the first play, the Lakers attack in transition, Randle begins to attack the paint and draws an extra defender due to his strength, then finds Russell for the kickout three-point shot. On the second play, Randle again uses his strength – this time in a halfcourt set – to draw double coverage and free up Russell for an uncontested midrange shot. Furthermore, on the third play, Randle is given the sole duty as being a point guard. He finds D’Angelo Russell on a great cut to the basket allowing the Lakers to score an easy two points.
Consequently, Walton’s decision to have Randle play as a point forward rather than a back-to-the-basket big has resulted in him being a much greater threat offensively. In essence, having Randle out on the floor encourages ball movement, which further reinforces Walton’s motion offense, and thus makes the Lakers significantly more deadly. Let’s fourth look at Randle’s play type improvement this season:
Thus, Walton’s new offense has also allowed Randle to become a scoring threat, especially in regards to isolation possessions and as the roll man in pick-and-rolls. Re-analyzing the first chart, this season Randle ranks in the top ten percent of isolation scorers, top eighteen percent of players who have scored off the later part of a pick-and-roll, and top thirty-three percent of post scorers. Essentially, he has moved into elite territory offensively. Let’s examine the first way below:
Both of the above plays show #30 using his incredible strength to score in isolation. These are sets he never received a chance to run last season under Byron Scott, and like what happened at Kentucky, Luke Walton’s decision to let Julius handle the ball in isolation is paying off. As evidence, on isolation plays, he is scoring .48 more points per possession this season compared to last season. Related to this is Randle’s ability to score off of post-ups.
Here, yet again, Julius Randle uses his superior strength to bully his way to the basket. This is a type of play Scott used last year, but because teams did not respect other parts of Randle’s game, it was not effective. Now, teams must respect #30’s passing and court-vision, thus allowing him to physically dominate in the post. If they don’t, a situation like this could occur:
Consequently, Randle has become a very useful player in isolation, because he’s proven the ability to score getting the ball in the perimeter, post, or just simply making the smart pass. But he’s improved in other ways too. As mentioned previously, Randle has also been utilized as a threat on the pick-and-roll. More specifically, on these plays, Julius Randle is averaging .48 more points per possession than he did last season. This, again, is Walton opting to let Randle’s strength and passing abilities force defenses to respect his entire offensive game, thus giving Julius the ability to score off of screens. This can be seen below:
Thus, Randle can use his strength and court-vision to be useful as both a passer and scorer in the pick-and-roll. This is an area we should expect the Lakers to use increasingly as the season goes on, as it is a high efficiency play that can become an offensive staple, consequently making Los Angeles that much harder to defend.
The final area where Randle has improved under Luke Walton is as a threat in transition. He’s become an elite scorer and passer on fastbreaks, which lets him act as a poor man’s Draymond Green for the former Warriors’ assistant coach. His passing on these opportunities is most impressive.
Randle is able to use his elite court vision to predict how the fastbreak will turn. This allows the forward to make perfect passes to his open teammates. While not as prolific, #30 has also become an above average scorer on these opportunities because of his strength and basketball intelligence. Nonetheless, this is yet another area where we should expect continued improvement from Randle.
In summation, the Lakers’ 2014 first round draft pick has improved nearly all facets of his game while working in Luke Walton’s offense. Coach Nick of BBallBreakdown had a great comparison for Julius Randle: Lamar Odom. The fact is, Julius Randle is best served playing as a point forward who can initiate the offense, not as a back-to-the-basket big like Zach Randolph, simply because the former’s skill set is much more versatile. Luke Walton saw this immediately and noted that he saw similarities between Randle and Warriors’ star point forward, Draymond Green. Obviously Randle must go through significantly more growth before he becomes Green, but the potential is there, and Luke Walton has brought it out this season.