Can Julius Randle Be the Next Great Laker?

There was a time when Julius Randle's name was floated around as a potential number-one pick, but the lowered expectations may benefit the below-the-rim stud.

During the countless conversations and hypothetical situations, various lottery-pick hopefuls have been heralded, hated, and humbled for countless reasons.

One of the most long-standing names near the top of the list has been Julius Randle, the Kentucky freshman. At certain spurts during the pre-draft discourse (and depending on who you read or talked to, of course), Randle was a potential number-one overall selection. That hype subsided for a few reasons: the emergence of other players, and the identification of shortcomings in Randle's game.

Randle, who is an imposing physical presence at 6'9" and 250 pounds, didn't go first overall, but his selection at number seven by the Los Angeles Lakers is a fantastic landing spot for the Wildcat freshman.

(Can you say offensive rebounds?)

A Look at the Lakers

Last year, the Lakers struggled. I don't think you need me to remind you, but it was an unfortunate year full of nothing but bad breaks.

According to our nERD metrics, which are used to project a team's win-loss record, the Lakers were the 27th-best team in the league, posting a nERD of just 29.7. The league average is 50.0.

Things were just as bleak when looking at individual players on the Lakers. Only one player posted a positive nERD score, which are comparable to win shares for individual players. That player was none other than the high-energy, limited-minutes darling Jordan Hill. Hill played just 20.8 minutes per game but was able to haul in 7.4 rebounds and to post a nERD score of 2.6. Hill was also the only Laker who posted a positive efficiency score for the Lakers.

The highest other score for a Laker who averaged at least 10.0 minutes per game and played in at least 10 games? Jodie Meeks. His nERD was -1.0, meaning he would have added a loss to any team for which he was in the starting line-up over the course of a season.

The Lakers have very few players signed for the upcoming season, which is a good thing because so few of them played well last season, so the team can begin to build around Randle and, you know, Kobe Bryant. Randle struggled with creating offense for himself at Kentucky, but he plays below the rim and will be able to clean up Bryant's missed jumpers (wow that's going to be exciting to watch down the stretch).

Randle's Old School Game

Speaking of rebounding, Randle does it the traditional way. He plays almost entirely under the rim, using his size and instincts to create his offense and to clean the glass.

Randle hauled in a total of 416 rebounds in his 40 games this season, the highest tally in the nation according to The extra games from Kentucky's championship run also allowed Randle to snare 277 defensive rebounds (second in the country) as well as 139 offensive rebounds (fourth). His 10.5 rebounds per game during the regular season were eighth-best among qualified players as well.

Randle's penchant for grabbing boards and playing best close to the rim resulted in 15.0 points per game for the 10th-best offense in college basketball. He also racked up 289 total free throw attempts, tied for seventh in the nation. Even more promising, he sank them at a very healthy 70.6% clip while converting 204 free throws (18th in the country).

Potential Problems in the Paint

Randle is powerful and has the appearance of being rather compact, and the NBA paint is guarded by some lengthy shot-blockers. How exactly does he stack up physically at this point in his career? He looks pretty similar to an explosive All-Star power forward before the 2009 Draft who is now a big deal in Los Angeles.

PlayerHeight (W/ Shoes)WeightWingspanReachMax. Vertical
Julius Randle6' 9”2507' 0”8' 9.5”35.5
Blake Griffin6' 10”2486' 11.25”8' 9”35.5

I'm not claiming that Blake Griffin is Randle's ceiling, but the two players measured up similarly, which may be surprising considering how differently the two players approach the game.

On the other end of the court inside, Randle isn't an imposing defender, which might make him a bit of a liability while he's on the court, something Lakers fans unfortunately grew accustomed to over the season. His rebound rates are great on both ends of the court, but his shot-blocking and steal ability doesn't quite stack up to some of his power forward peers in the draft class.

2013-14True Shooting %Eff. FG%O Reb %D Reb %Steal %Block %
Julius Randle56.70%50.50%13.30%24.70%1.00%2.60%
Joel Embiid65.50%62.90%12.70%27.30%2.30%11.70%
Aaron Gordon50.30%51.60%10.40%19.30%1.80%3.40%
Noah Vonleh60.40%56.00%10.80%27.30%1.90%5.40%

Randle's steal percentage and block percentage, which indicate how often possessions ended by a steal or block by Randle, were the lowest of this four-player subset, who were slated to be four of the first collegiate bigs off the board. If Randle can't improve his defensive ability and create more turnovers and blocks, then he may be destined to be extremely limited as a player, relying solely on his rebounding until his jumper comes around at an NBA-level.

A Bright Future in the Bright Lights

Overall, though, Randle is determined to prove wrong the six teams that passed on him in the draft, which is bad news for the rest of the NBA once he reaches his full potential. If the tough power forward who hit the glass as well as anyone in college basketball last year can bring that level of intensity to LA, then the Lakers might not have to wait long to start being the team they historically are.

The ability to swap out Randle and Hill, if he comes back, promises the Lakers one of the best offensive rebounding tandems in the league. Either way, Randle gives the Lakers the type of franchise guy who can be the keystone for LA for years to come.

But in the meantime, let's just hope Kobe is ready to shoot.