This year's Lakers team will look nothing like the one that won just 21 games last season. That's a good thing. Kobe Bryant will return to the court, where he'll presumably help groom point guard D'Angelo Russell, the No. 2 overall pick and franchise heir apparent.
But don't forget that Julius Randle is also coming back. The No. 7 pick in last year's draft was forced to miss all of his rookie season after fracturing his right tibia during the Lakers' season-opener against the Rockets. But he's healthy now and expected to start at power forward alongside Russell, Bryant, Jordan Clarkson and Roy Hibbert.
Randle is one of the more interesting prospects from last year's draft class. He has the talent and skill set to become an impact player that can help carry the Lakers into their Bryant-less future; he also has a mix of weakness that could derail his career.
The good part is that most of them are fixable. Whether or not they are addressed will determine just how good a player Randle becomes.
Everything on defense
This is where Randle is going to struggle most this season. He was never a rim protector at Kentucky, where he averaged less than one block per game. Plays like this one, via our scouting report two years ago, are an example of what happened when his partner on the Wildcats' back line, seven-foot pogo stick Willie Cauley-Stein, went to the bench.
That won't be any prettier at the NBA level. At 6'9, Randle doesn't have the height to deter NBA drivers. His seven-foot wingspan one of the shortest among NBA power forwards, isn't going to help matters either.
Making matters more problematic is that Randle never showed great defensive instincts during his time at Kentucky. Part of that could be the result of him always being bigger and stronger and faster than his opponents in high school. His raw physical gifts were all he ever needed. Defensive instincts often develop over time in college, but Randle instead made the leap to the NBA after just one season in Lexington.
The upside, though, is Randle is still just 20 years old and already has an NBA body at 250 pounds. We can also expect him to continue to get even bigger and stronger. He's a good leaper and and moves well, both in the open floor and side to side.
"Outstanding athlete in terms of fluidity, agility and explosiveness" is how Draft Express described Randle before the 2014 Draft. That's why so many seem to be drooling over Randle's potential. It's not everyday that a 6'9 power forward who runs like a guard enters the league.
In college, Randle's athleticism served him best on offense, where he was able to drive by and around most defenders. That might remain the case in the NBA, but it could become especially interesting on defense. If Randle puts his mind to it, he could potentially develop into the type of forward who can both bang with big men down low and contain guards on the perimeter, similar to Golden State's Draymond Green.
It's unlikely Randle ever reaches Green's all-around defensive prowess, but that doesn't mean he can't develop into a player capable of impacting the game on that end. Just don't expect to see much of that this season, especially not on a Lakers team that had the second-worst defensive rating in the NBA last season.
Randle is an excellent scorer, one capable of getting shots off when facing taller opponents. At Kentucky he was routinely double-teamed and still managed to average 15 points per game on 50 percent shooting. He also shot 70 percent at the rim, according to Hoop Math. Shots like this were routine.
This will be a welcome addition to a Lakers team that averaged just 40 points in the paint per game last season, the seventh-worst number in the league, per NBA.com.
Randle is also adept at creating off the dribble. He is a bit too reliant on his left-hand, but, as he showed in this year's Summer League, he usually has no problem getting to it. This video, courtesy of Silver Screen and Roll, is full of examples.
There's one type of shot missing in these clips, though: a jumper. Randle hit some in Summer League, including a gorgeous step-back, but an outside shot is clearly not part of his current repertoire.
That's going to create two problems. One is that defenses are going to sag off him and cute off lanes to the rim. The other is exaserbated by his team. If Randle is too small to protect the rim, the majority of his minutes are going to have to come alongside a big man who can. For the Lakers, that will likely be Roy Hibbert. The problem is that neither Randle or Hibbert can shoot, so anytime Randle plays, spacing is going to be a problem.
Not only will that hurt the team, but it's also going to hinder Randle's development. Right now, his skill set would benefit by playing with a collection of shooters. That would give the Lakers an offensive juggernaut, but also a defense that will be offering unhindered paths to the rim.
Randle can handle the ball better than most players his size...
... and his ability to pass the ball was on full display during the Summer League.
But he does have a habit of putting his head down as barrels into the lane. His drives often resemble those you see from a football player giving basketball a try at the local park.
Even at Kentucky this was a problem. The shot in the clip below goes in, but Randle ignored several open teammates to shoot over multiple defenders.
NBA defense are going to shut down these sorts of drives and now that Randle no longer has a size or strength advantage it will be harder for him to get bailed out.
But the caveats here are the same. While court awareness is a current problem for Randle, it's certainly the type of weakness that NBA playing time and practices can cure.
Randle is already an excellent rebounder -- a skill that proven to translate from college to the NBA -- and a player with a knack for getting the foul line (7.2 free throw attempts per game at Kenucky). Those are two obvious NBA skills. Combine them with his size, athleticism, ball-handling and rim-scoring and you have a player who could become an All-Star one day.
But that day is at least a few years away. Randle's rookie season is likely to be a bumpy one. The key for him will be how he and the Lakers handle it.
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