All Julius Randle could think about was the one thing that hadn’t gone his way during the game. So Saturday night, after he notched a double double in the Lakers’ 113-108 win over the Sacramento Kings, before he did anything else, Randle found a practice court in the bowels of the arena.
He needed to shoot some free throws.
“I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight if I didn’t go to the gym and see a free throw go in,” Randle said. “At least one. I went 0-for-5. Jeez.”
That kind of accountability is typical of Randle these days, and it’s one of the ways in which he’s grown. It’s helped contribute to his performance lately. In the Lakers’ past two games, a back-to-back against Dallas and Sacramento, Randle notched a triple double before his 12-point, 13-rebound performance in Sacramento. Where he might have made the best strides, though, is in his growing understanding of his role on defense.
“He was our enforcer like he’s been the past few months,” Lakers forward Brandon Ingram said. “… He knows what he can do on the floor to affect our team. When he gets in the paint, he drives. He knows how to finish in the lane, he knows where to kick the ball, he knows where the defense is going to be. He knows double team’s coming. He knows what to expect now and he’s being more aggressive.”
Ingram sees part of Randle’s growth in Randle understanding himself better, or “figuring out who he is.”
He’s done that under challenging circumstances this season through losing his starting job, through trade rumors and through the demands of his head coach. Lakers coach Luke Walton uses a mildly combative technique when coaching Randle for two reasons. First, he feels Randle responds well to that style of coaching. Second, he has high expectations for the fourth-year power forward.
“He’s got the ability to guard one through five,” Walton said. “With that, as the league goes smaller, he’s still able to defend skilled, space shooters and he’s able to wrestle with power post-up players. He can use his skill set and his strength on defense if they were trying to use him on smaller players. There’s definitely an advantage to be gained, but a lot of it, what he’s gotten pretty darn good at, is also being able to recognize multiple defensive coverages.”
Randle worked on that at the insistence of his coaches. He watched hours of film and sometimes enlisted his veteran teammates to help him learn what tendencies to expect from certain players.
“As years go on, you learn schemes and how teams play,” Randle said. “Sets start to look familiar. You know what’s coming before it comes.”
It helps, too, that Randle has been better understanding of what his coaches meant all last season when they asked for more consistency in his effort.
“It doesn’t mean going 100 miles an hour the whole time he’s out there, but it means when he’s in a defensive coverage, he’s down and he’s ready to jump people,” Walton said. “When he’s on offense, it’s not just a jog to the three-point line but it’s a sprint to the post and then relocate from there. He’s doing a much better job of doing that.”
In the past few days, Randle’s growth has helped the Lakers start the final stretch of the season with a pair of wins.
LAKERS AT ATLANTA HAWKS
When: Monday, 4:30 p.m. PST.
On Air: TV – Spectrum Sportsnet, Spectrum Deportes; Radio – 710, 1330
Update: The Hawks have the worst winning percentage in the Eastern Conference, tied for second worst in the NBA with the Dallas Mavericks, whom the Lakers played on Friday. They are half a game worse than the Kings, whom the Lakers played Saturday.