This, with little fear of hyperbole, is the best Julius Randle has played as a professional.
And it’s coming at a crucial time, one in which his future with the organization that drafted him is undecided, where the league is evaluating his prospects as a potential free agent.
Randle added to an incredibly strong resume over his previous 10 games, scoring 21 points to go with eight rebounds and five assists in the Lakers’ 112-93 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday at Staples Center.
Coach Luke Walton singled out Brandon Ingram (26 points) and Randle for the early imprint they put on Tuesday’s game.
“For Julius, the consistency he’s been doing it with is impressive,” Walton said. “You go against Carmelo Anthony [on Sunday], and it’s easy to get up for that. He’s one of the all-time great players. Nothing against [Phoenix forward Dragan Bender], I was interested to see if Ju was going to bring that same intensity level.
“You could see it in his eyes when the game was starting that he was ready to go.”
Randle said there’s little to celebrate. The team isn’t where it wants to be despite winning 11 of its last 15 games.
“It’s just coming out with the same mind-set and same energy like I have all year, really,” he said. “We’re playing better, but we have to keep continuing to get better, continuing to improve. We’re not there yet.”
But an important step to getting “there” is a consistent Randle.
In his last 10 games, he’s averaging 18.1 points and 8.2 rebounds, and shooting nearly 60% from the field. And, his play early in games, where he can exert some toughness with his style, has certainly contributed to the Lakers’ hot run.
“It’s monumental just because he’s athletic, strong, physical. He’s able to do a lot of things out there for us,” rookie Josh Hart said. “For him to go out and set the tone of toughness is huge. It’s something that’s contagious.”
Ball is still not ready to return
Rookie Lonzo Ball remains day-to-day, said Walton, who added there’s no rush to bring the guard back from a sprained knee that has sidelined him for more than three weeks.
And, with the All-Star break a little more than a week away, the Lakers could decide to simply give Ball extra time to recover.
“I think like we’ve said the whole time, we’re not going to rush him back. … We’re going to keep taking it day by day, see how he feels in the mornings, do his workouts accordingly and then when we get closer [to the All-Star break] make that final decision,” Walton said.
Walton said Ball went through a ramped-up workout at the team’s practice facility, though Ball still hasn’t gone through a full-speed, noncontact workout.
Although Walton didn’t rule out Ball for Thursday’s game with the Oklahoma City Thunder, it doesn’t seem conceivable that Ball could play.
Walton said the team has tried to have Ball push himself to physical limits during his rehabilitation work, but at the moment there’s pain, they hit the brakes.
“There’s a difference I think between soreness and pain,” Walton said. “[If he’s] making any movement, whether it’s lateral or explosion to the rim, and he has pain when he does it, then that’s kind of ‘stop it right there.’ And we’ll go back to where he has no pain, as far as the workout is concerned, and then try it again tomorrow.
“We’re not going to keep trying to push through that pain but there’s probably going to be some kind of discomfort when he’s healthy enough to play.”
Ball is scheduled to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star weekend.
In 36 games, Ball is averaging 10.2 points, 7.1 assists and 7.1 rebounds.