LeBron James packing his bags and leaving Cleveland (again) to become a Los Angeles Laker was a move that many saw coming from a long way out. Although, former Laker Julius Randle didn’t follow suite. He went a rather surprising route.
With the league being as frugal as ever, the 6-foot-9 forward-center penned a two-year, $18 million deal with the New Orleans Pelicans. The deal includes a player option for the second year, meaning Randle has the choice to become an unrestricted free agent in the 2019 window. After averaging a career-high 16.1 points and adding eight rebounds and 2.6 assists per game last season, the 23-year-old projects to replace DeMarcus Cousins in the Pelicans lineup.
When Cousins went down with a season-ending Achilles rupture after just 48 games last season, New Orleans transformed themselves. They sat with a modest 27-21 record when Boogie went down, but sans Cousins, they finished the season 48-34 (sixth in the Western Conference) and swept the Portland Trailblazers in the first round of the playoffs. They were a quicker, more efficient team with Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday intertwining to become a fearsome duo on both ends of the floor. Sprinkle in a healthy dose of Nikola Mirotic’s sizzling stroke and Alvin Gentry’s Golden State Warriors background, and the stars aligned in The Big Easy.
Now, with Cousins gone, the New Orleans brain trust have handed the responsibility of keeping last season’s momentum going to Julius Randle. In his fourth and final season with the Lakers, Randle showed major improvement in a number of important areas, namely in the transition and pick-and-roll game. According to Synergy Sports Tech, the big man scored 1.11 points per possession in transition and 1.15 when he was the roll-man in the pick-and-roll, budding skill sets that should translate seamlessly in New Orleans.
Without their four-time All-Star teammate, Davis and co converted the Pels into a high-speed machine. They played with the quickest pace in the league and spent a healthy 17.4 percent of the time running in transition. All of these strengths will be further boosted by Randle, who – despite his physical frame – runs the floor like a rampaging rhino, except with a feathery touch (62.4 percent field goal percentage) on his transition finishes.
The other area that Julius Randle will instantly impress his new city with is his proficiency in the pick-and-roll. With Rajon Rondo and Holiday handling the rock in the half court, Davis was often served pocket passes and lobs on a silver platter last season. Rondo may be gone, but Elfrid Payton and Holiday should be plenty of playmaking to keep food on the former Laker’s table.
Randle has a speed and shiftiness when rolling to the bucket that is rare to find in guys with his physical attributes. His 6-foot-9 size hampers him at times when he has to go up against the shot-swatting rim protectors, but his guard-like skills allow him to finish in creative ways. This will be a huge plus to a Pelicans team that thrived when they spread the floor and let the pick-and-roll develop.
Speaking of spreading the floorm Randle’s inability to do so is the biggest pitfall in his ever-growing game. One of the key cogs to New Orleans’ season-defining run was their ability to space the court and rain missiles from beyond the arc, Julius Randle simply doesn’t provide that luxury. He has attempted just 144 triples in 244 career games, making just 37 (25.7 percent) of those attempts.
The league’s best teams take and make a bunch of long-range bombs, and pairing Payton (29.8 career 3-point percentage) and Randle in a starting unit could be a slippery slope for coach Gentry and the Pelicans brass. The problem is exacerbated when you factor in Nikola Mirotic, who shot 43.1 percent on 3-pointers in the playoffs and will likely lose minutes to Randle.
That sticky situation begs the question, does Gentry opt to bring his new recruit off the bench as a premium grade sixth man? That leaves Mirotic and E’Twaun Moore (42.5 percent from 3) on the floor next to Davis to tickle the twine from deep and allows the Pelicans to spread the floor around Randle when the second unit is in. Or they could zig while the rest of the league zags – fielding a monstrous frontcourt of Mirotic, Davis and Randle while shifting Moore to the pine, sacrificing bench scoring in the process.
A plethora of options lay on the table when it comes to utilizing Julius Randle. However, with his versatility and year-to-year improvement, it’s a pretty safe bet to say he will work out well for the New Orleans Pelicans, no matter how he is deployed.