As players trickled off the court at the end of practice Monday, Julius Randle continued to shoot and sweat at a side basket.
The third-year power forward fired stationary threes as two staffers fed him passes. The results were mixed as he moved around the arc, but the goal was clear: Randle, who’s begun to push the ball more at the urging of Los Angeles Lakers Coach Luke Walton, is continuing to diversify his game.
“He’s gifted,” Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell said. “He’s gifted at his size, he’s gifted at his ability. And whenever he brings it the intensity level goes up. His defenders, they have to, I don’t know, step up their level of play or they’ll get dominated.”
Walton would not say whether the former University of Kentucky star will start in the Lakers’ exhibition opener against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, but he also didn’t name any starters. It seems that either Randle or Larry Nance Jr. could start at power forward, as both provide defensive versatility and a developing outside shooting touch.
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The 21-year-old Randle, his teammates say, can be the heartbeat of the team when his energy is high.
“It’s not the easiest thing in the world to play crazy hard all the time,” Randle said. “It takes a toll, but it’s what the team needs and that’s what everybody has to do in order to win. So to be that catalyst, the leader, from that perspective, it’s just what I have to do.”
For Randle, playing hard means initiating the fastbreak off defensive rebounds, pressing up on whomever he is guarding and mixing his mid-range game with attacks of the rim. Walton said he will rest Randle if that tires him out, but that the coaching staff is encouraging him to consistently play that way.
When the 6-foot-9 Randle pushes the ball, Walton said, guards need to help stop him and that frees up shooters in transition. Randle averaged 11.3 points and 8.1 rebounds in 28.2 minutes per game last season.
Walton doesn’t expect anyone to play 30 or more minutes during the preseason, and said he will be coaching to experiment more than to win. That includes finding a small lineup that jells and a big lineup that can switch everything, he said. Randle figures to be an option in either of those scenarios, as does Nance.
The Lakers’ first-year coach is still figuring out the best way to use the two.
“Can Julius guard fives [centers]? Can Larry guard fives? Does a unit need a bigger, stronger player out there? Or someone that can switch with multiple positions?” Walton said. “You’re looking for all those things. You get that information, you come to practice and see if it can work, and you game plan around that and you keep moving forward.”
As the Lakers left the practice court, there is a leaderboard of who has won the most competitions during practice.
After finishing his three-point drills with a round of free throws, Randle stopped to look at the poster. Right now he has four total wins, which puts him in the middle of the pack. Russell, the leader, has nine.
Randle shook his head before walking away. He’s already expecting more of himself.
“Being a leader of the team is just one of the things I have to do,” Randle said. “Just bringing it every night, constant energy.”