It’s an hour before Thursday night’s game.
Most fans who came early wanted to catch a glimpse of Kobe Bryant. Maybe only a handful notice Julius Randle’s dutiful workout with Lakers shooting coach Tracy Murray.
The former University of Kentucky star moves around the perimeter and finds a groove on the right side, about 16 feet from the basket. He makes one, two, three in a row. The lefty doesn’t miss until his 10th attempt.
He looks relaxed, as if outside shooting isn’t the main thing he needs to improve in his first full NBA season. But it is, narrowly nosing out the need to use his right hand. (He practices that too, moving slowly around the lower part of the key and flipping the ball in with his right hand.)
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Randle, 21, has shown an affinity for rebounding and no one questions his work ethic. His shot needs fixing, his accuracy hovering at 43 percent before the Lakers played the Houston Rockets.
He was at 52.2 percent within five feet of the basket but it dropped from there: 39.6 percent from 5 to 9 feet, 15.4 percent from 10 to 14 feet, 23.3 percent from 15 to 19 feet.
In today’s stretch-the-floor NBA, that’s a problem for an undersized power forward. Randle and the Lakers are working on it.
“If you watch in warmups or practice or shoot-around, he’ll knock those shots down,” Murray said. “He has to transform that mentally to the game. I think he’s a little too fast — adrenaline.”
Murray once scored 50 points for the Washington Wizards in an NBA career that spanned 12 seasons, including a brief stop with the Lakers in 2002-03.
The former UCLA star is trying to get Randle to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n.
Randle has fast feet and good strength, allowing him to get past defenders. Teams know this.
“When you’re not knocking it down or not shooting it in the game, people [come] out on you a little bit slower,” Murray said. “That’s why I have him use a slower release. They’re going to dare him to shoot it. It’s almost going to be a H-O-R-S-E shot.”
The real truth? Randle needs to work on his shot during the offseason.
He and Murray get together before practice and after practice. They’ll work before games. That’s about it.
“If guys log a lot of [game] minutes, you have to keep them off their feet,” Murray said. “That’s what we’re working against during the season. You’re not going to expect any crazy improvements.”
Lakers Coach Byron Scott furthered the concept: This might take some time.
“It probably takes a year or two to get guys to really fully understand and commit,” Scott said. “You don’t want him to go back to old bad habits because he doesn’t think it works — during the season you get frustrated because it’s not going in. We just wait until the summertime, when we have plenty of time to kind of ingrain those things into his rhythm.”
Then again, Randle hit a three-pointer from 28 feet as the shot clock wound down in the second quarter Thursday night.
Call it an outlier. For now.