Playing the power forward position and then shifting to center position in certain lineups, he has one of the more demanding roles. He has to be able to help inside and then close out on stretch fours as the low man on the help side in pick and rolls, to battle traditional centers inside the paint, to switch onto perimeter players, and to protect the rim. The physical tools are there- you would be hard pressed to find another player of his size and strength who can move as he does. But too often, he has possessions like this:
Yes, Russell allows middle on ice, forcing Mozgov to scramble back into the paint to defend Lowry, who’s already penetrated very deep. But watch Randle through the whole possession meandering around with knees not bent, not shifting through the entire dribble drive, and eventually not being in any position to either help on the flat footed shot from the Raptor big ,or on a potential open three point shot from his own man. Too often, Randle is only guarding only one of the ball or his own man rather than anticipating what could happen in both areas, which can result in his man taking an open shot from the three point line while he has not moved a single inch from out of the paint.
But when he’s focused and paying attention, he has shown he has the ability to completely change the game defensively with his activity level. It’s not the case for him as with some players where the game moves too fast for them to process:
It has taken a while but Randle is starting to put together games where he maintains that awareness throughout. In a way, he is the key to the growth of this Lakers team on the defensive end, as his ups and downs can take the team with him in either direction.
If we go back into recent history, the 2013-2014 Charlotte Bobcats were able to rise from 30th on defense to 5th with almost the same young roster, largely by limiting their mistakes on that end. While that team did have an up and coming defensive wing player in the second year Michael Kidd Gilchrist, they also featured a front court of Josh McRoberts and Al Jefferson. Ultimately it’s about building good habits. Getting a block or rebound or even rotating into the paint are things that are more tangibly rewarding than maintaining a defensive stance, vision, and awareness of the entire court for every second of every possession. A player can sometimes slack off on these fundamentals without anything happening for several possessions. But each loss, each blowout, is a lesson that winning in the NBA is hard and requires this kind of commitment night in and night out. Time will tell if this young core rises to the challenge.