With the exception of Kyrie Irving, the last 10 Rookies of the Year logged a minimum of 35 minutes a game. (Kyrie averaged 30 minutes). History and math indicate that Rookies of the Year see a lot of on court action which in turn facilitates their learning curve. They are allowed to make mistakes without fearing punishment as they negotiate the tough transition from college player to NBA pro.
Julius Randle has set a personal goal to be Rookie of the Year and isn’t shy about saying so. But playing time is his biggest obstacle. He will need 7 or 8 minutes a quarter in order to dominate his position as a rookie, whether it be rebounding the ball, guarding his position, scoring in the post or getting to the line.
The last Rookie of the Year from the forward position was Blake Griffin. In 2010-11 Blake played 38 minutes. He averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds. No one expects that level of production from Randle on a team with quality offensive players but his potential is enough to make Lakers cynics believe he can make a significant impact his rookie season.
In his introductory press conference Byron Scott hesitated on what he expected of Julius Randle and it made sense to hold back until after training camp. Byron conceded that Randle could be a starter if he beats out all the other power forwards in the pre-season and takes the position for himself. In a sense Byron was challenging Randle to go and get the job if he wants it.
It’s not going to be easy. Carlos Boozer has been working out hard this off-season to make sure he is the starter. Both he and Randle have different skill sets. Boozer is a mid-range shooter and rebounder but doesn’t protect the rim nor does he guard his position particularly well. When he was an All-Star it was because of his numbers, 21 points and 12 rebounds one year, 21 points and 10 rebounds the next year. He was efficient, shooting 55% and he averaged 35 minutes.
Julius Randle is a tough in the paint scorer, an aggressive offensive rebounder, a physical player who plays hard on every possession and has a fantastic motor. But he doesn’t have the offensive skill or experience as Boozer. He hasn’t been around the league so he doesn’t know that Serge Ibaka is going to wait for him to go left and then block his shot. Or Zach Randloph, stewing about the comparisons, will be eager to show that Julius Randle is not a younger, more athletic and versatile Zach.
It’s hard to see how Randle could beat out Boozer in training camp but the bigger question is should he? Rookie of the Year aside, isn’t Julius Randle better served coming off the bench?
Byron Scott has yet to reveal his starting lineup as of right now but it may just be that Carlos Boozer starts and Julius Randle backs him up. Of course that could mean Boozer plays 32 minutes and Randle plays 16 minutes. Or it could mean that Randle plays 24 minutes and Boozer plays 24 minutes. The key detail will be the last 5 minutes. Which power forward is best served to be on the court in a close game?
Randle’s high school and college career have prepared him for the large stage of the Los Angeles Lakers. As he showed in the NBA Summer League he likes to have his number called in a tight contest. He’s not afraid. But is he skilled enough as a mid range shooter to make it worthwhile so defenses don’t play him to drive the ball and on the dribble strip him. This was a constant scheme in summer league play. Does Boozer’s success in the high post give the Lakers a better option in the front court for teams that are going to double Kobe?
As it is, Julius Randle is excited for this new phase in his basketball career. He recently tweeted New Chapter. It is a breathless beginning. From Texas to Kentucky to the Lakers; dreams really do come true. But here is where reality intercedes. His goal of Rookie of the Year may be his personal Mt. Everest. Climbing and climbing but not reaching the top. He is not expected to log north of 30 minutes like Jabari Parker, Dante Exum, and Nerlens Noel. But Parker and Noel won’t be on television 20 times like Julius Randle. Jabari Parker and Nerlens Noel won’t be on national television at all.
And one more thing about Rookies of the Year. Rarely do they make the playoffs. Of the last 10 award winners only Derrick Rose, whose Chicago Bulls team finished 41-41, went to the playoffs. Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving, Damien Lillard entered the NBA with flair and skill. They were a thrill to watch their rookie years. But their teams weren’t playoff worthy which is the trend Julius Randle is trying to reverse. Make the team better. Go to the playoffs. And be Rookie of the Year.