In an offseason that featured four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins walking out and joining the game-shattering dynasty that is the Golden State Warriors, New Orleans Pelicans fans had every right to be feeling down. It seems like nobody told them that though, as the Pels faithful continued to be optimistic about building on a 2017-18 season which saw them sweep a first round series against the Portland Trail Blazers.Part of the reason was because their postseason run came without their gigantic superstar, but also because of their new front court addition: Julius Randle. The 23-year-old arrived on a two-year, $18 million deal from after the Los Angeles Lakers acquired LeBron James, pushing Randle out of their future plans in the process. Throughout four games in the Big Easy, the 6-foot-9 bundle of energy has been making Magic Johnson and the rest of the Lakers brass regret that decision. All from the bench.
Appearing as the first big off the pine behind the red-hot Anthony Davis and Nikola Mirotic, Randle has blown away expectations thus far. He is averaging 17.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in his 23.3 minutes per game, nailing a tasty 54 percent of his field goals in the process. With his ever-maturing offensive prowess, Randle is providing the perfect reserve spark plug in head coach Alvin Gentry’s scheme.
That game plan is one of the most frantic and uptempo versions the NBA has to offer, demonstrated by the fact that New Orleans sit fifth in the league in pace. On top of that they are humming offensively, registering the best offensive rating (120.1). Those numbers have helped them fly off to a 4-0 start. It’s no coincidence that the inclusion of Julius Randle is buoying these numbers, because pushing the pace and punishing weak transition defense is something he has always done.
It’s unique to see such a big-bodied bull gallop down the floor like the former Laker does, but it’s not surprising to see him battling in the low-post like he has been so far. Last season Randle blew his career-best out of the water by shooting 57.5 percent from within three feet from the hoop, and he has continued to grow his budding post play in a Pelicans uniform:
Whether it’s facing up or backing down, the 2014 lottery pick has improved immensely. He uses that bulky frame to shift defenders off-kilter, and has developed an array of hook shots, jumpers and lay-ins around the cup. With the opposition’s best post defender often preoccupied with the brute scoring power of Anthony Davis, Randle gets the opportunity to blast his man with all of these moves.
Among NBA circles, there was little doubt that New Orleans’ new signing was able to help them inside the paint. Although many did question his ability to help push the offense to the heights it hit last campaign without a reliable 3-point shot. Randle attempted just 144 triples in his Lakers career, converting an anemic 37 (25.7%) of those tries.
In the dawn of his Pelicans career though, Julius Randle has seemingly transformed his outside shooting. He has already nailed 44.4 percent of his long-range jumpers this season, hoisting up 2.3 per game. If he can prove that his newfound shooting stroke is not just an anomaly, Gentry’s squad has every chance to find more playoff success, and Randle has every chance of taking home a Sixth Man of the Year award.
With incumbent power forward Nikola Mirotic being used as a 3-point stroking madman, Randle replaces him with a different game and a different set of troubles for the opposition. Together, they provide a perfect ying and yang for Davis and his partner in crime Jrue Holiday.
It’s an unusual role for Randle, who started 182 of a possible 241 outings in L.A., but he seems to have adjusted quickly and effectively. Every high-quality squad in the league has a bench talisman, and the Pels’ new ball of burst figures to be one of the best sixth men in the world.
If Julius Randle can keep up his early-season tear, don’t be shocked when his team is still winning games come April, and don’t be surprised if Randle’s bench presence is one of the biggest reasons why.