Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we pose a question to a rotating panel of ESPN fantasy basketball experts to gauge their thoughts on a hot topic. Today's contributors are ESPN Fantasy's Kyle Soppe, Joe Kaiser and Jim McCormick.
Julius Randle messed around and got a triple-double Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets (17 points, 10 assists, 14 rebounds). Coming into the season, we knew that he could hit the glass and score to some extent, but we've seen his field goal percentage increase from 42.9 percent last season to 55.1 percent, and he is averaging an impressive 3.8 assists per game. Should we expect him to maintain those numbers, and what do you think of his overall fantasy value?
Kyle Soppe: There are a lot of pieces to this question, but let's start with something that we know: This kid can play and is going to be a force. The question is, to what capacity? Randle possesses the skill set to be a fantasy star, but I think he is a much better roto play this season than head-to-head. Look at his game log. The assists and free throw totals stick out to me as areas in which Randle needs to gain consistency before I push all my chips to the middle of the table on him. He has failed to make a free throw in four games this year and has five games with fewer than three assists.
That said, his fluidity for a 6-foot-9, soon-to-be 22-year-old is rare, and his upside is essentially what we saw Tuesday night. The scoring bump is here to stay, given that the Lakers operate at a top-five pace and Randle has been far more effective at the rim this season than last, shooting 67.1 percent from inside 8 feet compared with 50.5 percent a year ago. It will be an up-and-down ride, but Randle could make a run at averaging a double-double while averaging three assists per game, something only Pau Gasol and DeMarcus Cousins accomplished last season.
Joe Kaiser: Randle has always been known as a scorer and rebounder, fitting the mold of a Kenneth Faried-type as far as his fantasy numbers go, but his passing has always gone overlooked ... until now. This is the most underrated part of his game, and it took a triple-double Tuesday night for everyone to collectively start paying attention. Listed at 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, Randle often seems undersized when matched up against taller players at the power forward position, but he presents a mismatch as a big man who can handle the ball and create opportunities for teammates. When matched up against a power forward his size, he's often able to put up big numbers on the glass.
Seeing that the Lakers already have seven wins, which they didn't reach until Jan. 1 last season, I'm more and more convinced that coach Luke Walton is really good at this coaching thing. He's a relationship guy, and he uses that to his fullest advantage as a coach. It worked last season in Golden State, and clearly, it's working with the Lakers. As you can see, not just with Randle but also Nick Young, Walton's style is allowing the young Lakers to play with confidence and reach their ceiling. I expect Randle to finish the season averaging right around 14 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists per game, and for that shooting percentage to end up closer to 50 percent. One thing working in his favor as far as shooting percentage is concerned is his lack of 3-point attempts (0.8 per game).
Jim McCormick: I think the shooting percentage will drop a bit, because Randle's elite efficiency so far has been buoyed by shooting 81.4 percent from within 3 feet of the basket, up 24.6 percent from last season. When we look into his opportunity metrics, Randle's usage percentage and minutes are nearly identical to last season, and his assist percentage has leaped from 11 percent to 20.3 percent, another sizable positive margin. It's safe to say former Lakers coach Byron Scott was less than ideal for grooming the Lakers' young roster last season, especially in the context of this space-and-pace driven modern NBA. Now that the Lakers have Walton, a coach on the forefront of this schematic shift, we're seeing some of the rewards of this transition in Randle's production.
For example, the Lakers are now fourth in pace (102.82 possessions per 48 minutes) and ninth in offensive rating (107.1 points per 100 possessions), after ranking 16th in pace last season (97.9) and 29th in offensive rating (98.6). Such inflations in opportunity and efficiency have helped Randle's rates. He has leaped from 29.7 frontcourt touches per game last season to 37.3 this year, a 25.5 percent leap. Randle's assist-to-pass ratio has jumped from 4.2 percent last season to 8.7 percent this season, so there has been a clear improvement in not just his possession rate, but also the quality of his passing and the team's improved scoring efficiency.
It's worth noting Randle averaged 2.9 assists per game over the final 15 games last season. It's also worth noting ESPN's Jovan Buha wrote up a piece this past offseason about Randle seeking to emulate Draymond Green's ascension as a playmaker under Walton's watch.
"Obviously, there are a lot of similarities between Draymond and myself," Randle said. "There will be a lot to learn, but especially with the style of play, it'll be fun for us to get up and down. Sharing the ball is going to be big for us this year. Just building that chemistry on both sides of the floor."