Growing Pains: Larry Nance, Julius Randle and Byron Scott

When the Lakers selected Larry Nance Jr. at the end of the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft the reaction was mostly surprise with a little bit of what are they doing? thrown in. Nance was widely considered to be a second round pick who inherited his father’s vertical leap athleticism but had a long way to go as far as on-court skills. Nance was explosive and he could rebound but he was slotted as a developmental player who lacked post moves necessary for a NBA power forward even as he was surprisingly efficient in catch and shoot situations. Draft Express compared him to Lou Amundson, not exactly a ringing endorsement of a promising NBA future since Amundson has averaged 3.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in his NBA career.

Seven months later, here we are. Larry Nance is the Lakers starting power forward and it doesn’t appear that he is going to give up that position anytime soon. Currently, he is more skilled than the lottery pick who was supposed to be the Lakers starting power forward once the Lakers cleared the deck and got rid of Carlos Boozer. The job was Julius Randle’s with Larry Nance as a spectator. Until Nance came in and took the job away from Randle.

From the Lakers perspective, it’s a good conflict to have. Randle and Nance have different skill sets and the competition between the two only makes them better individually, and collectively, it makes the team more complete and versatile.

From Julius Randle’s perspective, it’s been tough. He has been demoted, there is no other way to describe it. When the Lakers took him with the7th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Randle was earmarked as the Kobe Bryant replacement. That lasted 12 months, until the Lakers drafted D’Angelo Russell who was the new Kobe Bryant replacement because, as many Lakers front office people observed, Russell had “star” potential. Now Randle has been bumped from the rotation and he isn’t happy about it, particularly when he has taken out of games.

It goes without saying you don’t want players who are happy about not playing. That speaks to a competitive drive that is stuck in neutral. But there is a line between apathy, competitiveness and professionalism. Randle hasn’t gone rouge ala Robert Horry-Markieff Morris and done the towel in the face thing to Byron Scott but he is sulking and complaining and visible pissed off when he goes to the bench. It’s a bad look.

The last straw was Sunday night’s game against Phoenix when Randle was taken out. Scott had enough, had seen Randle’s pouting before. To reporters after practice on Monday, Scott said Randle had to grow up.

“I think the main thing I don’t like is when you take him out of a game, how he acts sometimes. But again, I chalk it up to immaturity and just being inexperienced at this level because it’s going to happen again. I’m going to take him out of games and he’s not going to like it.”

Randle is more than frustrated at how this season has taken shape and it has nothing to do with the Lakers record and more to do with what he hasn’t been able to accomplish on the court. He has established his rebounding talent; he has a gift for it. But offensively, what he used to be able to get away with at Kentucky doesn’t translate into production on the NBA level. Every team diligenlty studies tapes of players and takes away what they do well. Randle, because he doesn’t have efficiency or skill with the right hand is being guarded to use it which he can’t do yet. It will take an off-season of working on it to perfect it. Also, he struggles to finish at the rim when faced with size. He hasn’t developed a change of direction to get him space and the offensive advanatge where he gets fouled. And his mid-range shot is awful.

Everything Randle has difficulty with, Nance does well. Nance can hit an open mid-range. He’s a catch and shoot player. He can finish at the rim because of his explosiveness. Nance fits better with veterans Kobe Bryant and Lou Williams because he makes open shots without having plays run for him.

Lakers Power Forwards Points Field Goal Percentage Rebounds PER
Julius Randle 11.3 41.5 9.6 14.5
Larry Nance Jr. 5.8 54.8 4.8 12.8

 

Lakers Power Forwards Shooting 0-3 feet 3-10 feet 10-16 feet
Julius Randle 52.1% 39.6% 14.8%
Larry Nance Jr. 68.9% 45.5% 33.3%

This has made the year challenging for Randle who was supposed to be the heir to the Kobe throne. He admits to a high level of frustration.

“Basketball is an emotional sport. I’m going to feel some type of way about it. I’m going to feel frustrated or happy. (Yesterday) I was frustratred I wasn’t out on the court. It wasn’t like I was 0-25 or something. I took four shots. I still had 12 rebounds. I took what the defense gave me”

He and Scott talked after Sunday’s game. Scott was very unhappy with Randle’s fourth quarter defense against the Suns when the Suns stormed back from a 30+ point deficit.

“I don’t think there was defense on the court at all in the fourth quarter and he singled me out. I think it was a team thing.”

But Randle is being held to a higher standard because of his potential. He’s the lottery pick in this group. He has to lead by example and when he doesn’t, he has to absorb more than his share of the critique. It’s not fair but in a star culture, the talent gets all the blame and the talent gets all the praise. Randle is not the first Lakers star power forward moved to the bench. Lamar Odom thrived in that role.

Since being moved to the bench Randle is shooting 39%, a depressed number for a power forward. As a starter he was shooting 43%.

“One thing I do know is that he wants this bad. He wants to peform. He wants to do play well. Sometimes, you want that too bad and you’ve got to realize and let the game come to you. He’s 21 years old and he’s going to go through these types of things. As a coach I’m going to let him go through it.” (Byron Scott)

Larry Nance was a four year college player while Julius Randle was a one-and-done. Nance is the beneficiary of Randle struggling. A supposed sporadic bench player his rookie season, Nance has shown lottery-level talent. Like Derek Fisher and Devean George, also from unheralded programs, the University of Wyoming product Larry Nance Jr. has been the steal of the draft. How else to explain his efficiency as a starter.

“I want everybody on this team to be the best they can be. If I come out and (Julius) has a double-double, awesome. If he comes out and I have a double-double, awesome. Either way I’m just trying to win.” (Larry Nance Jr.)

Randle’s growing pains have given him the perspective he probably never imagined he would have at this point in his NBA career.

“You can’t be frustrated all the time. You can’t be happy all the time. Basketball is a game of ups and downs. Biggest thing is you control your effort, how hard you play. You control getting better.”

photo via llananba