Christmas Day Matchup: Lakers vs. Clippers
The last few seasons have certainly brought change to Los Angeles basketball. For more than 15 years, the Lakers and Clippers have coexisted as the only teams in the NBA sharing a building with one another. The Lakers dominated the Staples Center rivalry for most of that time, but things changed when former commissioner David Stern vetoed their proposed trade for Chris Paul in 2011. The Clippers eventually landed the talented point guard, and for now they are the more talented team. Of course, the Clippers already had a great player in Blake Griffin to pair with Paul.
In 2014, the Lakers drafted Julius Randle out of Kentucky in hopes of having their own star big man. Both forwards have similar body types and even some of the same tendencies. At this stage it’s not an entirely fair comparison, but Randle does remind me of a young Blake Griffin in certain ways.
Randle hasn’t been hiding the talent that got him drafted seventh overall. He scored 17 points and 11 rebounds per game in a recent three-game stretch while averaging just 26 minutes. This is a guy who by all rights should be classified as a rookie. After all, he only got 14 minutes into the 2014-15 regular season before breaking his leg and missing the rest of the year.
Despite recently coming off the bench behind Larry Nance Jr., he is making considerable contributions. As a reserve on December 15 against the Bucks, he scored 14 points and pulled down 14 rebounds in a mere 25 minutes. On a per-minute basis, Randle has actually been a slightly better rebounder than Griffin during his rookie year. That’s notable because Griffin hauled in 12 per game in 2010-11 despite a current career average under 10.
There are good reasons why Randle has been successful at an early stage. One of the most noticeable is that he has impressive body control. That allows him to get good angles on layups in traffic or at least draw the foul trying. In a recent game against Houston, he caught Donatas Motiejunas sleeping on a fake and ran right around him before finishing with a running hook shot. Later, he showed off his strength by making a layup with ease despite the presence of three defenders in the vicinity. Still, the most electrifying play involved a Randle drive to the hoop when he went airborne, had the ball knocked loose, and laid the ball in as he came back down.
Both Griffin and Randle are power forwards who rebound well and look to score. The one obvious difference between them is how spectacular Griffin’s play was right from the start. Randle is already averaging close to a double-double, although he can’t touch the 22.5 points Griffin had in 2010-11. That was the 24th highest average for a rookie in NBA history. Some of this is due to usage: Griffin played 38 minutes per night that year, while Randle has been limited to 27 thus far.
The jury is still out on whether Randle has huge scoring nights in his future like Griffin’s career-high of 47. Randle has scored 17.4 points per 48 minutes played as he adjusts to the NBA, so he’s off to a promising start. It’s worth noting that Griffin also piled up a remarkable 63 double-doubles in his rookie year alone. Of course, he didn’t have much help that season and hasn’t approached that figure in a single season since then. Griffin is known for his dunking ability and has 30 this season. Despite playing more sparingly, Randle already slammed home 18 so far.
On defense, Randle is allowing a field goal percentage roughly equivalent to that of 2015-16 Griffin. It should be noted that Griffin has improved in that area compared to 2010-11, so Randle is holding his own this early in his career. While Randle prefers to score inside, he’s versatile enough to hit open shots and run the fast break.
As a rookie, Griffin was mainly a post player as well, although he has expanded his range a bit since then. Even adjusting for minutes played, Griffin is more of a facilitator than Randle and averaged 4 assists during his first campaign. Griffin also shot 51% from the field while Randle is hovering around 43%.
Even Griffin as a rookie has to be considered superior to Randle right now, but the Laker is intriguing fans with each passing game. His confidence is undeniable: when a broken play resulted in Kobe Bryant making a pass to Randle behind the arc, he swished it for his first career three.
Randle’s Player Efficiency Rating is around 15, which is respectable especially given his uneven usage under Byron Scott. At the same time, that shows you how special Griffin was in his first season. After all, he had the stamina to play huge minutes and still finished with a PER of just under 22.
photo via llananba