Paul Millsap stands 6-foot-8 and weighs 246 pounds. He looks like he could easily lift me off the ground while palming my skull. He’s strong, is what I’m saying. But he doesn’t look so strong here, does he?
That’s Millsap getting bruised up by Lakers forward Julius Randle on Friday night, during a game in which Randle scored 18 points and grabbed six rebounds in 29 minutes. That’s not the most impressive box score anyone’s ever crafted, but if Randle wasn’t the best player on the floor that night, he was very certainly the meanest. Most of those 18 points were scored on drives and cuts that left various Nuggets defenders with sore sternums.
Friday night’s game was perhaps just a warmup for yesterday’s game against the Cavs, in which Randle scored a career high 36 points on 18 shots, grabbed 14 rebounds, and dished out seven assists. All but one of his made baskets came right at the rim, and he mauled any defender unwise enough to put a body on him.
Here he is bullying poor Larry Nance, Jr. from outside the paint to under the basket in a few short, insistent dribbles:
And here he is deciding mid-spin move that, actually, the best way to get a bucket here is to put Jeff Green on his ass:
This is pretty much all you get with Randle. He’s a player who has come to understand that the closest distance between two points is straight through a dude’s chest, and he’s grown quite adept at traveling that route on his way to the hoop. Watch any Lakers game and you are guaranteed to see Randle turn at least one world-class athlete into a wobbly mess. There aren’t many players in the league who are as unforgiving near the basket, or as unrelenting about getting there. Randle just goes right at people, hard, and that often seems to unsettle defenders who aren’t used to getting hit on a regular basis.
Whether this makes Randle the kind of player that the Lakers should throw a huge contract at is another question. His arms are too short to protect the rim and he doesn’t really have a jumper, which is a real hardship for any 6-foot-9 forward in today’s three-happy league; one of Randle’s few bad moments on Sunday night came when LeBron James correctly assessed that Randle couldn’t or wouldn’t take a short jumper and slid in front of him to draw an obvious charge. But Randle does have the sort of strength and menace that makes it easy to imagine him developing into a rabid on-ball defender. He will be a restricted free agent this summer, and the Lakers will need to decide how much it’s worth to hold on to a guy whose main skill is going out there and just kind of fucking people up.
Randle, for his part, is making a great sales pitch. He’s been getting 30 or more minutes per game since February, and over his last 15 games he’s averaging 20 points and eight rebounds on 59 percent shooting. Maybe it’s not a good idea to throw a max contract at a player producing those numbers, but a spurned and angry Julius Randle is probably not something the Lakers (or their rib cages) ever want to see in another uniform.