Here is how more or less every Julius Randle possession seems to go this season.
Over the first few years of his career, Randle’s Lakers coaches occasionally tried to mold him into a more complete player, a do-it-all big man worthy of being picked seventh overall by the most storied franchise in the NBA. He flashed a startling ability to overwhelm less athletic dudes, particularly at the end of last season when he was gunning for a new contract, though he also had to fight through a nasty broken leg in his first career game, philosophical disagreements with Luke Walton, and the probability that the Lakers would ditch him for the opportunity to sign LeBron James.
That happened, so he signed with the Pelicans, and thank God, because Alvin Gentry has empowered Randle to be a hammer. Randle’s best NBA skill is wrecking defenders with either his strength or speed, and that’s basically all he does now. Randle is averaging the fewest minutes of his career, coming off the bench to play 24 a night, and yet he is still enjoying his best offensive season, posting 18.2 points per game on 56.5 percent shooting and a team-high usage percentage. His shot selection is largely unchanged from his Laker days, as he shoots at the rack or in the key about 80 percent of the time, he’s just taking more shots, making them at a higher clip, and swapping out all his long twos for three-pointers. He is on the Pelicans to score the rock, period, and it turns out that he’s really good at it.
In last night’s loss to the Thunder, Randle had a perfect 10-for-10 night from the field to lead the team with 26 points and make a very particular sort of history. Anthony Davis and Nikola Mirotic struggled from the field, but Randle got everything he wanted against Patrick Patterson and whoever else the Thunder threw at him. The convenient thing about playing alongside Davis is that Randle will draw lesser defenders, and he’s usually able to prey on some sort of athletic advantage to get to the rim. Randle has always been an elite athlete, but now he knows where to stand and he’s been allowed to scream towards the rack whenever he can, so he’s thriving.
His team, unfortunately, is not. The Pelicans have lost six straight, all against teams they’ll probably be competing for playoff spots against, with the last five on the road. Over that stretch, they’re allowing 123.7 points per game. The point here is not that the Pelicans are suddenly trash, it’s that the Western Conference is brutally difficult and that New Orleans doesn’t have the depth to survive an arduous road trip with Elfrid Payton out (what a weird clause) and Anthony Davis dinged up. The only truly consistent cogs on their team are Holiday, Mirotic, and Randle. They have their share of problems, yes, but at least New Orleans can count on Randle to bully people every night out.