New Orleans Pelicans forward Julius Randle scored a career-high 37 points on Monday night. Was the outburst a rare moment, or a glimpse of what is to come for the former lottery pick?
The offseason for the New Orleans Pelicans came with many puzzling decisions. The front office decided to not re-sign All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, instead opting to give free agent Julius Randle a two-year deal. Randle is having the best season of his career so far, but is it enough to prove that the 24-year-old forward can have an even bigger impact on this roster?
Randle is by no means a bust at this stage in his career. His career-high 37 points against the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night is proof of that. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers with the seventh overall pick in 2014. He’d most likely still be wearing purple and gold if Magic Johnson didn’t have to make cap space for LeBron James and Rajon Rondo.
All-Star level expectations were set for Randle when he came into the league. And who’s to say that he won’t get there at some point in his career? To date, Joel Embiid is the only All-Star from his draft class. At the very least, Randle has been able to establish himself as a dependable player.
His scoring ability has been evident throughout his first 25 games with the Pelicans. He’s averaging a career-high 18.3 points in 26.6 minutes a night. More important is how he’s getting those points. It’s constant effort and hustle on both sides of the floor that translates into baskets.
Randle is either running the floor after a turnover for an easy bucket at the rim, or he’s capitalizing off second-chance opportunities on the offensive glass. Randle continues to impress in that category with 4.6 offensive rebounds per 48 minutes. That’s as many as All-Stars Karl-Anthony Towns and teammate Anthony Davis.
Randle’s impact often goes unnoticed because it’s not flashy. There’s no highlight crossover or overly athletic dunks. His game is simple and extremely efficient. He just puts his head down and attacks the basket. Sure it’s fun to watch other forwards like Jayson Tatum, Danilo Gallinari and Draymond Green in action, but none of them have an effective field goal percentage higher than Julius Randle at 57.2 percent.
Despite efficient numbers and proven skills, Randle is nowhere near an All-Star caliber player. There are holes in his game that prevent him from even starting on the Pelicans with any consistency. His ability to play with his back to the basket doesn’t compare to Nikola Mirotic. His inability to hit a jump shot with any regularity limits New Orleans’ ability to spread the floor when he’s on the court.
Randle has time in his career to make those significant improvements. Last year’s All-Star teams featured two first-timers who had been in the league for five or more years (Bradley Beal & Goran Dragic). The difference with Randle is those guys may have had All-Star numbers in the past, but were playing for subpar teams. At this stage in his career, Randle falls short on both the individual accolades and team success.
Perhaps that lack of team success is the biggest problem. Randle has yet to be a part of a winning situation in his career. His numbers will be seen much differently if he’s playing for a team contending for a championship. Just look at what he does on the floor compared to three-time All-Star Draymond Green.
Keep in mind, we’ve already determined that Randle is a much more efficient player. The only area where Green really shines compares to Randle is in the assist category and on the defensive end. Considering that Draymond is playing alongside two of the greatest shooters in NBA history, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, that makes a lot of sense.
Is Julius Randle reaching his ceiling? Statistically, we may be seeing his very best. Monday’s 37-point outing could be a rare occurrence, but there’s no telling what his impact can be on a contending squad. If the Pelicans are able to add an automatic perimeter scorer to the fold and increase their offensive possessions per game, Randle’s impact will certainly be felt.
Remember that Randle only has one more year left on his deal with the Pelicans. He’ll only be 25 years old the next time he’s eligible for free agency. Whether it’s with the Pelicans or another squad seeking his services, Julius Randle will prove what he’s capable of on a winning team.