Lakers: Julius Randle Miles Ahead of 2014 Draft Class

In what is essentially his second season in the NBA, Lakers’ forward Julius Randle is setting himself apart from his 2014 draft classmates.

Thank goodness Julius Randle was still on the board when the Lakers were on the clock in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Randle was an extremely highly touted prospect going into his rookie season at Kentucky. Early mock drafts from ESPN and CBS Sports had him going as high as No. 2 in the 2014 draft, only trailing the future No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins.

However, concerns with Randle’s foot and an underdeveloped overall game caused him to fall in the draft. Three years later, and the organization could not be happier that teams passed on him.

Aside from what was a wasted “rookie” season, cut short by a season-ending injury, Randle has been solid.

In the 2015-16 season–his actual rookie season–Randle averaged a double-double. 11.3 points and 10.2 rebounds per game in 28.2 minutes of playing time. Not only did he lead his entire draft class with his 34 double-doubles, but he was among the top 20 in the NBA for double-doubles. Again, his first full season in the NBA.

This season, Randle has improved in almost every facet of the game. He’s putting up 13.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and an impressive 3.6 assists per game in his 29.2 minutes on the court. The hard to impress Lakers’ General Manager Mitch Kupchak has taken notice of his breakout season.

“He was a man amongst boys. He had several games like that. He has the competitive energy that I’d love to see in young players,” Kupchak told Mark Medina of the OC Register. “That will get you a long way. He has to continue to grow skill-wise on the court, when to bring it up, when not to bring it up and when to get to the hoop and when to shoot. But with that kind of energy and effort, he’ll be in this league for a long time.”

Despite just having his first child, Randle is hardly “a man,” and that’s not meant to be a knock on him. Randle just celebrated his 22nd birthday in November. He might play like “a man amongst boys,” but it’s important to remember that he is still just a boy, which is terrifying for the rest of the NBA.

His draft classmates are finding it difficult to keep up with the former No. 7 pick, including those drafted ahead of him. Randle is once again leading his class in rebounds (8.6), while dishing out the fourth most assists (3.6).

He is also only one of the few players averaging at least 12 points and 8 rebounds while playing less than 30 minutes a game, per stats.nba.com. The other guys?

Pau Gasol, Nikola Vucevic, Clint Capela, Jonas Valanciunas and some washed up player named Dwight Coward. Not bad company, with the exception of Dwight.

Randle is also the only player from his draft class to notch a triple-double this season, making him the only player in his draft class to record at least one triple double in back-to-back seasons. He was the youngest player to record a triple-double last season, and the second youngest to do it this season.

One area Randle continues to struggle with is defense. While has has shown flashes of being a Draymond Green-like defensive stopper when he is locked in the season, it hasn’t been enough to keep him from being labeled as one of the worst defenders in his class.

He has the second lowest box plus-minus (-4.1) and the sixth worst defensive rating (110.8) of his draft class. However, head coach Luke Walton isn’t too worried about his starting power forward’s defensive potential, according to Serena Winters of Lakers Nation.

Golden State Warriors’ forward Draymond Green, who Randle has drawn comparisons to, shared the same sentiment with Mark Medina of the OC Register, adding that the Lakers’ young forward has the potential to be better than him.

“I think he can. I also think he has the potential to be better,” Green said. “With the God-given gifts he has, he has the potential to be better. I’ll continue to grow. I’ll never stop working and I’ll continue to get better. But what is he, 21? That’s a lot of time to continue to grow.”

If Green’s prediction is right, the Lakers have a very special player on their hands, but that has to be the farthest thing from Randle’s mind. In order for Randle to reach his full potential, he has to worry more about his personal growth and less about living up to often unrealistic pro-comparisons.

Randle is a key part of the Lakers’ rebuild and as long as he’s on the roster, the future is bright in Los Angeles.

What do you guys think? Is Randle a special player? Is he overrated? Underrated? Let us know in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter (@TheLakeShowLife).

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