What the NY Knicks’ 2014-15 Starting Lineup Should Actually Look Like

First-year New York Knicks coach Derek Fisher knows which question he needs to answer, but after six preseason games he has yet to find the solution.

With the complexities of the triangle offense and the puzzle-piece roster that never really fit during last season’s 45-loss debacle, the coach has stressed the importance of stability in his opening lineup.

“I do believe in having consistency in your starting lineup,” Fisher told reporters earlier this month. “… It’s my belief that players respond better to consistency.”

Six games and four starting lineups later, that consistency still eludes this team.

“We’re still searching,” Fisher told reporters about nailing down his rotation. He added that selecting a starting 4 is “definitely still a work in progress.”

Ready or not, the regular season is coming quickly. The Knicks have less than a week to prepare for their season-opener on Oct. 29 and only Friday’s tilt with the Toronto Raptors left on their exhibition schedule.

Fisher needs to find his five. Considering how much he has on his plate already, though, we went ahead and found them for him.

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Warriors’ Starting Small Forward Decision More Complicated Than It Seems

When your starting five registers a net rating of plus-15.4 over 819 regular-season minutes—as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut did for the Golden State Warriors a season ago*—you think it’d be best to leave well enough alone. 

The Dubs’ golden unit is good enough to single-handedly put them in the playoffs. Given the right breaks, it could be what carries them to an NBA championship.

But when it comes to who mans the starting small forward slot, the truth—as in any seemingly sublime relationship—is a bit more complicated.

This is no knock on Andre Iguodala. As the team’s best defender and foremost emotional leader, the 10-year veteran is the definition of “indispensable.” For the Warriors to reach their full potential, however, head coach Steve Kerr must not merely choose rotational convention over better depth.

The crux of the issue is as follows: By bringing Iguodala off the bench, Golden State would have a proven leader and playmaker to bolster what has been one of the league’s most woeful second units.

Meanwhile, starting Harrison Barnes—whose struggles last season were well-documented—could give the third-year forward a much-needed jolt of confidence. That in turn would help bolster Barnes’ value for any potential trade, something that’s been often discussed in the Warriors’ front office.

There’s certainly something to be said about tethering Barnes to Golden State’s stars as often as possible. Per NBA.com (subscription required), the three five-man units in which Barnes was included and that registered a positive net rating over a minimum of 50 minutes all included at least three regular Warriors starters.

It’s the definition of a “risk-reward” scenario. On the one hand, you know what you’re getting with Iguodala in the starting lineup. On the other, how can you know what you might have in Barnes unless you give him more minutes?

The idea of Iguodala as bench ballast was given an early boost during a recent preseason blowout win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Afterward, Kerr told the San Jose Mercury News’ Diamond Leung that he wouldn’t rule out the 2012 Olympic gold-medal winner as a possible sixth-man extraordinaire.

“I thought Andre was brilliant, and I don’t know that (coming off the bench is) the route we’re going to go, but he solidified that unit,” Kerr said. “And our lead went up when we subbed in, which was encouraging.

For his part, Iguodala was a bit more circumspect when asked about the possibility, telling Leung:

It’s just playing ball, you know? You try not to make a big deal out of it. I think we know the depth we have and how many guys we can put out there on the floor, which should help us stay fresh throughout the year. It could be anyone’s night. Coaches continue to reiterate that fact that it could be anyone’s night at any given time, so be patient if that night’s not your night and just go with the flow.

During the 2013-14 season, it wasn’t uncommon see Iguodala serve as a primary ball-handler behind Stephen Curry; that’s how shallow Golden State’s backcourt was (Steve Blake being the only other true point guard in the regular rotation).

The addition of Shaun Livingston—signed to a full mid-level exception of a little over $5 million back in July—certainly changes that equation for the better. Still, beyond Curry and Livingston, Kerr’s only real ball-handler is rookie Aaron Craft, a hard-nosed but physically limited player coming off a woeful stint in the Orlando and Las Vegas Summer Leagues.

That’s not to say Iguodala’s only role would be running the reserves show, of course; the installation of Kerr’s triangle offense arguably makes the team’s positional makeup even more moot. Besides, there’s still the matter of that age-old basketball adage: It’s not who starts but who finishes that truly counts.

At the same time, As SB Nation’s Drew Garrison recently underscored, swapping Iguodala and Barnes isn’t a risk-free proposition:

This does represent a long-term trade-off for Golden State, though. Iguodala is one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders and the Warriors will need their defensive stopper as a starter during the postseason. If the Warriors rely on Iguodala leading the bench unit through the regular season, this could cause rotation issues if they shift him back into the starting lineup for the playoffs. He also fits nicely alongside the starting unit, complementing Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry on the wings and providing the kind of defensive support on the perimeter that David Lee and Andrew Bogut need in front of them.

Will Kerr stick with this newfound role for Iguodala? Time will tell, but giving it a chance and seeing how his Warriors respond to the lineup shift is a worthwhile preseason exercise if nothing else.

The idea of leveraging more minutes in order to massage Barnes’ trade value wasn’t conceived in a vacuum. With the team’s salaries already maxed out and both Klay Thompson and Draymond Green—a bench revelation in his own right—due extensions over the next 12 months, it’s incumbent upon Golden State to cleave open as much cap space as possible.

Green adds yet another wrinkle to the Warriors’ small forward logjam, what with the third-year forward already being talked about as a possible replacement for the defensively limited David Lee as the team’s starting power forward.

Still, despite logging only 14 percent of his team’s minutes at the 3, Green’s impact—the Warriors registered a plus-8.2 with him as the small forward according to 82games.com—is enough to at least make Kerr consider what a Green-Lee, Green-Iguodala or Green-Barnes forward duo might look like.

Whatever Kerr’s ultimate decision is, it should be neither pressing nor permanent, which is a luxury one can afford when wielding one of the league’s deeper teams.

Sensational as Golden State’s starting unit was a season ago, it’s impossible not to see the end result—a disappointing first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers—as reason enough for a bit of tweaking and tinkering.

Even if the five that finish—Iggy included—are as much a certainty as Sunday Mass at the Vatican.


*Stat courtesy of NBA.com (subscription required).

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Why J.R. Smith Should Be in New York Knicks’ 2014-15 Starting Lineup

To get the most out of the pivotal first season of the Phil Jackson era, the New York Knicks need to figure out how to control and unleash resident gunner J.R. Smith.

A humble suggestion: Start him.

If you’re finished unblowing your mind, note that so far there’s no indication the Knicks powers that be are prepared to commit to such a plan.

Per Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com:

Jackson said Jose Calderon and Sam Dalembert will probably start at point guard and center, respectively. Derek Fisher has said that only Carmelo Anthony has a spot in the starting lineup at this point. He has been observing different lineups in training camp and the preseason. Assuming Fisher is on board with Jackson’s idea of starting Calderon and Dalembert, that leaves question marks at shooting guard and power forward.

Question marks at shooting guard apparently do not worry Smith, who’s bullish on the talent at his primary position, per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com“I think there’s not a team in this league that has what we have at the shooting guard spot and I think that’s very unique … you should look at it as a dynamic trio like people do with running backs in football.”

Nice sentiment, but it’s pretty clear Smith should be the team’s feature back. Over the summer, he made it seem like that was his goal:

Hey, I get it; there’s a strong case for leaving Smith on the second unit. The guy earned his Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2012-13 because he was a potent scoring force off the pine. His game, which features many tough shots and few pangs of conscience, seems ideally suited for the sixth-man role.

He’s practically the model for the position.

For all that, there’s a stronger argument to be made for his fitness as a first-unit player.

Put most simply, Smith is the Knicks’ best shooting guard by a considerable margin, and it makes sense to put the best players on the floor from the opening tip. Smith’s player efficiency rating in 2013-14 (a down year for the 29-year-old, by the way) was 14.0, the highest of any guard on the Knicks roster, per Basketball-Reference.com.

His 3.7 win shares were also tops in New York’s backcourt.

If we leave the numbers alone for a moment (don’t worry, we’ll come back), we should next acknowledge that Smith just fits better with the members of the Knicks’ starting lineup already identified. In an ideal world, the Knicks should want Smith on the floor with players who can make life easier for him.

Anthony and Calderon are New York’s most dangerous offensive players, which means they’ll command most of the defensive attention—attention opponents won’t be able to spend on Smith. As the leader of a relatively punchless second unit, Smith has long been the focal point of most opponents’ schemes.

Plus, it seems the Knicks are committed to using Anthony as a small forward, which seems like a mistake but is a separate issue. The point is: Playing Melo at the 3 means one of either Andrea Bargnani or Amar’e Stoudemire will start at power forward, and neither of those players can stretch the floor.

And just to head this off at the pass, please refrain from calling Bargs a floor-spacer. Dude shot 27.8 percent from three last year and 30.9 percent the year before. No right-thinking defense views him as a perimeter threat.

Upshot: The Knicks need more shooting in the first unit—shooting Smith is best equipped to provide.

Iman Shumpert connected on just 33.3 percent of his triples last season. Tim Hardaway Jr. made 36.3 percent.

Smith knocked down 39.4 percent of his long-range tries in 2013-14.

The statistical case for Smith-as-starter only gets stronger the deeper we dive:

There’s a good reason Smith was so much more effective as a member of the first unit last year. Playing with better talent (which we’ve already mentioned draws more defensive attention) is a great way to keep Smith from giving in to his more destructive instincts.

With Melo and, in theory, Calderon on the court, Smith won’t be a primary ball-handler. He’ll still get loads of shots (note his higher usage rate as a starter last year), but they’ll be better ones. No more carte blanche to pound the dribble and fling up a 30-footer because no other options presented themselves. No more wild drives to the hole as defenses collapse off hapless teammates.

Instead, Smith can feast on spot-up shots and attack shifting defenses that have to play him honestly.

According to SportVU data provided to NBA.com, Smith was markedly better as a standstill shooter than he was off the dribble last year. He pegged 45.6 percent of his catch-and-shoot tries in 2013-14. Among Knicks who attempted as many such shots, only Melo topped that accuracy rate.

On pull-up shots, Smith made a woeful, though not surprising, 33 percent.

Summation: Smith can create shots, but he’s a lot more accurate when somebody else creates them for him.

If the concern is that the second unit might fall apart without Smith leading it, Shumpert and Hardaway were both better off-the-dribble shooters than Smith last year, per NBA.com. And while neither has the handle or strength to attack the basket as effectively, we shouldn’t expect the wheels to fall off without Smith running the show.

We’ve seen the numbers and digested the anecdotal evidence for Smith’s place in the starting lineup. There’s some compelling stuff there.

But if stats and reason don’t do it for you, let’s get touchy feely and see how that works.

So much of Jackson’s influence on the Knicks is about balance, about trusting a system and running an offense that maximizes contributions from everybody. The triangle is supposed to make a team function as a group. That’s the whole point.

Leaving Smith to his own devices as a one-man artillery unit off the bench cuts against the spirit of the triangle. It removes the sense of harmony Jackson so values. Making Smith part of a cohesive collective would be a triangle triumph—and perhaps the pressure of not screwing things up for the rest of the starters will keep him in line.

Smith needs to start. It’s the Zen thing to do.

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Ranking the Best Starting Lineups for the 2014-15 College Basketball Season

Of the 351 starting lineups in the country, sheer physicality and exceptional defense give Arizona the honor of best starting lineup for the 2014-15 college basketball season.

It certainly wasn’t an easy conclusion to come to. Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and Wisconsin each has an outstanding collection of players in its starting five.

Long story short: If you think there’s a clear-cut favorite to win the national championship this year, it’s time to take off the rose-colored glasses.

For the purpose of this article, we pretended that teams have no bench. Your best five against your opponent’s best five.

Once we settled on the top 10, teams were ranked by how well they would do in a round-robin tournament against the other nine teams.

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Mike Dunleavy Starting for the Chicago Bulls is a Good Thing

After Derrick Rose went down on November 22, 2013, the Chicago Bulls playoff hopes were in question. DJ Augustin and Joakim Noah stepped up, providing flashes of dominance during the season. The player that brought the most balance to the hardwood was Mike Dunleavy Jr., though.
Dunleavy started 61 games for the Chicago Bulls last season, racking up the third most minutes with 2,584 behind Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler. Dunleavy also had the fourth most points on the team, despite only averaging 11.3 PPG. Now, Dunleavy will enter his 13th NBA season and has EARNED a starting spot in this league.
The thing that makes Dunleavy valuable despite his consistency is his defense and impact while on the floor. For as much as people want Jimmy Butler to be the next Bruce Bowen, Dunleavy matches Butler in every defensive category. This number may be a bit skewed due to who the two players are guarding night in and night out, but Dunleavy had more blocks and rebounds than Butler in 2013-14. MDJ also had a DRtg o

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Lakers’ tentative starting lineup revealed

Finally – Lakers basketball is back!
On Monday, the purple and gold will take to the court for the first time since April when they face the Denver Nuggets down in San Diego.
Obviously, the biggest storyline going into this game will be how Kobe Bryant looks, though there are other intriguing players to keep an eye on, too.
From Steve Nash, who, like Bryant, is trying to make a successful comeback from various injuries, to intriguing rookies in Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, there will be plenty of guys to keep an eye on during the Lakers’ first preseason game.
But, the question still remains of who will start the game.
While Byron Scott declined to confirm his full starting five on Sunday –  as long as they’re healthy, Bryant and Nash are locks to start right now – Eric Pincus from the L.A. Times shared a tidbit on Twitter, saying the team have officially set their “probably” starters for Monday as Nash, Bryant, Wesley Johnson, Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill:
Lakers officially list probab

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Starting Steven Adams over Kendrick Perkins Is Right Move for OKC Thunder

We had to see this coming.

According to The Oklahoman‘s Anthony Slater, the Oklahoma City Thunder will use training camp to determine who mans the middle during the 2014-15 season.

“There are starting lineups to be fought for,” Brooks told media. “Minutes to be competed for. This is where you make those decisions in 30 days [of training camp]. The 30 days will determine the best group.”

That’s a start, a sign head coach Scott Brooks is seriously entertaining the prospect of a much-needed shakeup. In this case, competition for the starting job pits 29-year-old veteran Kendrick Perkins against 21-year-old up-and-comer Steven Adams.

Perkins—who’s scheduled to make $9,154,342 this season—is increasingly ineffective. Adams—who will earn just $2,184,960 in the second year of his rookie contract—is just getting started, and his stock is rapidly on the rise.

While Brooks and Co. may officially base their decision on a few practices, the writing is already on the wall.

This is Adams’ job to lose.

Perkins just wrapped up his third full season with the Thunder after the organization acquired him from the Boston Celtics during the 2010-11 season. Having established himself as a rugged defensive presence in Boston, OKC hoped to deploy Perkins as its enforcer—the kind of gritty big man capable of setting a tone.

And for a time, that’s pretty much what the Thunder got.

Unfortunately, that time appears to be winding down.

After averaging 25.1 minutes per game in 2012-13, Perkins’ playing time was reduced to just 19.5 minutes per contest last season. That translated into a career-low 45.1-percent mark from the field and a general decline in Perkins’ impact on the game. His 4.9 rebounds per contest constituted his worst output since 2004-05, just his second season in the league.

Though the 11-year veteran has never been an offensive force, he’s become an outright liability.

According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Thunder scored 6.9 fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor last season.

Now entering the final year of his contract, could Perkins turn things around in a bid to remain on free-agent radars in 2015?

It could happen.

NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan noted via Twitter that, “Perkins dropped 22 lbs down to 276. Says he watched a lot of film this summer—of his Boston days only.”

It’s the kind of time-machine approach that could yield some dividends. Improved mobility would theoretically show in Perkins’ defensive rotations and ability to guard the pick-and-roll. 

But even in the best-case scenario, there are reasons to give Adams a chance.

The Pittsburgh product only averaged 3.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 0.7 blocks in 14.8 minutes per game last season, but he demonstrated serious upside during several playoff appearances.

After playing negligible minutes through the first five games of Oklahoma City’s opening round against the Memphis Grizzlies, Adams played a combined 45 minutes in Games 6 and 7—tallying 10 points, four rebounds and five blocks in the process.

From there, Adams’ opportunities multiplied.

He averaged five points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in six games against the Los Angeles Clippers in the conference semifinals. That included a 40-minute outing in Game 6 that translated into 10 points and 11 rebounds—Adams’ first postseason double-double.

The strong play continued into the conference finals against the San Antonio Spurs, particularly in Games 2 and 3 when Adams combined for 16 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks.

While Adams’ output outpaced Perkins’ playoff production, numbers hardly told the story of the rookie’s real value.

He’s an active, aggressive presence who makes the most of his imposing seven-foot frame—the kind of big man who isn’t afraid to throw some elbows or set a devastating screen. These are largely the same virtues that first endeared Perkins to the Thunder, and they may now be the principal argument for anointing his replacement.

To be fair, Perkins still brings value to the lineup—even if it’s far less than his paycheck might suggest.

He’s a leader with championship experience, the consummate teammate you definitely want on your side.

Consider Kevin Durant‘s account upon accepting last season’s MVP award.

“Perk, from the minute you got here…I hated you before you got here,” Durant told the audience. “The moment you got here, man, you just changed my whole perception of you. Just one of the best teammates I ever had. I just thank you so much. The late night calls after tough games, you texting me, telling me I’m the MVP. That means a lot to me, man. Thank you.”

Intangibles like that count for something, yes. But they count for something coming off the bench too.

Brooks admitted as much on Monday at the team’s media day.

“I’ve been around Perk,” Brooks told reporters. “One thing about Perk, he cares about winning. He cares about his teammates. He’s given us a great opportunity over the years. He’s a big part of the team. Whether he starts or doesn’t start, he’s going to fill a role that we need.”

With the Thunder searching for an edge that might propel them back to the NBA Finals, now would be the time to start grooming Adams for increased responsibilities.

As Slater argued in a round-table discussion with other sportswriters at The Oklahoman, “It’s about maximizing the roster’s capabilities by the playoffs. That would include getting the young and emerging Adams as many opportunities as possible. Play him with the starters. Get him 30 minutes a night.”

That kind of thinking makes sense.

Clinging to the status quo makes less sense.

Could Perkins complain about a reserve role? Sure. But frankly, he should be pleased he still has a job.

Despite waves of speculation the organization might amnesty him, general manager Sam Presti closed the door on the possibility again in June, telling reporters, “It’s not something that’s been considered to this point.”

Given the team’s cap situation, there was little to be gained from cutting ties with Perkins.

But there’s even less to be gained by starting him in place of a younger, now superior option. Perkins may even understand as much, potentially assuaging any concern that a reserve role would turn him into an unhappy camper.

“To be honest with you, I think going into training camp, it’s always a position battle,” Perkins told reporters this week. “Every year going in, if you’re not one of the $100 million (salary) guys, it’s always a position battle. I’m always approaching training camp like that. That’s just the way I feel.”

Hopefully he stills feels that way in the event he loses said position battle.

Now slowed by a strained quad that will impede Perkins’ early participation at training camp, Adams’ odds of replacing him in the starting lineup are looking better by the day.

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Chicago Bulls Release Starting Lineup

The Chicago Bulls began their 2014-15 season the other day with their annual media day. While excitement is beginning to build, there is still a long way to go before the season starts. That didn’t stop head coach Tom Thibodeau from announcing the team’s starting lineup.
According to CBS Sports, Coach Thibs will have the following players on the court when the season beings October 29 in New York:
PG: Derrick Rose
SG: Jimmy Butler
SF: Mike Dunleavy
PF: Pau Gasol
C: Joakim Noah
Nothing too crazy here. Unfortunately the Doug McDermott fans will need to wait a bit before the rookie makes a potential appearance with the starting unit.

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Starting Roles That Will Be Decided During 2014 NBA Training Camp

NBA training camp starts with the basics.

So before getting to the critical questions of style, pace and for a team like the New York Knicks, which lucky assistant trainer is responsible for icing down J.R. Smith’s shooting arm, teams need to figure out who’s actually going to play.

Starting gigs around the league are up for grabs, and the aforementioned Mr. Smith is involved in one such position battle for Phil Jackson’s Knicks.

Big fish and bottom feeders alike have undetermined roles at this early (embryonic, really) stage of training camp. With bodies just now getting on the floor as part of official preseason workouts, there’s a great deal yet to be decided.

That means, at least for now, the Oklahoma City Thunder actually have something in common with the Milwaukee Bucks: Neither squad is certain which quintet will take the floor on opening night.

What is certain?

There are a whole lot of wing players set to fight it out for starting gigs, a not-so-surprising trend that speaks to just how replaceable guys at those positions are becoming in today’s NBA.

That’s another conversation for another day, though. For now, we’ll focus on starting gigs up for grabs in training camp—and the players fighting to claim them.

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How Fast Can Julius Randle Crack Los Angeles Lakers Starting Lineup?

The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t set up for conventional success in the win column during Byron Scott’s first season as head coach, but that doesn’t mean forward progress has to elude the Purple and Gold entirely. 

While the Lakers largely moved to maintain monetary flexibility this summer by inking veterans to team-friendly deals, last year’s 55-loss debacle produced Julius Randle, the team’s third-ever lottery pick and first since Andrew Bynum in 2005. 

And in a stacked Western Conference, sources of optimism during the 2014-15 season are likely to be limited to silver linings. The most prominent of which could be Randle’s emergence as a future franchise centerpiece. 

But before labels can be bestowed upon him, Randle will need to prove his worth, as general manager Mitch Kupchak explained to reporters: 

Unfortunately for Randle, amnesty signee Carlos Boozer stands between him and extended playing time in the Lakers frontcourt. 

Inked to a one-year, $3.25 million pact in July via amnesty waivers, Boozer provides the appearance of stability at the 4. Particularly after the Lakers ranked 24th in power forward scoring last season, according to HoopsStats

Despite posting a new career-low field-goal percentage of 45.6, Boozer remained a double-double threat (he totaled 25 last season), averaging 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds during his final stint with the Chicago Bulls

However, those basic box score statistics may represent nothing more than a thin veneer for a player whose effectiveness is dwindling rapidly. 

Revered for his mid-range shooting capabilities, Boozer shot below 40 percent from both mid-range locations (10-16 feet, 16 feet-three-point line) last season, according to Basketball-Reference.com, marking the first time he had done so in 12 seasons. 

While he remained an effective shooter from the left elbow, mediocrity enveloped Boozer’s production from nearly every other spot on the floor, as the following shot chart from Nylon Calculus illustrates: 

Combine those evolving offensive struggles with Boozer’s lack of defensive prowess, and the younger Randle may look like the more appealing starting option by the time curtains draw on his rookie season. 

And if you want to be optimistic about Randle’s prospects off the bench, just look at how Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau saw things when it came to Boozer and frontcourt mate Taj Gibson and imagine Randle in the latter’s role. 

Last season, the Bulls were three points better per 100 defensive possessions with Boozer off the floor, according to NBA.com. And as an aside, the league’s lowest-scoring offense was also 4.5 points better per 100 offensive possessions with Boozer off the floor. 

As a result, the Bulls provided the younger, hungrier Gibson with a larger allotment of minutes (28.7 per game compared to Boozer’s 28.2) despite coming off the bench. 

That brings us to Randle and his quest for a starting gig. 

“We didn’t decide, ‘Well, [Randle isn't] going to help us this year, let’s get a veteran,’” Kupchak told the Los Angeles Times‘ Eric Pincus. “We got [Boozer] to help us win games this year. Whatever Julius gets, he’s going to have to earn.”

Kupchak is looking to temper expectations and understandably so. After all, Randle faces an uphill climb in terms of adapting to the speed and physicality of the pro game. 

But it’s important to remember that Randle’s skill set should equip him to make that adjustment slightly less painful. 

Just take it from Kupchak

“He’s got super quick feet and I think if there’s one thing you didn’t see much at Kentucky, as you do watching him every day, is that he’s got really gifted quickness, first step, [and] he loves contact,” Kupchak said, according to Pincus. 

No, Randle may not have a versatile range of offensive tools like the one Boozer’s purported to possess, but his status as a physical force and athletic specimen should turn heads enough over the course of his rookie season to put him in excellent position entering year two. 

Remember, Randle averaged 15 points and 10.4 rebounds as a freshman at Kentucky while leading the nation in total rebounding and ranking first among all SEC players in defensive rebounding percentage (24.7). 

For a team that was inept at keeping opponents off the glass last season (L.A. ranked last in opponent’s total, defensive and offensive rebounds), Randle’s tenacity on the boards will be a welcome sight. 

There’s also the matter of Randle’s positional versatility, which should help him stay on the court. Especially given how starved the Lakers are for committed wing defenders. 

Outside of Wes Johnson and Xavier Henry, the Lakers are staring at defensive liabilities in Kobe Bryant, Wayne Ellington and Nick Young. 

With the speed necessary to guard opposing 3s and the strength to body up 4s, Kupchak noted Randle could see time at both forward positions this season, according to Pincus: 

He can defend small forwards.  Do I see him right now as the prototypical small forward?  Probably not. But I could see him bringing the ball up the court.  I could see him seeing a gap, getting a step on a guy and making a play — whether it’s finishing or finding somebody that’s open.  Those are ball-handling skills that you wouldn’t see power forwards have very often.

Detractors will point to the jump shot, which remains a substantial worry. 

Offensively, my biggest concern centers on his preferred shot selection, which is heavily interior-oriented. He made just 17.3 percent of his jumpers last season, having only taken 1.3 per game, per Synergy Sports via DraftExpress‘ Matt Kamalsky,” Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman noted. 

That said, it’s important to remember Randle isn’t confined to playing the role of a conventional 4.  

Thanks to his unique blend of physical qualities, Randle is more than capable of making hay off the dribble, as he did throughout his time as a Wildcat. 

As a freshman, Randle ranked first in the SEC in total free-throw attempts (289) while getting to the stripe 7.2 times per game. 

Compare that to Boozer, who attempted 46.02 percent of his shots last season from mid-range, according to NBA.com, which resulted in the second-lowest free-throw rate of his career (.197). 

And yet, given the way the Lakers have framed their one-year commitment to Boozer, it would be a surprise to see Randle supplant the 32-year-old as a starter this season.  

Boozer’s presence figures to relegate Randle to the role of second-unit contributor for the time being. But given all he has to offer, Randle should be able to carve out a nice rotational niche on a team in need of committed two-way players.

It’s always tough selling patience when discussing lottery picks, but Kupchak has a point. Maintaining perspective is crucial, and just because Randle’s status as a top-10 pick inflates expectations it doesn’t mean he’ll bypass the competition and get a pass to the top of the depth chart. 

In time, the job will be his. That’s what the Lakers’ lottery commitment to Randle really means. 

So if Randle can consistently attack the rim, crash the boards and display his positional versatility on both ends throughout his rookie season, the Lakers will have no choice but to think toward the future once Boozer’s time as a stopgap starter in Tinseltown concludes. 


All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless noted otherwise.  

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