SACRAMENTO — Since Julius Randle arrived at training camp as the presumptive starter at power forward, his third full season with the Lakers has been one of needing to prove himself.
He lost the starting job to Larry Nance Jr., by the fourth preseason game. The Lakers did not offer him a fairly standard contract extension. When Nance got hurt, Randle was leap-frogged by Kyle Kuzma.
Early on, it seemed to affect his demeanor and his production followed.
Since having a heart-to-heart discussion with Coach Luke Walton in late October, however, Randle has become an indispensable piece of whatever success the Lakers are having. In a 103-94 win over Chicago on Tuesday, Randle chipped in 10 points and 10 rebounds, while spending time on the court with Brook Lopez.
“Well, he’s been playing so well for us this season,” Walton said, “it’s getting him on the court any way we can and he keeps having success for us.”
Surprising has been Walton’s willingness in the last couple of games to give Randle time alongside Lopez, the starting center with whom Walton indicated in training camp Randle was ill-suited to share the court.
“It works well with Brook because Brook spaces the floor so he kind of turns into the space ‘four,’” Walton said, “and Julius can still do all that dynamic rolling hat he does and switch defensively. We’ll keep fooling with that.”
Despite playing a career-low 21.2 minutes per game, Randle is averaging 12.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Against Chicago, he overlapped with Lopez in the first and fourth quarters.
“They’ve been playing well together,” Walton said prior to Wednesday’s game against the Kings, “but I also think Julius is playing at a much higher level than he was back then (in training camp), too. There’s a lot of factors that go into it, but they look good together.”
Walton also has to determine how to integrate Nance when he returns from his broken left hand, presumably next week. He said it is…