You may have heard that Julius Randle and Larry Nance, Jr. used the offseason to sculpt themselves into ridiculous shape.
Anybody who’s been to Lakers training camp this week can confirm.
But how has all that off-the-court work translated to basketball?
“I feel it 100 percent,” said Randle after Thursday’s practice. “Just getting up and down … I don’t think about that. I just go. I feel like it allows me to be more consistent with (energy). I haven’t felt this much spring and bounce and pop going into a season. I feel great.”
Hmm … that sounds a lot like what another guy said.
“I feel like I’m flying up and down the court now,” added Nance, Jr. “I lost a little bit of weight, and it’s taken load off my joints: my knees, my ankles and my feet and all that stuff. I just feel like I’m flying. Feel like I can jump better and stronger.”
Nance, Jr. was listening intently when his boss, Magic Johnson, challenged each Laker to come back in world class shape and to cut down on body fat.
“I took that as, great, get as low as I can,” said Nance, Jr. “And I got down to 4 percent body fat, and it didn’t feel right. It felt too low. Sometimes the lowest body fat is not what’s best for you.”
As such, he climbed back up a little bit, around the 6 percent range, which Nance, Jr. said feels healthy and strong.
Randle, meanwhile, has had a physical advantage over opponents since he can remember. But these last few years have been tough for him as he’s battled back from a broken leg and a broken foot. Now, he appears to have turned a corner.
“I had set backs,” he reflected. “So it’s been about continuously growing and trying to get that spring and that pop back, and being able to do it consistently where it was natural movements. Where it doesn’t take tremendous amounts of effort. Every day feels effortless now.”
Last year, coach Luke Walton was constantly on Randle about bringing the highest level of energy to every game. He saw what the one-year Kentucky standout and No. 7 overall pick was capable of in flashes, like a five-block game at Charlotte on Dec. 20, and asked him to do it more consistently. As the 30th ranked team in defensive efficiency, there’s no question that the Lakers needed it from him.
“When he’s focused and ready, he’s one of the best defensive players we have,” said Nance, Jr. “He’s so gifted and talented that when he decides to go get a ball, he’s getting that ball. Coming in (to camp) in better shape means he can do that for a longer period of time. The team really needs that, and we’re seeing it more.”
Of course, it’s easier said than done, but Walton’s been pleased with the defensive effort after three days of practice.
“Julius has been flying around,” Walton said. “He looks great.”
“We were doing some token defensive rotations and he was hitting the coach with the pad on one side and all the way closed out to the shooter on the other side by the time the ball got passed back,” said Nance, Jr. “He was flying around the floor. Looks light (in) the running drills. His head’s above the rim dunking.”
The 6-foot-8 former No. 27 overall pick out of Wyoming has certainly been flying around to the point where he happened to claim the title of “Fastest Laker” on Tuesday evening, after narrowly out-sprinting Jordan Clarkson in the finals and Randle in the semi’s.
“Julius came back lean and mean and ready to run,” said Nance, Jr. “That’s what I tried to do too. I think you can see it in the way we’re moving up and down the court, the way we’re getting up and down in transition and even the way we’re defending. Getting up and pressuring more, now able to move more freely and more athletic. The work he’s put in has really showed and I like to think the same thing for myself.”
With the help of new strength and conditioning coach Gunnar Peterson, Nance, Jr. has been focused on turning neutral weight into positive weight.
“That means more added muscle to my quads, where I can fire off of, more hamstrings for explosion,” he explained. “Different little muscle groups where I’m stripping some fat off and adding some muscle, that’s opened them up to really show what I’ve got.”
So, we’ve determined that Walton’s two 4’s that can play 5 have come back in great shape and that it’s translating to the floor … now, who’s going to start? Who’s going to finish?
Last year, Randle started 73 of the 74 games he played, while Nance, Jr. was part of the starting five in seven of his 63 games. As such, the outside assumption may be that Randle will start again, but Walton hasn’t declared any starter aside from Lonzo Ball at point guard.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen – that’s coach’s decision,” said Randle. “We’ll see what gives us the best advantage.”
Nance, Jr. has repeatedly said he couldn’t care less who starts, but he does like finishing games. Don’t be surprised to see the two bigs play next to one another at various points of the game, including crunch time in certain matchups, as they often did last season.
“We worked on a lot of it this summer with me and Ju being on the court together,” said Nance, Jr. “With his added strength and my added strength this summer, both of us can play the five, and guard centers. I think that’s going to be big time for us. With Lonzo pushing the ball, having two mobile bigs out there is going to be tough to deal with.”