It’s time for the opening tip.
Fans are standing. Players are in ready position surrounding center court.
Another New Orleans Pelicans game is set to begin and the collective eyes of the Smoothie King Center are focused on the floor.
Julius Randle is standing in the corridor between the Pelicans’ locker room and the court. He’s facing a concrete wall, listening to Drake through headphones, wearing warmups, jumping, doing plyometrics and shadow boxing like a prize fighter waiting to make his entrance to the ring.
Midway through the first quarter, Randle rips off the warmups, removes the headphones and checks into the game. By then, his energy is already at a full lather, and he wastes no time attacking the basket adding an immediate spark off of the bench.
“I don’t want to come off the bench cold,” Randle said. “So, he’s putting me through a warm-up and making sure I’m getting a sweat and getting my body warm. I’m listening to my music to make sure when I come out, I can be at full force."
It’s made Randle the Pelicans’ second-best opening-quarter scorer over the past 12 games, trailing only Anthony Davis.
And he only plays half of the quarter.
Whether it’s the byproduct of the unorthodox warmup routine is uncertain. But, no one on the Pelicans is going to tell him to stop.
“I have not seen anybody do that,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “But, if he’s going to play the way he’s playing, he can shadow box all he wants. He really can. I’m OK.
“Guys have different ways of getting ready. And if he’s going to come in the way he has and be that physical, I love the fact he shadow boxes. I don’t know who he’s doing it to. I hope it’s not me (laughing). But, whoever, it is, I hope he keeps it up.”
Randle said the routine originated out of necessity. A left plantar fasciitis injury hampered the power forward during the first few weeks of the season and tightened up while he sat on the bench waiting to check in.
So, he turned to trainer Mike Guevara, who cooked up creative workout regimens for Jrue Holiday. So, Guevara and Randle headed into the tunnel and did a variety of exercises as the game was occurring just a few yards away.
“I was having trouble coming off the bench to start my game,” Randle said. “I was cold. My foot was real tight, so it was taking me a while to warm up. Then it just kind of turned into something that just helps me out every game.”
The effect has carried past the opening quarter.
Randle has put himself into contention for Sixth Man of the Year, thanks to posting 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in just 25 minutes per night. His triple-double in last Saturday’s blowout win over the San Antonio Spurs made him just the fifth player in NBA history to reach the milestone in less than 25 minutes.
Randle’s physical, bruising style and ability to score in isolation grabs attention. But Gentry is more impressed by his playmaking and court vision, using Randle as a ball-handler, helping ease the burden on Jrue Holiday and the Pelicans’ thin point guard rotation.
“We think Julius can initiate the offense and be a facilitator,” Gentry said. “We don’t mind that. He’s a terrific passer, and once again it gives Jrue the opportunity to be off of the ball some at the end of the game, when those guys are crowding him. And when Jrue isn’t in there, it’s great to have someone who can initiate like Julius can.”
So, as strange as it might look, those extra six minutes of exercise appear to be paying ample dividends.
“I think he’s always intense,” Holiday said. “Ju being Ju, really. He goes out and he plays hard. It’s extra hard, really. He just shows that energy. He’s always got something going on.”