NBA

NBA Saturday: Don’t Overlook Julius Randle

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Two years ago, Julius Randle was being labeled as one of the best high school players in the nation. He was a five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American, winning three state titles in four years at Prestonwood Christian Academy in Texas while averaging 32.5 points and 22.5 rebounds as a senior. However, he didn’t care about the attention he was receiving because he had his sights set on bigger accomplishments.

“All I am right now is a player that’s good on the high school level, but I’m trying to be great in college and then, hopefully, in the NBA,” Randle told me in 2012. “If I make it to the league, I want to be great. I have bigger goals than being recognized in high school and stuff like that. It doesn’t really affect me. I’m grateful that people think I’m a great player and everything, but I have bigger goals than this.”

Two years later, Randle is on the verge of achieving those goals. He just finished his lone collegiate season in Kentucky, in which he was dominant. He averaged 15 points and 10.4 rebounds, leading all Division I players in double-doubles for the season. Randle led all NCAA players in total rebounds (416), registering the second-most defensive rebounds (277) and the fourth-most offensive rebounds (139). He put up an impressive efficiency rating (25) and led Kentucky to the national championship game. Not bad for a freshman who just turned 19 years old in November.

Now, Randle is weeks away from being drafted and turning his NBA dream into reality. He’s going to be a lottery pick on June 26 and potentially a top-five selection. He’s one step closer to becoming the great player that he strives to be, and he can’t wait to begin his NBA journey. He’s confident that his game will translate to the NBA and that he can have the same success he had at every other level.

“I think my versatility [separates me from other power forward prospects],” Randle said.“We’re all athletic and fast, but I think my versatility – being able to shoot the ball, handle the ball really well, having the intangibles to guard on the defensive end even and I’m still getting a lot better at that – I just think my versatility separates me from a lot of people.”

Randle has the killer instinct and confidence that NBA talent evaluators love. That was obvious dating back to his high school days, and he confirmed it at Kentucky.

“I want to be totally dominant on the court in every game,” Randle said in high school. “When I walk off the court, I want to be known as the best player.”

For most of his life, that has often been the case. Randle is an intriguing prospect, since he’s so strong and physically gifted. He’s explosive, quick and always active, which is why he’s such an excellent rebounder. He’s able to score in the post, even against bigger defenders, and he consistently gets to the free throw line and converts. But perhaps the most attractive thing about Randle is his motor. The team that drafts Randle doesn’t have to worry about him giving anything less than 100 percent. He’s an intense competitor who always goes hard, and he has an outstanding work ethic.

There have been some concerns about his height (6’9), since he’s somewhat undersized for a power forward in the NBA. There was also talk that he had relatively short arms, but at the combine his wingspan was measured at 7’0 and his standing reach was 8’9.5, which means that his arm length shouldn’t be an issue in the league.

Randle is confident that he’ll be effective in the NBA and he’s looking forward to further proving himself throughout the pre-draft process. He knows that this is his chance to improve his draft stock and impress the teams that control his fate, and he’s ready to make the most of the opportunity.

“Am I able to stand out? Yeah, I feel like I’ll be able to stand out in any situation just because of my belief in myself and my confidence and my ability,” Randle said.“Regardless of what goes on, I’m just trying to have fun with it all.”

Throughout the college basketball season, Randle and his Wildcat teammates were under the microscope and trying to live up to ridiculously high expectations. Entering the season, Kentucky was ranked No. 1 in the country and being described as the best recruiting class ever. Fans were anticipating an undefeated season and a national title. However, the team ended up losing 10 games before the NCAA tournament, but Randle said he thinks that’s what brought the team together and propelled their impressive run in March.

“It helped us mature a lot just because we had to become closer to each other,” Randle said.“We leaned on each other a lot because we were going through an everyday process together and it really brought us closer than we already were. … I just learned how to attack adversity every day. How I can get better every day, even when things aren’t going the way you want them to? I was able to do that.”

One of the benefits of playing for Kentucky is that there are many, many former Wildcats in the league who are still very involved with the program. Randle has been receiving advice from a number of these players, many of whom went through this same NBA pre-draft process recently and were top picks as well.

“[They told me to] just be myself and have fun with everything since it’s something you only get to do once,” Randle said.

Randle has been training for the draft back in Texas and working on several aspects of his game.

“I’m just going to keep getting into great shape, keep working on shooting, keep being that versatile player and keep getting better on the defensive end,” Randle said. “I put in a lot [of conditioning work], just because I want to be ready for the workouts, ready for the summer league games and eventually ready for the season. Being in shape as a professional is something you should always be in.”

NBA talent evaluators love Randle’s game and believe he has what it takes to be an impact player at the next level.

“He’s interesting,” one Western Conference executive said. “He’s a little undersized for a four, but he’s a guy that coming into the league can come off your bench and score baskets. He’s got to develop a 15-17 foot jump shot, which I think he will. He’s very left-handed, but I think he can rebound at the NBA level. Offensively, I think he’s going to come in and score baskets.”

“He’s a guy that can be Zach Randolph,” said Ryan Blake, the Senior Director of NBA Scouting Operations. “At this stage of the game as a power forward, I project him to do a lot more with his development [considering the] hard work that he puts into it.”

He’s a man, and he won’t get pushed around by other players,” one Eastern Conference scout said. “Right now, he’s left-hand dominant, so he must work on his right hand and keep improving his jumper if he wants to take the next step and really wreak havoc. He should be able to play in the league for a really long time, but the question is how good will he be?”

Randle has been waiting his whole life to play in the NBA, brushing off past success because he strived to be great on the professional level. Soon, Randle will be on basketball’s biggest stage and have the chance to solidify himself as an elite player. This draft is loaded with talented players who have been hyped up for years, but Randle shouldn’t be overlooked.

(Check out this breakdown of Randle’s game, from our friends at DraftExpress).

Phil Jackson Asks Carmelo Anthony to Opt In

Will Carmelo Anthony opt into his contract and delay his free agency by one year? That’s what Knicks president Phil Jackson has asked his star to do. Jackson wants Anthony to give him and his new head coach one season to change the culture in New York and show ‘Melo how things are going to be moving forward before he makes his free agency decision.

If Anthony opts in to the final year of his contract, he’ll make $23,333,403 next season. By opting in and increasing his contract number, he would be eligible to sign a larger contract next offseason when he’s a free agent, since salary increases go off of the previous year’s figure. It’s risky, because Anthony would be delaying his multi-year, lucrative payday and could get injured during the 2014-15 season, but he could end up making more money in the long run if all goes as planned.

This would also take Anthony’s contract off of the books in the summer of 2015, when the Knicks want to pursue “headline players,” according to Jackson. The Knicks only have $290,000 in guaranteed commitments for the 2015-16 season, so Jackson and his staff would have a ton of money to throw around to re-sign Anthony and then put a star (or two) next to him in New York.

Jackson said that Anthony is considering opting in, and he reportedly has until June 23 to make his decision and inform the Knicks.

“I’ve told him it might be a good idea to hang in here and see what it’s like for a year, and go on to next year,” Jackson said, according to The Wall Street Journal. “But that’s his option. That’s what he’s earned and part of his contractual agreement. He has the right to [opt out]. But I just offered that to give him an opportunity to see how this is going to change – with the coaching, the system and the culture we impose.”

In the meantime, Jackson needs to find a head coach. He nearly had Steve Kerr, even coming to a verbal agreement with the first-time coach, but then the Golden State Warriors job opened up and he couldn’t resist considering the team’s talent and his California roots.

“Unfortunately, I had told [Anthony] that Steve Kerr was coming in to coach the team when I felt it was the time to tell him,” Jackson said. “Then I obviously had to back off that. And we haven’t talked about coaches since.”

“I had to kind of release [Kerr] to actually go to this job and say, ‘You have to do what’s right for yourself’,” Jackson said, according to the New York Daily News. “I understood entirely the process he was going through to have that [Warriors] job open up. That was something he kind of thought would be a good fit for him. So that’s good, we’re happy for him.

“There were plenty of things in the contract where he could have come here and been very satisfied. So that really wasn’t the issue. The issue was about California, and the issue was about — to be perfectly honest – it’s a better job for him. He’s a California guy. It’s a group of guys that are for him, been in the playoffs, been there, they have a really good operating team right now. … We’re still a team that didn’t make the playoffs, have to put together a roster. I’m not saying we have to rebuild, per se, but we have to build a competitive team, whereas that team — what did they get, to the semifinals last year, and this year they got bumped in the first round. But playoff experience is important.”

Jackson admitted that some people in the organization have “suggested” that he return to the sideline and coach for a year while he mentors a young coach. However, he says he’s not interested. He doesn’t think he can physically do the job at his age, which is a big reason why he’s hesitant to coach again.

Derek Fisher, who currently plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder and spent many years as Jackson’s point guard with the Los Angeles Lakers, is someone who he is considering to be the Knicks’ next head coach since he’s a great leader and familiar with the triangle offense.

“For the last two summers, Derek and I have talked about the next step in his career. And he’s gone back to playing,” Jackson said. “But we’ve talked about the next step over the last two years. So I kind of know what he wants to do, and his feelings. He’s got a family—kids, little kids, in L.A. I’ve got no idea if he’d want to move his family to come here. There’s so many unknowns, and I’m not talking to him [yet]. But he’s definitely on my list of guys who could be a very good candidate for this job.”

Jackson would love to steal his old protégé Brian Shaw from the Denver Nuggets, but he doesn’t want to give the team any compensation.

“Denver has everything that we’ve owned for the last few years already,” Jackson joked, since the Nuggets have two draft picks and four players from the Knicks’ trade for Anthony. “There’s nothing else I want to give them.”

It remains to be seen if Anthony will opt in and who the next head coach will be in New York, but as always, the Knicks are an interesting team to keep an eye on.

 

 

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About Alex Kennedy

Alex Kennedy

Alex Kennedy is a Senior NBA Editor for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last eight seasons. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.