Of all the players in this draft, the Dallas product Julius Randle is probably the second-most likely to average 20 points per game in a season behind Jabari Parker. The assumption is that the surgery Randle will reportedly need (which he disputes) will not be career-altering, and therefore it is not being considered in this evaluation.
While many have complained that Andrew Wiggins’ skills were neutered by Bill Self’s system at Kansas, Randle is the one who really has a complaint. He was almost invariably paired with another big man, so there was no space for his drives or postups. Randle had less than 20 possessions all season as a roll man going to the basket, and took less than 10 open catch-and-shoot jump shots. His horrible percentage on J’s was the result of shots off the dribble or with a hand in his face, as he had few designed plays from outside. The few catch-and-shoots he had looked good, and his 71 percent from the line is outstanding for a freshman big man. I expect him to be a threat shooting long twos almost immediately, with the ability to either pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop and the potential of occasional three-point range. He was 3-8 on college threes that were actually open, with all of the misses close. In fact, Randle was criticized for being too perimeter-oriented in high school.
Randle has all the power forward skills offensively, but is most impressive facing up off the dribble from the top of the key or from the mid-post. For his weight, he is very explosive off the dribble and finishing at the rim. Randle has nice ballhandling moves for his position, with crossovers, hesitations and jump stops that are very effective. Once he gets a small advantage on his man, he widens it with his 250-pound frame and is able to protect the ball from his own man at the basket. He shot a solid 70 percent at the rim, with only 34 percent of those shots assisted. That number was buoyed by his excellent offensive rebounding. And he proved a solid finisher off others’ passes at the basket, often with a dunk when possible.
Randle’s small wingspan can be an issue with his finishing at times, and he has small hands that further limit his ability to get extension. But his use of his shoulders and ability to contort his body is masterful for a player his size. And while he doesn’t use his right hand enough, he did have a few impressive finishes with it so it seems a good bet to become a bigger part of his game in time. In that respect he is not Zach Randolph, and aside from his left-handedness and weight he has little in common with him despite the easy comparisons. He’s a much, much better athlete, if not quite as tough or long as Z-Bo.
Another underrated skill is Randle’s passing. He had some very nice looks off his drives, including the pass to Aaron Harrison for the three that broke Louisville’s back in the NCAA Tournament. He should be an excellent weapon on short rolls or in the pick-and-pop, with the ability to either shoot from range, put it on the deck and find shooters or get to the rim as appropriate.
Defensively Randle will not be a rim protector. With only an 8’9.5 standing reach and a miniscule block rate, that just isn’t going to be his game.*
*For comparison his standing reach is identical to Blake Griffin, and he is not a good shot-blocker despite his superior athleticism.
But he can move his feet quite well, to the point that Kentucky was quite happy to switch pick-and-rolls with him. Randle was solid if not spectacular in these situations; guards rarely blew by him and he was usually able to get a hand up. His numbers guarding isolations were excellent, ranking in the 79th percentile when he was in single coverage on an opponent.
As regular readers know, this space regularly cautions how hard it is to win with subpar defensive big men. But a look at the power forwards in the league reveals few true rim protectors such as Taj Gibson and Serge Ibaka. So having a power forward who does not block shots is not fatal to a defense; the dearth of such players is what makes the absence of a rim-protecting center so difficult to overcome.
Moreover, Randle’s defensive flaws become much easier to tolerate the lower we get in the draft. Fans regularly drastically overrate the average return of, say the fifth or sixth pick in the draft. If a player is a good bet to someday average 20 and 10, that is a fantastic return for that pick regardless of the defensive issues. Randle should get a serious look beginning with the number five pick.
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