Julius Randle has looked like a man amongst boys during much of his first season at Kentucky. While he didn’t enter his freshman year with quite the same hype that surrounded Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, Randle nevertheless was seen as a potential top three pick in the upcoming 2014 NBA draft. Randle has had a strong, but inconsistent season, and though he is still projected as an early lottery pick, scouts are concerned he might not have a defined position in the NBA. Randle is currently ranked No. 5 on Chad Ford of ESPN‘s Big Board, Draft Express has him being take fourth in their latest mock draft, and NBA Draft.net has him slotted in at No. 7 overall.
On a talented Kentucky team Randle was more often than not their best player on the floor. His numbers on the season were strong. In 32 games he averaged 15.1 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 1.3 APG, and 0.8 BPG in 30.7 minutes per game. His slash line is .504/.188/.702. Good numbers, but not as dominant as some thought he would be upon entering college.
Randle’s value is as an offensive player, though his offensive game at the NCAA level is mostly considered “bully ball”. He is stronger than most of his college peers and can physically dominate them when trying to put the ball in the basket. His superior strength works against most teams, but it can also lead to forced shots and turnovers. Randle is actually coughing it up 3.2 times a game, an awfully high number for a big man. This is mainly because he tends to recklessly attack defenses by trying to plow his way through them. He uses his natural left hand and can take any contact when hit to finish, but isn’t as confident when using his right.
One of the biggest complaints against Randle’s offensive game is that he doesn’t play on the box as much as he should, and is far too perimeter oriented. He needs to focus more on refining his post game which will be what will make or break him as a pro. Randle settles for too many jumpers at times instead of imposing his will inside. He’s shown enough ability on the block however to suggest he will continue to improve his game down there. He reminds me of Derrick Coleman when he first came into the league in this regard. Randle’s jump shot isn’t ugly by any means, and looks like it should improve with time, but it just might be his biggest weakness offensively. He has no problem taking his man off the dribble when using a pump fake, but if his outside shot ever becomes a reliable weapon, Randle could become a scoring star.
Randle hasn’t made much of an impact on the defensive end, which can probably be attributed to a combination of short arms and below-average awareness. Whether Randle ever evolves into a true 4 or becomes a combo forward like Lamar Odom, defense does not project as one of his strengths at the next level. Randle may have some trouble contesting the big leapers and towering big men in the NBA. He’s not an above the rim type player, and relies on strength more than athleticism when defending. Randle averaged 0.5 SPG and 0.8 BPG, which is poor production for a big man. Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com (insider subscription required) has found that block and steal rates in college are important tools when projecting big men prospects.
One major physical trait that is the most talked about as a negative regarding Randle is his wingspan. He has been called a “T-Rex” thanks to his big body and short arms. He has a 6’11″ wingspan, per Draft Express, which is enormous in most contexts, but not the “super-sized world” of the NBA. When matched up against the best power forwards in the league, he’s going to have a significant length disadvantage, a problem that could impact his game on both sides of the ball. According to Jonathan Tjarks of SB Nation, in almost any basketball context, having longer arms than your opponent is helpful. Athletes with longer arms can shoot over the top of defenders more effectively. On defense, they can play a step farther back and still contest shots, and will also have an easier time reaching for rebounds and getting hands in passing lanes. The closer you get to the basket, where there is less room to maneuver, the more important this becomes.
The final verdict on Randle is that he is an extremely unique prospect due to his combination of size (6’9″ 240 pounds), strength, scoring instincts and ball-handling skills. It’s rare to find players with his skill-set, at any level of competition, which makes him an intriguing draft candidate. He has a lot of work to do, on the defensive end in particular, but he’s clearly a top-notch prospect for the NBA. His ceiling as a pro seems to compare favorably with Zach Randolph‘s, which would make him worthy of a top ten selection in the upcoming draft. His final ranking will depend on which underclassmen declare for the draft, as well as how his pre-draft workouts fare in assuaging teams worrying about his shorter wingspan. My prediction is he goes within the top five picks.