Bucksketball Podcast

Do the Bucks need another power forward? Julius Randle might be the answer.

| March 4, 2014

Category: Draft Talk

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(Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

Happy fella, Julius Randle. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

Hello Bucks fans! Thanks for the great reception last week and great responses to the article on Marcus Smart!

This week we’re taking a look at Kentucky big man, Julius Randle. While he has validated his reputation as a monster on the glass and shown a crafty repertoire of moves at the basket, his stock has dropped slightly over the course of the season. He currently sits at #5 on Chad Ford’s big board. In this article we will break down Randle’s game, think about how players with similar games have recently fared at the pro level, talk about the drop in Randle’s stock and, of course, discuss how he fits with Giannis and Co. moving forward.

Julius Randle Breakdown

So who is Julius Randle? Randle is one of the gems at the heart of this year’s historically touted freshmen class at Kentucky. Randle, like Duke’s Jabari Parker (who we will highlight in a few weeks), has an NBA-ready body for a power forward. He stands at 6’9” and weighs 250lbs. Despite his sturdy frame, he has a modest wingspan of 6’11” and as such is not a shot-blocking threat. While he isn’t the next Larry Sanders, his quickness, strength, instincts, and desire to be a good player on both ends of the floor serve him well defensively.

For his size he is incredibly agile. His very quick first step allows him to attack the basket from pick and rolls and dribble drives. He is also a good dribbler, and can attack with both hands towards the basket, but finishes primarily with his dominant left hand. His speed against less agile and quick big men in the post allows him to draw fouls and create easy shots. He has a strong internal motor and plays hard, especially when it comes to rebounding and positioning. His size and motor makes him a rebounding monster – for the season he averages 10.4 rebounds a game and he is currently second in the SEC in total rebound percentage (23.3), first in SEC Defensive and Total rebounds (197 and 302 respectively, 9th and 7th in the NCAA respectively), and second in the SEC in offensive rebounds (105).

Randle is averaging 15.5 ppg (10th best in the SEC). The vast majority of his points, not surprisingly, come in the paint, where he has solid spin moves and a fearless approach. He scores most of his baskets by way of pump fakes, creative shot angles and sheer strength. While he is able to use his solid left jump hook and shot fakes to draw defenders off their feet and create space for himself, it isn’t always necessary, as he is able to finish through contact on a consistent basis. He averages close to 7.5 free throws a game. He loves to lead the fast break, and is comfortable driving down the length of the court and attacking the basket.

Defensively, his agility and quickness for his size allows him to guard players from multiple positions, and hedge out effectively/switch on picks. He also doesn’t get bullied around down low and can maintain his position while forcing his man into poor post position.

So Why the Drop in Draft Stock? 

At the start of the year, Randle was one of the “Big 3” freshmen prospects along with Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. These three, scouts believed, were destined to transform whichever NBA team drafted them. This trio, along with other highly touted freshmen like Tyler Ennis, the Harrison Twins, Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh, and Zach Levine, among others are the primary reason that this draft is considered the deepest in years. Although Randle started in the top 3, he has dropped to anywhere from the 4th to the 6th best prospect depending on which draft board you consult. With all the skills and stats listed above, why has he dropped on the draft boards?

Coming into the season as the #1 ranked squad in the nation, Randle and the Kentucky team as a whole, have not dominated as expected. This past weekend they lost to a woeful South Carolina team, and the team will have trouble securing a high seed in the March Tourney. Randle himself has struggled offensively during Southeastern Conference (SEC) play, and his numbers have taken a significant hit: he averaged 18 ppg in non-conference play shooting 56%, but in SEC play he’s only put up 13.5 ppg while shooting 47%.

While this seems small, it’s the next stat that makes a huge difference – he has taken only 14 more shots in SEC play than non-conference but has played 4 more games. He simply isn’t shooting as much as teams have taken to double-teaming him. Moreover, he has had five 20 + point games in non-conference play and scored double-digits in all of them, but only two 20+ games in SEC play, while managing to score less than 10 points in four of those games. In non-conference play, he had 9 double-doubles (in 12 games) and in SEC play 10 (in 16 games).

Also, he is no longer getting to the free throw line as much, only 99 times in SEC play in 16 games as opposed to 112 in non-conference play (12 games). Simply put, his offense has stagnated in SEC play. While his production in conference play has been tempered, Randle has nevertheless had big games against big time competition this season. Against then #2 ranked Michigan State in November, he put up 27 points and 13 rebounds on 9-14 shooting (with 8 TO).

Another aspect of his game that has some scouts worried is Randle’s propensity to turn over the basketball (2.8 per game). Because he plays with such a high motor, he sometimes plays faster than he should, making bad passes and losing his dribble – especially on the fast break. His court vision also needs to improve, especially when double-teams come his way. He only averages slightly over 1 assist per game and has a tendency to force shots from the post rather than pass out of double-teams, also contributing to his high turnover and low assist totals.

Despite Randle’s size and agility, he does not possess above average leaping ability, making him vulnerable to longer defenders disrupting his shot. Against LSU this season, he has had two of his worst offensive games (LSU sports three big men of comparable size to Randle, but with longer wingspans) scoring 6 pts (3-11 shooting) and 8 pts (3-8). LSU’s big men were able to disrupt his shots and force double-teams. And it is his mid-range shot that worries us the most – it simply isn’t there and without it he has struggled to keep defenders honest and spread the floor.

Below the Rim Guys

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

As noted above, even with his tremendous quickness, agility and strength, Randle is considered a “below the rim” player. As such, there is some concern that Randle will struggle with length at the pro level. A couple of big men with similar reputations have flourished in the league in recent years. Two players who immediately come to mind are Kevin Love and Jared Sullinger.

Both Love and Sullinger dropped in the draft over concerns about their ability to thrive at the next level as below the rim guys. Love was drafted 5th overall and immediately traded along with Mike Miller and spare parts for the rights to your very own OJ Mayo and some change. Sullinger was a highly touted recruit coming into Ohio State but after he was famously shut down by middling prospect Jeff Withey in the NCAA tournament (along with concerns about his health), he fell to 21st in the draft.

Vertical limitations have not prevented either player from excelling in the NBA. Kevin Love, who needs no introduction for anyone remotely familiar with the NBA is putting up video game-like numbers for the Timberwolves.

Jared Sullinger, amidst the tank fest going on in Beantown right now, has taken a big step forward this year under the tutelage of Brad Stevens. For the season Sully is averaging 13 points and 8.3 rpg while shooting 43% from the field. He’s added the three point shot to his tool kit this season with moderate success. Kevin Love continues to destroy the league putting up an insane line of 26 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists per game this season. So, how does Randle compare to these guys?

The physical profiles of these players are quite similar. Sullinger is 6’9”, 260 pounds with a 7’1” wing span. Love’s combine measurements were 6’9.5”, 255 pounds with a 6’11” wingspan. As mentioned earlier Randle is 6’9”, 250 pounds with a 6’11” wing span. Randle is more agile than either Sullinger or Love. Like Kevin Love, Randle’s great instincts for rebounding the basketball are fortified by excellent technique and positioning. Randle is also adept at covering ground quickly to collect careening shots; think Derrick Favors.

Kevin Love transformed his diet, his body and subsequently his game after reaching the NBA. Randle will not have that issue to deal with as his body is NBA ready. Like Sullinger, Randle really understands angles at the basket and employs a series a pump fakes to compensate for his lack of explosiveness at the rim.

The problem right now is that unlike Kevin Love in particular, Randle does most of his damage at the rim. He hasn’t shown a consistent jump shot at all so far during his freshman campaign. He does a very nice job of being able to pump fake and drive to the basket but until he develops consistent range, he will be limited by his inability to keep NBA defenders honest.

Fit with Giannis (And others?)

Drafting Randle would likely necessitate moving one of the bevy of players holding down the Milwaukee frontcourt. While it seems that Henson is the most tradable asset of the group, I will let you all debate who goes if Milwaukee grabs Randle with the 5th pick. While he doesn’t fill the biggest need position on the roster, he would not interfere with the development of Giannis. He might even be a good fit with the promising wing. Moreover, Milwaukee’s rebounding woes would be much less of a concern with Randle manning the floor.

He projects to be one of the NBA’s leading rebounders moving forward alongside guys like Andre Drummond, Love, Deandre Jordan and Favors. It doesn’t appear that Randle will be a game changer defensively, but he doesn’t project to be a liability, either. While his ability to score has been up and down so far this season, he will certainly mix it up in the post and get to the foul line. Until he develops a consistent jump shot and learns to slow his game down he will not maximize his potential at the offensive end. If Milwaukee falls out of the top 3 and ends up with Randle, don’t hang your head too low because you still landed a heck of a ball player. Is he the next Kevin Love?

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  1. Scrap Irony says:

    Randle’s likely not the next Kevin Love– there are very few Kevin Loves in the history of the game.

    That said, he’d be a fine addition to the Buck frontcourt. This season, he’s dealt with triple teams whenever he enters the paint and a team that cannot consistently hit a long-distance shot. Add to that the constant lack of whistle physical players receive in the SEC. As a result, Randle’s numbers have dropped.

    His outside game is indeed inconsistent. However, neither Parker nor Wiggins are much better than Randle when it comes to 2-pt. jumpers. (Randle– 34.9%; Wiggins– 34.9%; Parker– 38.9%) Too, modern analytics insist those 2-point jumpers are bad bets anyway. Better to get baskets at the rim and outside the three-point line. And Randle is best at the rim.

    Right now, the Bucks suck offensively and on the boards. Let’s assume Sanders makes it back and becomes the player he was in 2012 again. (Since no one will deal for the big man at this point due to his massive contract, that’s the bet Milwaukee has to make.) Randle will help– again, assuming fewer double teams– in both arenas.

    He’d also pair well with some players already on the team. Giannis Antetokounmpo and he would be a nice inside-out pick and roll nightmare for opposing teams. He and Knight would obviously co-exist. He and some combination of Henson and Sanders would also work well together (braun and length).

    He and Ilyasova might also coexist as first and second-unit scorers. However, they could not work on the floor at the same time.

    Both SGS/SFs Parker and Wiggins are far more versatile. So, too, would be PGs Exum, Smart, or Ennis.

    At this point, Randle is clearly fourth, behind Parker (my number one by far), Wiggins (athletic marvel with more upside than anyone in the college game), and Embiid (athletic big with intriguing all-around game).

    He’s better than Vonleh (though it’s close, give me offensive upside) and Gordon (can’t shoot and undersized, though an athletic specimen) as a power forward prospect.

    I’d prefer seeing Milwaukee pick a wing, all things being relatively equal. Rodney Hood is underrated, IMO, as is Dario Saric. Were I Bucks’ brass, I’d look to deal a higher pick in favor of more picks.

    HYPOTHETICAL
    If Milwaukee gets the brass ring (Joel Embiid), why not deal that pick, John Henson, and Larry Sanders for, say DeMarcus Cousins and the 8th pick (Rodney Hood)?

    Why not deal the number one and Knight to Orlando for Affalo and the #3 (Parker)?

    Why not deal that pick and Sanders to Philly for Nerlins Noel and the rights to the third pick (Wiggins)?

    This is the year, IMO, to pick up an extra first rounder or two by dealing a decent player or a few second rounders. Depth is the key to this draft, not only top-end talent.

    • Alexander says:

      I doubt the other teams you mentioned do those trade cousins is a known quantity embiid is a huge risk

    • Alexander says:

      I also doubt magic or 76ers do those trades they wouldnt want embiid over wiggins and parker much less at the expense of another player

    • Sfisch says:

      I would be extremely reluctant to trade Brandon Knight.
      I would be not as reluctant, but still very reluctant, to trade Larry. We have to be careful not to get too high or too low about our young guys as they have their ups and downs. It seemed as though almost everyone was gushing about Larry and John going into this season; let’s not give up on them without a fair amount of time. I’m hoping they’ll get some coaching and encouragement from the team (though this is a concern) — and also a lot of support from the fans.

  2. Socks says:

    If we fall out of the Wiggins, Parker, Embiid range I would not mind picking Randle. I think he will be a great player just doesn’t have quite the upside of the other three. In addition, I have heard that he is a solid outside shooter, and has just not been able to showcase it this season as Kentucky often plays him with four wings and needs him down low. Not sure whether this info is right or not just what I have heard (I think Chad Ford said it in some blog.) In regard to trading down in the draft I am just not really a fan of it. I agree with you that this draft is very deep, but I am not a fan of trading down in the NBA. In the NFL I often like this strategy as there are much more holes to fill on each team, but it is not the case in the NBA imo.

    • Sfisch says:

      Good comments, Socks. Whether or not Randle has the ability to shoot a mid-range jumpshot is critical, especially with Henson and Sanders not having developed that shot — at least not yet. If Randle can shoot consistently from 15-20 feet, he becomes much more valuable; if he can shoot the three, then the comparison to Kevin Love might be apt.
      We could really use some bulk down low, but I’d be much less enthusiastic about Randle if he can’t shoot a jumpshot. Also, it’s going to be intriguing to see how Jeff Adrien looks the rest of this season.
      The question about trading down in the draft is a fascinating one. If this draft is about getting a major game-changer, then why trade down? Yet, we see that not even a Kevin Love or a Kyrie Irving can do it alone. This all makes for good discussion.

  3. Josh says:

    I really like Randle. I would be fine w/ him w/ the 4th or 5th pick. I think he’s eventually going to be an all star nba player, and we desperately need a player w/ his skill set.

  4. Scrap Irony says:

    I think Randle’s best NBA comps are Zach Randolph, David West, and David Lee. All are offensive PF with solid rebounding abilities that don’t typically stretch to the 3-point line.

    Like each of those big guys, Randle’s got a really good handle for a big man and a very good looking jumper. He’s a better rebounder than West (top ten in the NCAA despite being double- and triple-teamed all season) and more athletic than either Randolph or West. (He plays at the time rather than below it.) He’s also likely going to be a better defender than Lee (especially IF– notice the capital letters– Sanders and/ or Henson are still in Milwaukee, motivated, and protecting the rim).

    In other words, he projects as a borderline All-Star power forward. (In the East, he may be a perennial All-Star, if only because there are few good ones around.)

    One interesting thing I’d like to see if how he responds to being guarded by one person. He’s been guarded one-on-one twice the entire season– against Louisville (by Montrezl Harrell) and Tennessee (Jarnell Stokes). He scored 17 points in the first half in the UofL game (on 7-8 shooting) and absolutely dominated before surrendering to leg cramps. He scored 18 against UT (on 6-9 shooting, including 1-2 from 3-point range) in 33 minutes.

    He’s not Parker nor Wiggins, but he’s definitely in the next tier.

    • Greg Mason says:

      Great comps, Scrap. We went with the Love comp because he is the headliner of the so-called “under the rim” guys category and a fun conversation piece but I expect that Randle projects much more as a Randolph type with a higher ceiling in the pros.