(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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