Saturday, August 2, 2014

Julius Randle scouting report

The Lakers had a lottery pick this year for the first time since the 2005 off season, where they picked Andrew Bynum, who was very good for the Lakers but hasn't done anything since being traded in the 2012 off season for Dwight Howard. Bynum has played 21 games in the past two seasons, being a member of the Philadelphia 76ers (0 games), Cleveland Cavaliers (24 games) and Indiana Pacers (2 games). The Lakers used the 7th overall pick in this years' NBA draft to select Kentucky power forward Julius Randle, who probably would have been the first overall pick in last years' draft (though, to be fair, everyone in the Top-7 of this years' draft would have been 1st overall in last years' awful draft class). Randle is a talented player, but will he be able to translate well into the pro's? Let's evaluate:

Physically, Randle has an NBA ready body, as he was one of the strongest players in the nation last season. He comes in at a bulky 6'9'', 250 pounds. By comparison, LeBron James is listed as 6'8'', 250 pounds. Apples and oranges, I know, so I compared him to a player with a very similar body type in Zach Randolph, who comes in at 6'9'', 260 pounds. So Randle can still put on a few pounds of muscle here and there, but he is, by all accounts, ready for the punishment of the low post in the NBA. Some scouts have said that Randle is too small, but the average power forward height from two years ago was 6'9.5'' and the average weight was 246 pounds. The landscape hasn't changed much since, which bodes well for Randle. What doesn't bode well for Randle, however, is his short wingspan; Randle is built like a T-rex, relative to NBA power forwards, as his wingspan has measured in between 6'11'' and 7 feet. Most big men in the NBA have wingspans in the 7'3'' to 7'5'' range and even Randolph (Randle's closest comparison in terms of body type) has a wingspan of 7'4''. Now, Randle is substantially more athletic than Randolph, as he is able to consistently play above the rim, while Randolph can barely dunk, but that doesn't mean I'm not worried about his lack of length going forward.

There are three starting power forwards in the NBA with sub-7 foot wingspans: Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and Thaddeus Young (all measured in at 6'11''). All three of them are substantially different from Randle, as Love is a master three point shooter and a great passer; Randle has neither of those skills. Griffin is a high flyer who doesn't only play above the rim, he practically plays in the rafters. While Randle is a very athletic guy, he will never be as athletic as Griffin. Young is a completely different beast altogether, as he is used as a small ball power forward, which is basically putting a small forward at power forward. All three of these guys are very talented players, which is to say that if Randle is good enough, there's no reason why his short wingspan will have a big negative impact on him. Whether or not he is that good is left to be seen.

This isn't saying that Randle doesn't stand a chance, but Randle will need to be put in the right situation to truly thrive. He is offensively talented and has a well polished post game, if he's going to his left hand. His right hand leaves a lot to be desired, but he has plenty of time to develop, seeing as he is only 19. He could still add a few moves to his arsenal, as his post game in college involved lots of bruising and sheer power, something he won't be able to consistently do in the NBA. He has good mechanics on his jump shot, but his shooting percentages from mid range are sub-par and he has shown nothing to indicate that he could shoot threes at all. He is a classic, back to the basket power forward. Randle will have difficulty defensively because of his short wingspan, as he simply cannot protect the rim (0.7 blocks per game in college), or pick pocket any big men in the low post (0.1 steals per game), therefore, Randle will not be able to be the one big man in a four perimeter player rotation because of bad defense. And, since Randle cannot stretch the floor, he can't be put with just any shot blocker because the spacing in the paint will be horrid. There aren't too many big men who can stretch the floor and are great shot blockers in the league and none of them are on the Lakers (though Jordan Hill certainly tried to improve on it last season). The absolute best situation for Randle would have been with guys like Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol.

Now that he is on the Lakers, I do believe Byron Scott will see that Randle needs to develop a mid-range jumper to be able to play successfully in most rotations and, given his already pretty good mechanics, I think he will improve on it enough to be able to play with Hill/whomever the Lakers throw out at center. Randle is very energetic on all sides of the ball, and he has a nose for rebounds. He did average a double-double last season and I think his rebounding skills will translate well into the pro game, given his strength and rebounding fundamentals. Of all the prospects in this years' draft, Randle might be the most NBA ready player (alongside Duke's/Milwaukee's Jabari Parker), but he also probably has the lowest ceiling among the Top-7. That doesn't mean I think he'll be the worst of the bunch (I think Aaron Gordon will struggle the most), but it does mean that I don't think he will be lighting the league on fire as a top player. I do think he will be a good player because of the Lakers track record of success with lottery picks and his sheer talent.

Since 1979, the Lakers have picked in the top-10 a total of five times. With those picks, the Lakers have selected Magic Johnson (1979, 1st overall), James Worthy (1982, 1st overall), Eddie Jones (1994, 10th overall), Andrew Bynum (2005, 10th overall) and Julius Randle (2014, 7th overall). Of the four players that aren't Randle, two were great (Johnson, Worthy) and the other two were pretty good (Jones, Bynum). All four of those picks were good players, though not all of them were ready to produce upon being drafted like Randle is. It shows us exactly why the Lakers have rarely been in the draft lottery; great draft choices is the key to success.

1979 is ancient history for NBA standards, but Randle is still a top prospect and a very talented, very young player. And it helps that all reports point to him not being a headcase, and being a hard working, coach-able player who leaves everything on the court. At worst, Randle could be just a rotation player; a guy who scores but can't play defense. I think he has a pretty high ceiling that he probably won't reach, but he could still realistically become a more athletic version of David Lee (6'9'', 240 pounds, 7 foot wingspan), which is good offense, good rebounder, but needs protection in the back because of his sup-par rim protecting. 20-10 seasons certainly is something Randle should strive for, and I do think he could produce close to a double-double per game in his rookie season, if given starter minutes. There's a lot to like about Randle, and there are some concerning things about him. As it is, I am excited and cautiously optimistic about him going forward.