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Julius Randle is the #2 RSCI freshman and is ranked as a top 5 draft pick (#5 ESPN #4 DX).  All of those are far too high and any team that expends a pick in that range on him will be sorely disappointed.  He is at best a shaky defensive prospect with questionable offensive translation.  His performance and playing style are both rife with red flags that I highlight in this video.

Some may say I’m being too harsh, as he has good pedigree and good statistics and I’m looking for the negative in every play he makes.  This is true, but it’s also rare for a lottery prospect to have such extreme red flags.  First let’s try to back trace the source of his pedigree.  According to Kenpom.com, Kentucky has played 5 woefully bad defenses (ranked 229th or worse) and 15 defenses ranging from respectable to good (ranked 136th or better).  This gives us a conveniently large rift to draw the line between cupcakes and not cupcakes to see how Randle fares against each grade of defense:

opposing D Pts/30 Rbs/30 Ast/30 TOV/30 eFG FTA:FGA
average + 14.5 9.4 1.6 3.6 50.0% 0.68
pathetic 22.7 13.7 2.1 2.1 64.0% 1.16

He absolutely demolishes bad teams and his bulk stats, efficiency, and turnover rates all fall off a cliff against respectable opponents.  It is natural that there should be some gap, but his discrepancy is massively troubling.  It should shed some light on how he became rated so highly.  He relies heavily on his strength to completely dominate smaller competition.  So if he put that level of hurting on doormat college defenses, imagine what he did to even smaller and weaker high school defenses.  Since no high school defense is in a position to expose his weaknesses, it is easy to see why he garnered so much acclaim as a recruit.

On the other hand, given the slope of respectable college defenses to bad ones, imagine what the output would be if there was another data point of NBA defenses that completely crush the good college defenses he has been facing.  It would be ugly, and this alone causes serious concern for his NBA translation.

His overall stats should not be taken at face value, since the tough portion is only tangentially related to his NBA projection and his performance against dregs is completely worthless.  But for the sake of argument let’s pretend that he happened to have good days against the bad teams and see how his overall stats measure up to similar players.  Let’s start with basic offense: usage, O-Rtg, and defensive strength of schedule as per kenpom.com.  Final column is a catchall that adjusts each player’s O-Rtg to Randle once they are normalized to the level of defenses he has faced and his usage rate at the standard 1.25 points of O-Rtg per 1 pct of usage:

Player Season Usage O-Rtg Opp D-Rtg Adj O-Rtg
Kevin Love Freshman 27.4 126.9 98.9 129.1
Kelly Olynyk RS Junior 30.2 123.1 99.6 127.9
Derrick Williams Soph 28.6 123 99.2 126.2
Jared Sullinger Freshman 26.9 120.9 99.1 122.0
T Hansbrough Freshman 26.5 119 98.3 120.5
Zach Randolph Freshman 26 116.9 97 119.3
Anthony Bennett Freshman 26 113.9 99 113.8
Julius Randle Freshman 28.5 112 101.7 112.0
Troy Murphy Freshman 26.3 109.2 99.5 108.8
JJ Hickson Freshman 26.6 107.4 99 107.9

Kevin Love is the one example of a player with Randle’s size and poor athleticism who has become an NBA star.  But he completely outclassed Randle as an NCAA freshman with vastly superior basketball IQ, outside shooting, and pretty much everything else.  Randle’s offensive upside is not in the same stratosphere, which rules him out as a reasonable top 5 selection given his defensive woes. Even when you include his dominance over the dregs, he finds himself at the bottom of the list in not particularly flattering company.

Steal % Block % Height Wing
Jared Sullinger 2.2 4.0 6’9″ 7’1.25″
T Hansbrough 2.2 2.3 6’9.5″ 6’11.5″
Zach Randolph 2.1 3.7 6’9″ 7’5″
Troy Murphy 2.0 4.1 6’11″ 6’11″
Derrick Williams 1.9 2.3 6’9″ 7’1.5″
Kelly Olynyk 1.5 5.0 7’0″ 6’9.75″
JJ Hickson 1.4 4.8 6’9″ 7’3″
Anthony Bennett 1.4 4.5 6’7″ 7’1″
Kevin Love 1.4 5.0 6’9.5″ 6’11.25″
Julius Randle 0.7 2.5 6’9″ 6’11″

Even with 3 steals vs LSU, Randle finds himself at the bottom of the steal list by a comfortable margin, and only slightly ahead of Hansbrough and Williams in block rate.  Anthony Bennett is the only taller player and Kelly Olynyk is the only player with shorter arms, but they each have advantages in the other category to help offset.

Zach Randolph is a common comparison for Randle.  But on top of being better as a freshman, he also has significantly longer arms which shows how misguided it is to expect similar production from Julius.

Randle is a good example of why steals are a strong predictor of NBA success.  In the Stauskas video, I showed an example of him using smarts + instincts to read the offense and make a steal.  Randle is so woefully slow at reading offenses that he can’t do this, and most of his steals are the byproduct of a teammate stripping a ball that falls into his lap, including the completely undeserved one in the video that he fails to corral (also one of his steals against Vanderbilt was a blatant error).  And these woes are also correlated to offensive issues.  Steals are more than a proxy for athleticism – they also can shed insight into a player’s basketball IQ.  Randle has mediocre NBA tools, but for the college level they are pretty good and he should make far more plays than he does.

O-Reb% D-Reb% Assist% TOV%
Julius Randle 14.9 22.2 11.9 22.0
JJ Hickson 11.8 21.8 9.2 21.1
Zach Randolph 18.7 20.0 10.1 18.5
Kelly Olynyk 11.8 20.5 15.0 18.4
Derrick Williams 11.8 21.9 8.7 18.3
Troy Murphy 11.1 22.0 9.6 18.2
T Hansbrough 14.0 14.6 8.7 17.1
Anthony Bennett 10.2 21.8 8.7 15.2
Kevin Love 15.4 28.5 14.0 15.0
Jared Sullinger 12.4 23.8 8.6 13.7

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the two lowest turnover rates are also the two highest IQ players in this sample in Love and Sullinger.  Basketball IQ is a good way to overcome questionable tools, but Randle likely grades out worse than anybody else in the sample in this regard as supported by his exorbitant turnover rate.  He does have a good assist rate as he is a willing passer, but nevertheless turns it over a ton because he is not sharp enough to make good decisions on the fly and often attacks doubles and triples when he clearly should not.

It is worth noting that his stats do not stand out from that of JJ Hickson, except Hickson has obviously superior length and athleticism.  Hickson has not been an especially rewarding return on the 19th overall pick (his stats are OK, but Portland improved significantly by replacing him with Robin Lopez), so what would make Randle worth so much more?

FTA:FGA FT% 3PA 3P% eFG
Derrick Williams 0.871 74.6% 74 56.8% 65.0%
Kelly Olynyk 0.497 77.6% 30 30.0% 64.1%
Kevin Love 0.635 76.7% 82 35.4% 59.4%
JJ Hickson 0.706 67.7% 1 0.0% 59.0%
Zach Randolph 0.536 63.5% 1 0.0% 58.7%
Anthony Bennett 0.467 70.1% 96 37.5% 58.0%
T Hansbrough 0.724 73.9% 4 50.0% 57.3%
Troy Murphy 0.591 74.1% 13 30.8% 54.4%
Jared Sullinger 0.519 76.8% 40 40.0% 53.7%
Julius Randle 0.798 72.9% 11 18.2% 53.6%

Randle also grades out with the worst eFG in the sample, which is troubling since he does not currently have 3 point range and he will see much higher % of shots rejected in the pros.  He largely relies on bullying his opponent for free throws, but that trick did not translate favorably for Derrick Williams who shares a poor feel for the game, and appears to be a bust in spite of superior tools and stats.

Troy Murphy offers an inkling of hope, as he shares a similar tools and freshman shooting stats and became a prolific NBA 3 point shooter.  It is not worth gambling on Randle on the chance that he can develop Murphy’s shooting touch, but it is a possible out for him.

Defensively Randle has decent man to man potential and competes hard, but lacks rim protection ability and has horrific instincts and awareness.  He will be bad on this end and needs to be great offensively to atone and become a useful starter.  Yet he projects as a post-up scorer with mediocre length, mediocre athleticism, poor basketball IQ, and a loose grip that causes him to get stripped frequently.  His strength only gets him so far as his bully ball is already failing against respectable college defenses.  I am not sure how his offense can be projected to be good enough to make him a solid starter in spite of his defensive woes, let alone give him a shot of becoming a top 30 player to justify a lottery pick.  Perhaps he can improve his skills and instincts and find a coach who can put him in a position to succeed, but I simply don’t see the upside that he is purported to have.

I had rated Randle 12th on my big board, but after compiling this video and post I realized that was far too high and intended to drop him.  And then he had a horrible game against LSU’s long, athletic defense to re-affirm my suspicions.  He is likely the Shabazz Muhammad of this year’s class and a fringe 1st rounder.  He can improve his standing by showing some semblance of competence against good defenses, but I wouldn’t wait underwater for it to happen.

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