Entering the 2013-14 season, Julius Randle was arguably the top prospect in the draft after Andrew Wiggins. ESPN’s Chad Ford had him at number #2 on his infamous big board, praising that Randle has "virtually every attribute scouts look for in a prospect." As is customary in today’s NBA draft game, analysts and scouts spent the next few months deconstructing his game and nitpicking for weaknesses. Add in the complexity of playing for Coach Cal’s system amidst a slew of current and future first round picks and it becomes extremely difficult to value Julius Randle, NBA player.
Before breaking down the pros and cons of getting into the Randle business, here are a few facts that I think we can all agree on:
• Julius Randle already possesses an NBA body at 6’9" and 250 pounds
• He had a great college season, average 18 points and 11 boards on 57% shooting and leading college basketball in double-doubles
• He’s among the most NBA-ready prospects in the draft this year
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Julius Randle clearly has an NBA future, but he’ll likely never be an All-NBA 1st teamer. The NBA draft is an exercise in balancing a team’s current needs with its future. GMs love to gamble on diamonds in the rough with much lower floors, but limitless ceilings. Words like "upside" and "potential" have gotten many 7 foot project centers and elite athletes a lottery selection unmerited by past performance. For every Serge Ibaka that pans out, there are 2-3 Cheikh Sambs out there that have had quiet and unceremonious exits from the league.
Let’s start with the reasons why people might hesitate to draft Julius Randle. What are his reported weaknesses?
• Length: Randle has a 7' wingspan, which would be one of the shortest for a power forward in the NBA. Length provides benefits on both sides of the court, helping contest shots and erase mistakes on defense while making it easier to score over defenders on offense. Length enables rebounding and blocked shots. It’s a valuable commodity that Randle lacks.
• Defense: While Randle will probably be just fine on offense, his defense is a big question mark. He will need to put in a lot of work to become an elite defender, especially with his wingspan. The good news is that he’s pretty quick and should be able to defend mobile fours, critical for a PF his size.
• Conditioning: Randle already has an NBA body, but that doesn’t mean he’s in great shape. Similar to Parker, I think this will be an ongoing concern in the league until Randle proves otherwise. If Julius pulls a Kevin Love and comes into his rookie year a chiseled beast, he’ll make the team that drafts him very, very happy.
• Offensive Conversion: A dominant player in college does not always transfer. Randle leveraged his size to bully smaller defenders in college ball, and rightfully so, but he won’t have the same advantage in the NBA game. He will have to show that he can score consistently in a variety of ways, with his left and right hand, inside and out.
On the other hand, there are a lot of strengths to highlight as well for Randle:
• Offensive Versatility: I think that reports of him being a limited player offensively are highly dubious. He has a great back to the basket game, can use his quickness off the dribble to beat power forwards, and has a knack for scoring the ball. He has taken heat for a lack of a jump shot, but Randle reportedly has a much better outside shot than he got to showcase at Kentucky. If Randle can show he has the 15 foot jump shot that many of the game’s elite PF’s have these days, his ceiling becomes a whole different discussion.
• NBA Readiness: He’s got the NBA body and he’s put it to use on the big stage. He has been assertive in critical moments and handled playing for a hyped up fanbase that sees anything less than a championship as a failure. Sound familiar, Lakers fans? He averaged 15/10 on 49% shooting against elite teams in the tournament (Wichita, Louisville, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Connecticut). He’ll be ready to contribute from Day 1.
• Rebounding: We can talk about length all day, but it hasn’t stopped Kevin Love from being an elite rebounder. While that’s a lofty comparison, Randle has shown an elite ability to rebound at a college level and something tells me that he’ll find a way to do it at the pro level as well. He will have to adjust, but he can use his size and he should be able to figure out a way to be a double-double guy in the NBA.
• Motor and Instincts: He’s not as athletic as Blake Griffin and other successful short-armed players, but he has a motor and basketball instinct that you can’t teach. Randle plays hard and will put himself in a position to be successful on the court.
So what does this all mean for the Lakers? With its entire frontcourt basically entering free agency, the Lakers have a blank slate and can draft the best player available. With his combination of NBA readiness and upside, it’s a pick that could arguably maximize what’s left of Kobe’s window without mortgaging the future. From a team building perspective, the Lakers need to look at the tape from his workout. If Randle does indeed have a 15 foot jump shot, it’s easy enough to pair him with a rim-protecting center without worrying about spacing the floor. If not, that makes building the frontcourt more reliant on a Marc Gasol-type center who plays defense and can spread the floor, a much harder NBA quantity to come by.
At the end of the day, if Randle is still available with the seventh pick, Kupchak should look very hard at taking the Kentucky product for the Lake Show. He'd look great in purple and gold.
Note: This article was edited to correct the wingspan to 7' from the initially posted 6'11"