Buyer Beware: Julius Randle Very Likely a Future Lottery Bust
USA Today Sports
A few weeks ago, Jonathan Tjarks of SBNation wrote a piece that stirred up some interesting conversation about Kentucky freshman power forward, and likely lottery pick, Julius Randle. The general thesis is this: Randle has a short wingspan for his position, which is very likely to cause him trouble in scoring over the kind of length he will face night in, night out in the NBA. Tjarks makes passing reference to Randle’s poor defensive statistics, but the real crux of the piece is that his length, or lack thereof, should be a big red flag to team’s looking at him as a potential lottery selection.
I want to put a bigger spotlight on those statistics he briefly mentions. Simply put: Julius Randle does not block nearly enough shots or swipe nearly enough steals to inspire any sort of confidence in his ability to succeed at the NBA level. Per DraftExpress, Randle’s per 40 minute, pace adjusted numbers in those categories are as follows: 0.3 steals and 0.8 blocks. Ed Weiland of HoopsAnalyst has made the point over the years that typically, for a power forward, 3.5 steals + blocks per 40 minutes is a baseline for where an NBA prospect should be. Anywhere under that number is a concern. If a player is well below that threshold, as Randle is, that’s a big, big red flag. CanisHoopus contributor and draft model developer extraordinaire, VJL110, has Randle as his 10th best prospect. Even that number may prove optimistic, however, when you consider the above problem pointed up by Ed Weiland, along with the following tweet from a conversation I had about Randle with Dan Dickey of HoopsNerd.com:
For reference, Randle is averaging 3.1 turnovers per game to go along with his combined steals and blocks of just .8 per game. Really, really not great! Dickey’s point gets at another problem with Randle. His primary virtue is as a scorer, but his high turnover rate results in him producing just 1.12 points per possession (where a possession is defined as FGA+.44*FTA+TOV). That’s not bad, but it’s also not the sort of dominance you want from a guy who is a very weak defender. It’s especially not what you want to see from a guy who is expected to be a top 5 pick in the draft.
Randle’s not all bad. He can score the ball from the post well – when he’s not turning it over – and he’s an extraordinary rebounder grabbing 14.9 caroms per pace adjusted 40 minutes, which is really pretty great. Post scoring, though, has been shown to be of relatively limited value as layups, dunks, free throws, and three-point shots are all more efficient ways of scoring points. In addition, as Tjarks pointed out, it’s an open question whether Randle will be able to get those same post points at the next level, due to his short arms. Rebounding translates very well to the next level, so at the very least Randle seems to have one NBA skill. In the lottery of a supposedly loaded draft, though, grabbing a one-dimensional rebounder would be a huge disappointment. Unfortunately, given the foregoing and the hype surrounding Randle, it seems as though some unfortunate NBA team will probably do exactly that come this June.
All stats for this piece via the excellent DraftExpress.