Leading up to the NBA Draft on June 26, we’ll take a look at some of the prospects the Celtics are believed to be targeting with picks No. 6 and 17.
Today, we’ll begin our Celtics Prospect Report series with Kentucky star and consensus Top-10 selection Julius Randle.
With today’s media coverage, social media and, of course, video technology, few NBA prospects – at least those from the United States – are a mystery anymore. Sure, there’s no way to know exactly what kind of pro a young kid will be, but it’s awfully easy to dissect the positives and negatives of his college game.
For Dallas, Texas native and former Kentucky freshman Julius Randle, the book is pretty clear.
The power forward has been lauded for his strength and abilities as an elite rebounder, and he’s been vilified for his weaknesses as a shooter and defender and, at times, for his conditioning. Look no further than the national championship game against UConn, when he was visibly fatigued only a few minutes into the action.
Still – barring recent health concerns over his right foot – the pros most definitely outweigh the cons.
As I wrote last month, the 19-year-old is the most NBA-ready player in the upcoming draft with the exception of top-three-pick-in-waiting Jabari Parker from Duke. Physically, he’s 6-foot-9, 250 pounds (a little undersized for a traditional power forward), and ready to step in and contribute immediately. Provided the Celtics hold onto this pick and continue in their rebuild, it’s beneficial to have a youngster capable of being evaluated right away in order to see if he’s part of the long-term plan or a valuable asset. Fellow power forwards like Noah Vonleh and Aaron Gordon, both worthy of consideration at this spot, could be seen more so as projects, possibly with higher ceilings but ones expected to take longer to reach.
Randle is a quick, powerful, and tenacious player who also happens to have a good handle, which is impressive for his size. He averaged 15 points and 10.4 rebounds – leading the NCAA in total rebounds as a freshman with 416 and finishing second with 277 defensive boards – while shooting 50.1 percent from the field over 40 games. He also paced the nation with a staggering 24 double-doubles. In the process, he’s drawn comparisons to 13-year NBA veteran Zach Randolph, who has a similar body, size, and skill-set.
But, again, he’s not perfect.
Following Randle’s breakout year, culminated by a disappointing defeat to the Huskies in which he scored just 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting and collected six rebounds, I had the opportunity to speak with Brett Dawson on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Celtics at 7” program. Dawson covers the Wildcats for Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports.
Among the many topics we discussed, the most pertinent seemed to be Randle’s readiness for the next level.
“He’s a high-level rebounder and I think that will translate,” said Dawson; good news for the Celtics after they finished tied for 17th in the league last season with 42.5 rebounds per game and 24th with 30.5 on the defensive glass. “What kind of scorer he’ll be is going to be interesting because he does have a little bit of trouble against longer, more athletic guys. He does not have a great wingspan (7 feet).
“During the course of his freshman year,” Dawson continued, “he got double-and-triple-teamed so much. You don’t see very many college kids get defended the way he did. [Kentucky head coach] John Calipari compared it to the way people defended Shaquille O’Neal in terms of just how many guys were running at him and how physical teams were with him. I think when he gets into the NBA and he’s not going to be double-and-triple-teamed, we’ll see how efficient a scorer he can be.”
Dawson said Randle’s predictability to go left before spinning back right often got him in trouble, which contributed to his 2.5 turnovers per game. In turn, he’ll have to develop another move that counters expectation.
Ultimately, though, Randle will also have to improve as a shooter.
“The key for him going forward in the NBA is how well can he put it on the floor and how can he develop a mid-range game (15-17 feet),” Dawson observed. “If he can do those two things, he’s going to be really good, but he didn’t show that a whole lot as a freshman.”
On questions surrounding Randle’s poor defense, measured in part by his meager per game averages of 0.5 steals and 0.8 blocks, Dawson said the college star has work to do.
“Even toward the end of the season, there were times it was hard to keep him on the floor in stretches – even against Connecticut – because he doesn’t defend any position particularly well. He’s not gonna keep a guy from going by him and he’s not the longest guy – he’s not a high-level rim-protector – so he does have holes in his game defensively. That’s where he’s really got to get better.”
Randle’s conditioning also requires some more effort but some of that, according to Dawson, will come from experience.
“He’s so young and he’s very strong, one of the strongest players I’ve ever covered. He had cramping issues, though he got much better about the cramping stuff over the course of the year, which people at Kentucky would tell me just came down to taking better care of himself – hydrating more, eating better.
“He’s still learning all those things,” Dawson expanded. “We forget sometimes that freshmen just don’t know how to do this stuff because they’ve never had to, and I think he’ll get better with those things.”
In other words, slow down before making any LeBron James jokes (though Randle’s comparisons to one of the game’s all-time greats likely end there, aside from having attended James’ camps in 2011 and 2012).
If there’s an appropriate comparison in Dawson’s eyes, it’s Randolph.
“I can see [Randle] being that type of player, though he would aspire to be something better,” he said. “I like that comparison for him. He’s got a similar game. It’s so easy to make that comparison because he’s left-handed and they have some similarities in their games, so I can see that.”
Some talent evaluators don’t necessarily agree, however, as noted by Ryen Russillo's piece on Grantland in which he spoke with three anonymous “scouts”, who were actually an NBA general manager, an assistant GM, and a director of scouting.
“The comparisons to Zach Randolph have to stop,” said the GM, before praising Randle’s intelligence, personality, and rebounding. “I’ve watched Zach since he was 12. Zach had it; he has great feet and can shoot. He’s not Zach.”
For what it’s worth, the mystery GM did acknowledge he would select Randle over Gordon or Vonleh.
In the off-chance that GM was Ainge, it would make some sense. Boston could benefit from Randle’s presence in the paint, which makes Celtics radio play-by-play voice Sean Grande a fan.
“You have bigs out there, most notably Julius Randle, who’s the guy that I like that complements what you have on your roster in [Jared] Sullinger and [Kelly] Olynyk,” Grande said during an appearance on "Sports Tonight" last month. “The stretch four [like a Vonleh, for instance] is in vogue. How about a guy that gets his hands dirty in the paint? Julius Randle does that.”
Admittedly, he has to because of his weakness from 15 feet and beyond, but his shot should come with practice. Randle was a capable free throw shooter at 70.6 percent and averaged 9.4 attempts per 40 minutes. If he can put it all together and score more than just around the rim, many experts believe Randle can be a future All-Star.
At No. 6, Randle presents far more reward than risk should he be available to the Celtics.
“I think the physical stuff will come,” concluded Dawson. “It’s really to me the skill development that is gonna separate whether he’s a good or great player in the league.”
Below, check out a video scouting breakdown of Randle's game from DraftExpress.
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