The next televised basketball game Andrew Wiggins will play in will probably be held in Las Vegas this July. (See you there, Andrew.) This has been a hard fact for me to accept. Sleep has been hard to come by. Food doesn’t taste the same. Breaking up is hard to do.
However, this is practice that I need. We all need it. As of right now, we have a 19.9% chance at drafting Andrew Wiggins. Quick, guess what finger I’m holding up right now. If you guessed "ring finger," congratulations, you just drafted Andrew Wiggins. If not, tough luck, no rings for you! That's the Sixers chances of getting Wiggins.
With an 80% chance of Wiggins holding up somebody else’s jersey on draft night, we have to start considering the possibility that somebody else will be our next guiding light. We have to prepare for a world without Wiggins. And hey, there’s still plenty of NCAA Tournament left to watch! When one door closes, another one opens! So let’s talk about our next franchise savior up.
Julius Randle! That’s the ticket! Finally, somebody who’s still playing. (God, that first weekend was like bloodsport for draft prospects.)
So here’s what I said back in September about Randle:
The most notable is PF Julius Randle, the current leading candidate for the "Wiggins or _______" debate that Bill Simmons will constantly remind us he was on the right side of five years from now.
Matt nails another one!
So, long story short, that didn’t happen. It’s hard to say Randle’s stock has taken a dive, because he’s still probably going to be no lower than a top 6 pick (barring a monster workout season from either Aaron Gordon or Noah Vonleh), but he lost all of his top overall pick buzz almost instantly once the season began. So I wanted to take a look at Randle, what went wrong, what went right, and what to look for Friday night when Kentucky faces Louisville in the Sweet 16. (And BTW, watch that game. For the love of god, watch that game.) Also, because what you really care about is his potential fit with your 76ers, we’ll cover that too.
What Went Wrong
Several things went wrong for Randle. Although the narrative train grazed Wiggins first, it pretty much plowed through Randle first. The first knock on him was a purported lack of athleticism and his inability to play above the rim. Randle doesn’t have that jump out of the gym ability that some of the other top guys do. His 6’11" wingspan is pretty average for a man his size. As a result, he comes across as unathletic.
Here’s why I don’t care about that. As an NBA power forward, there’s rarely going to be a day where he’s matched up against a superior athlete at the 4. One of the things I like about Randle is his ability to play both inside and outside. I think he matches up well strength wise inside with conventional NBA power forwards (I think his strength is an underrated skill and I think he faces a lot of low-post double teams in college that he won't face right off the bat in the NBA), and he has the quickness to play with the newer breed of stretch fours that most of the league is trending toward.
Randle has been pigeonholed at Kentucky, in my opinion. He’s usually paired with a lane-clogging center with little to no offensive game, either Willie Cauley-Stein or Dakari Johnson. Rather than take advantage of Randle’s ball skills, Kentucky’s system usually finds him in the low post while the Harrisons and James Young play hot potato on the perimeter. The interior gets clogged up big time, and it exposes Randle’s biggest weakness, his kick out passing to the open perimeter shooter. It’s something he’s improved on as the season has progressed, but largely by necessity. This has been a consistent issue with Kentucky and their one-and-done players, in that rather than adapt their style of play to the personnel they have, they just throw them into the same system and rely on their individual talents to get the job done. Sometimes that works (see Davis, Anthony). Sometimes it doesn’t. This is one of those times.
Another thing that Randle has taken some heat for is his paltry steal rate. As this article (that, according to my research, 387% of NBA writers and bloggers linked to this week) points out, steals are rather valuable. Also, steal rate has been a big predictor of future NBA success. One of the big points in Nerlens Noel’s favor is a massive steal rate during his limited time at Kentucky. It’s definitely a concern. I don’t know if I’d call it a red flag, maybe like a yellow flag? Checkered flag? I’ve never been great with NASCAR references.
What Went Right
Two things stick out for me when it comes to Randle. One, his touch around the basket is incredible for a guy his size. Part of the reason his inability to play above the rim doesn’t bother me as much is that he’s so skilled with the ball in his hand that I’m confident he’ll find a way to score anyway, especially with great touch around the rim.
The second is his rebounding. I’m always impressed by Randle’s rebounding instincts when I watch him play. His numbers aren’t as eye-popping as you’d hope (he averages 10.5 boards a game, which is still impressive), but rebounding is one of my favorite college skills because it usually translates relatively well to the pro game.
What to Watch For
In their first matchup in December, Randle torched Louisville for 17 first half points and then cramped up early in the 2nd half and barely contributed. James Young, who I can’t stop saying nice things about, picked up the slack and had 18 points and 10 rebounds to help lead Kentucky to the victory. So what am I looking for in this round?
- Randle vs Harrell. I’ve made no secret about how much I love MONTREZL. So I’m naturally intrigued to see these guys match up again. Randle pretty much torched him the first game when he was healthy. I want to see the MONTREZL response.
- Randle’s low post offense. I’ve already said how I hate the way Kentucky uses Randle. However, Louisville is a good matchup for Randle in the low post. Harrell is a great rebounder, but one thing that’s never overwhelmed me about him is his post defense when he gets dragged down there. Whelmed, maybe. Regardless, Louisville’s post defense is ripe for the picking down low by someone like Randle. It’s how he tore them apart in the first matchup, and it’s how he can tear them apart Friday night.
- Rebounding. Harrell is a comparable rebounder to Randle. I’m interested to see how the two compete.
How does he fit in with the Sixers?
OK, so, first, the bad news. If Julius Randle is on the Sixers next year, something went very wrong on lottery night. Like, very wrong. I find it hard to believe that he’d be any higher than 5th on the Sixers board (Wiggins, Embiid, Parker, Exum, in whatever order). If the Sixers end up with Randle, it means three teams jumped them on lottery night. Borderline disaster scenario, with the absolute disaster obviously being that one of those teams plays in New Orleans.
Now, the good news. It’s not that bad. Not "everybody meet up at 10 and jump off the Ben Franklin Bridge" bad. More like "Tell me more about this Okafor kid" bad. I’ve gone back and forth with how I feel about a potential Noel-Randle fit. On one hand, I’ve hated watching Randle play with Willie Cauley-Stein, who is basically a poor man’s Nerlens at this point. But on the other hand, Brett Brown would coach circles around noted used car salesman John Calipari. I think he’d utilize Randle way better than Calipari has, and take advantage of Randle's ball skills. I also think playing with a better distributing point guard like MCW would do wonders for Randle's game. Kentucky was among the worst teams in the SEC this year in assists, and his point guard, Andrew Harrison, averages under 4 assists per game. Having a real point guard can only help. (I really don't like Andrew Harrison.)
Is Randle the guy you build a franchise around? Honestly, I’m not sure. I think he’s right on the edge of that level. The most popular comparison for Randle is Zach Randolph. I’m not sure I love the comparison, because I think Randle’s mid-range and perimeter game can be a lot better than Randolph’s is, but I think in terms of their place in the NBA hierarchy, the Randle/Randolph comparison isn’t terrible. I think Randle is very capable of being a top 25 NBA player. I’m just not sure that’s the guy the Sixers punted the season for.
Randle forever? (God, I miss Wiggins.)