The draft class of 2014 has a lot of broadly appealing talent. A player like Andrew Wiggins, ripe with athletic ability, defensive potential and a sweet shooting stroke, can fit on just about any roster.
The same can't be said about Kentucky forward Julius Randle. While extremely talented, Randle is what I like to call a "high maintenance prospect", meaning he needs a lot of outside help and a very specific type of situation in order to succeed.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it could end up making Randle slide in the draft despite his immense ability and production level in his lone season at Kentucky.
Let's look at the different factors that could contribute to Randle's slide on draft day:
Against the Grain
One of the biggest issues with Randle is a core one that can't really be avoided. Randle is first and foremost a post scoring power forward, a role that is being somewhat phased out in today's NBA.
The demands of the power forward position have changed so much even over the last few years that now it's often more about spacing the floor with a jumper, finding the open man after a short roll to the basket, and generally playing more like a guard in a big man's body.
And while Randle does have some pretty solid ballhandling skills, his primary strength is scoring around the basket. After averaging just 1.4 assists a game and often plowing through double-teams in college, there are questions as to whether Randle can adjust and make quick reads both out of the post and on the move.
Randle's post scoring is certainly an asset, but there's much less emphasis placed on that in the NBA than there is in college.
Here's Jonathan Tjarks at SBNation with a great breakdown of Randle:
And while Randle should average a double-double in the NBA, his style of play is not conducive to the way the league is going. More teams are spreading the floor and playing with four shooting threats, which won't work with Randle, since he doesn't have the defensive chops to be the lone big man on the floor. He will have to be on a two-post team like Indiana or Memphis, one that slows the tempo, maintains spacing and throws the ball inside. However, that's a style many guards aren't comfortable managing.
In the right situation, playing next to one of those rare floor-spacing and rim-protecting big man like Serge Ibaka or Anthony Davis, Randle could be a really good player on a championship-caliber team. In the wrong one, though, drafting Randle could end up setting a team back significantly.
This likely wouldn't be an issue if Randle was a few inches taller, had a longer wingspan and could protect the rim, but as is, teams might have a hard time spreading the floor and defending at a high level while he's out there.
Randle could develop the skills necessary down the line to supplement his bullying strength on the block, but you could see many teams thinking that Indiana big man Noah Vonleh is much closer in that regard.
Despite being an impressive athlete, Randle does measure up short in one key area. Here's Tjarks again at SBNation:
In writing this article, I looked through the DraftExpress measurements database for the wingspans of every starting power forward in the NBA. It's not comprehensive, as I could only find data on 22 of the 30 starters, but the numbers are not encouraging.*Randle's 6'11 wingspan ranks dead last. The average is well over 7'0; even undersized 4s like Paul Millsap (7'1.5) and Brandon Bass (7'2.5) have an advantage.
Only three of the 22 I found have wingspans below 7'0: Blake Griffin (6'11.25), Kevin Love (6'11.25) and Thaddeus Young (6'11.5). That's quite the trio, but it's also a group that screams "survivorship bias." In other words: You have to be a really good player to survive as a short-armed power forward in the NBA.
The player Randle gets the most comparisons to is Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph, another bulky lefty who scores in the low post. The one big difference, however, is that wingspan. While he's more athletic than Randolph, Randle has a much shorter wingspan and may struggle to score against length at the next level.
It's also worth noting that Randolph was a classic "good stats on a bad team" type of player for much of his career, as he didn't have a significant impact on his team's success until he teamed up with Marc Gasol, a center who could both protect him defensively and operate out of the high post on the other end. Those guys don't grow on trees, and any team selecting Randle would likely want one already in place.
That falls in line with the next issue. Which team needs Randle, and which team can provide him with the supporting cast he likely needs?
A quick look through the top of the draft doesn't paint an optimistic outlook.
The Milwaukee Bucks are guaranteed a top-four pick, but the presence of Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson at the 4 may have them look elsewhere. Where does the stretch come from, particularly since Randle and Ilyasova can't survive together defensively?
The Philadelphia 76ers already have an athletic, smaller power forward who does most of his damage around the rim in Thaddeus Young. While Nerlens Noel would be able to protect him defensively, offensively the 76ers would be starved for shooting.
The Orlando Magic have a few young options at power forward in Tobias Harris and Andrew Nicholson, and have bigger needs at point guard (Dante Exum), small forward (Andrew Wiggins) and maybe even center (Joel Embiid) since Nikola Vucevic is limited on that end.
The Utah Jazz have Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, and it's hard to say Randle fits particularly well with either player.
The Boston Celtics have more of a blank slate, but Randle's kind of production would seem to overlap quite a bit with Jared Sullinger, another undersized big man can put up lots of points and rebounds.
We'll know more when the lottery is established, but it's hard to find a team that would use a top-four pick on Randle with Wiggins, Embiid, Exum or Jabari Parker on the board. With Vonleh seemingly possessing a more transferable skill-set, it's very possible that Randle is a little lower on draft boards than you might think.
To that point, Rex Chapman asked NBA executives and scouts (who remained anonymous) about Randle, via Drew Pasaporte at Nation of Blue:
These guys believe that the league will ultimately draft the ferocious-rebounding-Randle anywhere from 4th to 9th in June’s draft should he decide to declare. I found it interesting however, that ONLY 3 of these 14 NBA-people say that they themselves would draft Randle in that 4-9 range. A majority of these guys like JR in the 10-14 range. What they’re saying about JR:
“While he’s a terrific rebounder, his defensive issues are frightening. Worst defensive big-man in the draft.”
“How many times can a guy catch the ball at the top of the key, drive into 3-defenders and give it to the other team?”
“I question his feel for the game and basketball IQ.”
While you'll hear many questions raised about draft prospects this time of year, Randle's lack of length and defensive presence are going to be tough to address between now and draft day.
With some of the league's best offenses relying more heavily on stretch 4's instead of traditional post scorers, it's not hard to envision a scenario where Randle slides outside of the top-5 and beyond, despite being a very gifted player.