Attention NBA Scouts: this is not a two-horse race.
With all the hype surrounding Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins' showdown at the State Farm Champions Classic in Chicago Tuesday night, Julius Randle made sure his voice was heard.
Curious NBA minds got a crash course on Randle, Kentucky's prized recruit, in the Wildcats heavyweight bout with Michigan State, a 78-74 MSU win.
We can assure you the result was irrelevant to the 68 NBA scouts in attendance.
You won't find a mock draft around that doesn't have Randle projected as a top-five pick this upcoming June. After averaging 22.5 points and 14.5 boards through his first two college games, the bar continues to rise.
Despite the loss, Randle certainly didn't disappoint. He absolutely erupted against Michigan State, reminding us why scouts have been drooling over his potential.
Randle was unstoppable the last 20 minutes of the game, having his way inside as a scorer and rebounder against Michigan State's formidable front line. There wasn't anything Michigan State could do to keep Randle from having his way down low.
He finished with 27 points and 13 boards, missing just five shots from the field all night. That's because just about all of them were high-percentage looks.
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Randle's monster performance turned dozens of heads around the NBA community. Some are even opening up to the idea of him passing Andrew Wiggins as the potential top prospect in the nation.
Forget about the turnovers or missed free throws. A few sloppy plays here and there shouldn't reflect on his outlook as a long-term prospect. It's the positives that will keep Randle in top-three conversations from now until late June.
I bought more Randle stock after his 7th turnover a few mins ago. I told my NBA stockbrocker, "Just keep buying, BUY BUY BUY."— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) November 13, 2013
When Randle got going and his confidence started pumping, Michigan State's defense couldn't find an answer. And that's what drives his NBA appeal.
Scouts salivate over a young player who demands the double-team in the post. And at 6'9'' with 250 pounds of quickness, agility and strength, that's unlikely to change as he matures into a man.
But what separates Randle (from some tweeners we've seen in the past) is his ability to adjust and finish in traffic. It takes more than just strength to put the ball in the hoop when dealing on the low block.
He wasn't just scoring using the combo of power and touch. With a terrific feel and dexterity around the rim, Randle is able to finish over, through and around interior defenders.
A big body and two challenging arms just isn't always enough defensively. Sometimes three bodies and six arms doesn't even do the trick.
In order to stay in the game against Michigan State, Kentucky desperately needed to pick up some easy baskets. And Randle was able to provide his team with one possession after possession.
Whether he's backing down his man, spinning in the lane or ripping down an offensive board, Randle has the ability to take control of a game. He's the type of guy who can go get you a bucket when you need it, and he can do so in a variety of different ways.
Offensively, he's naturally gifted in areas that can't be taught while showing promise in areas that can.
Against Michigan State, Randle struggled at times as a face-up threat, looking a bit hesitant and indecisive. But this is an aspect of his game where there's enormous room for growth. We've already seen glimpses of his ball-handling and jumper—they just need a little polish, which should come with time.
On the other hand, you can't always teach the ability to absorb contact and finish in traffic—which is where Randle excels. Randle actually embraces contact, using it to play off and separate from his man.
We've seen guys like Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams and Thomas Robinson—all big-time talents—each struggle with the physicality of the NBA game.
And you just don't get the feeling that's going to be a problem for Julius Randle.
For NBA teams looking for a frontcourt mismatch, it might be a while before another one with this much potential comes around. Randle's stock is soaring right now, and there's no reason to expect it to crash.
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