Even after NBA draft prospect Julius Randle lost his status as a contender for the No. 1 pick, he has remained a high-lottery option and a potential top-five selection.
His physical tools are impressive, and his motor is unquestionable, but he might be the most overrated prospect in the top tier of the 2014 class.
Don't get me wrong, he's still an attractive prospect with ample athleticism, promising scoring ability and significant upside. He's a double-double machine on the college level. It's just that fans and media expect more from him as a prospect than he may ever be able to give.
Randle was initially thought to be one of the franchise-changing studs in this draft, but he has a lot to prove at this juncture of his career.
What are his most glaring shortcomings, and how do they affect his NBA outlook?
Scoring versatility (or lack thereof)
Randle dominated high school and scored any way he wanted, but he's learned that you need some variety in your offensive diet in college.
He loves his meat-and-potatoes bullrush drives and power spins, but in the NBA he'll need the fruits-and-veggies to keep him healthy: ball-handling and mid-range shooting.
Randle has racked up most of his production by physically punishing opponents on the glass and in the paint. When he catches the ball on the right block, he'll try to swiftly power his way across the lane with a left-handed dribble and shield with his body for a southpaw finish. When he catches on the left side, he loves a quick right-handed dribble followed by a spin move back to a lefty score.
Those are great moves to have, but Randle can't execute much else. He's hesitant to finish with the right, and you can tell it's not comfortable or smooth for him.
Julius Randle will never abandon that spin move. And that's fine as long as he mixes in some other post moves to go with it.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) February 16, 2014
Unfortunately, Randle rarely mixes in other post moves.
His ball-handling skills aren't advanced enough for him to create much from the wing, and he lacks a high-post jumper or a step-back. According to Hoop-math.com, Randle is hitting just 33 percent of his two-point jumpers and 21 percent of his triple tries.
A couple of college and pro analysts noted that his finesse game leaves something to be desired, as it's football style or nothing for him at this point:
Julius Randle is gonna need that David West J to be successful on the next level. People will dare him to shoot.— Nate Jones (@JonesOnTheNBA) March 16, 2014
After Kentucky's March 1 loss to South Carolina, B/R NBA Lead Writer Jonathan Wasserman noted Julius Randle's one-dimensional isolation skills:
Julius Randle made his 1-and-only FG today w/ 22 seconds left. Gonna have to expand his 1-on-1 game—can't just rely on strength every night.— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) March 2, 2014
If Randle's draft value was based entirely on upside like an Andrew Wiggins or Noah Vonleh, then it would be okay to be a high lottery pick who lacks skill. But the 6'9" forward's ceiling is a tick lower, and GMs will want production in the near future. Therefore, teams want to be assured that they're at least getting a semi-star and an efficient scorer. Randle just doesn't seem like a lock to be a top-tier forward.
Basketball IQ and feel for the game
Randle's aggression and willingness to challenge opponents is commendable, and it certainly helps him as a rebounder and finisher.
However, his assertive mentality often backfires on him, as he doesn't always make the best play for the team. Sometimes he's a bit too ambitious when he catches the ball in the middle of the defense.
Instead of kicking out to open teammates, Randle will opt to shoot through traffic, even double- and triple-teams. He doesn't scan the floor enough when defenses collapse, and the result is often a turnover or ill-advised shot.
At one point this season, he was averaging 4.4 turnovers per 40 minutes. Since then, he's cleaned things up, which is a good sign.
But he still has a lot to learn from a situational standpoint. One NBA scout recently spoke with Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv about Randle's feel for the game. He noticed that Randle doesn't react to the defense and find the openings enough:
Randle’s a terrific player but he doesn’t read the game, see the game like Jabari Parker. He doesn’t play off of the defense. That’s a weakness. Now he’s fabulous physically and he’ll compete and he’s strong and he’s tough and the whole thing. He’s so gifted, he’s going to be very good. But he doesn’t really understand.
This mediocre feel for the game isn't a major red flag, but it's something that puts him at a disadvantage to other prospects and could contribute to his slide to the seventh or eighth pick.
Wingspan: not a red flag, but far from ideal
Earlier this season, Jonathan Tjarks of SB Nation wrote a piece bemoaning Randle's 6'11" wingspan, explaining how it severely hurts the forward's NBA upside.
All sorts of Randle supporters were quick to defend him, and while they're right that he'll hold his own, Tjarks is definitely onto something.
Despite our optimistic efforts to make Randle a combo forward, he'll likely spend most of his time as a 4. As such, he'll be routinely facing post players who have wingspans of 7'0" and up. And in many cases, they'll be equally athletic or more explosive than he is.
Where does Randle belong?
That's going to create some problems on both ends of the floor.
Randle is a below-the-rim scorer on offense, meaning he doesn't rise up over opponents with hang-time or length. Unfortunately, that style will make it a chore for him to score. Defensively, Randle may have some trouble contesting the leapers and the skyscraper big men. He's already been posterized a few times this year, and it will inevitably happen at the next level.
When you zoom out and look at Randle's pros versus his cons, he's still an extremely promising player who will compete at a high level in the NBA. We simply put him on too high of a pedestal throughout the season, as his flaws should stick him a notch below the other top prospects.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR