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Head-to-Toe Breakdown of Final Four Superstar Julius Randle

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Head-to-Toe Breakdown of Final Four Superstar Julius Randle
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The last man standing of the top 2014 NBA prospects, Julius Randle has plowed through the field of the NCAA tournament straight to the Final Four. 

And he's been barreling through opposing frontcourts from day one, when he quickly established himself as arguably the most physically imposing forward in the country. It's been his identity, and he's played to it throughout his freshman campaign. 

Randle has racked up 24 double-doubles this season, including one in each NCAA tournament game. Through four of them, he's averaging 15.8 points and 12.0 boards.

Since December, it's been the same story. He has big-time NBA talent along with a few holes in his game and makeup that are likely to require some adjustments.

But you can't start the breakdown on Randle without addressing his offensive presence in the paint. 

 

Overpowering Low-Post Strength

At just 19 years old, he's stronger than most 22-year-old seniors with four years of college training. And he leans on his strength as a means for ultimately separating into his signature one-handed flick shot. 

This was earlier in the season, but look how much space he's able to create from 6'10", 245-pound senior Adreian Payne of Michigan State by using his shoulder to bump him off:

ESPN

With the space he creates with his shoulder, he's able to step through to his left hand and get an easy angled shot:

Randle's post game actually isn't that advanced; you won't see him fall away for a turnaround jumper or sneak past his man with a dream shake. Instead, he uses his strength to gain position, some fancy footwork to escape, and his touch and coordination to finish with balance. 

Throughout the regular season and postseason, we've seen Randle impose his strength on opponents in the low post to create opportunities for himself, whether he's bouncing off a defender and finishing after contact or he's coming down with an offensive rebound and putting it back up for two. 

He is averaging 4.3 offensive boards over his four NCAA tournament games, and he's pulling in 3.6 per game on the year. 

Per Hoop-Math, Randle has 55 putbacks in 2013-14, or field goals made within four seconds after grabbing an offensive rebound. For the most part, these are 55 easy buckets he's able to get himself thanks to his strength and presence on the interior. 

Randle's bully brand of ball is going to stick with him throughout his career. But there are still things he can do to become a more effective scorer in the paint and ultimately a more complete scorer in the half court. It's something he'll need to become at the next level when you consider the length disadvantage he'll be facing. 

 

Length Disadvantage

The most common thing mentioned by scouts when addressing Randle's weaknesses or flaws is his short wingspan (6'11") for an interior-oriented big man. Given his current skill set, he projects as a guy who's going to be spending a lot of time around the basket, where the NBA rim-protectors are extra long. 

And we've seen that length disadvantage bother Randle even at the college level. His shot has been vulnerable to getting blocked, while his short arms have limited him defensively to just 30 blocks total of his own (fewer than one per game).   

Just about all of Randle's offense comes around the key or in the paint. And with NBA rim-protectors sporting 7'2" to 7'5" wingspans, he's going to have to mix up his offensive game a little bit.

 

The Next Step

At this point, Randle's offensive preferences are fairly predictable—it doesn't mean college frontcourts can stop him, but they know where he's dangerous and where he isn't. 

Without a convincing jumper, he has made it easy at times for defenses to take him away. 

When he's struggled throughout the year, it's usually been the result of frequent double-teams or overcrowding in the paint. The goal for Randle is to find ways to be effective when the defense eliminates his sweet spots on the floor.

For starters, a jumper would give him an extra avenue to explore on offense so he's not so reliant on getting single coverage in the post. 

But a jumper would also allow him to play on the perimeter as a stretch or spot-up option, where there's a little more space to operate. And in space, Randle is at his best. 

Power forwards and big men just aren't laterally quick enough to stay with him off the bounce, where he's quick, shifty and explosive. Anytime he's able to face his man up, he's a threat to blow right by him:

The ultimate test for Randle, and the one that's going to determine his value in the NBA, is whether he can use the threat he poses offensively to make his teammates better. 

Earlier in the year, he was turning the ball over a ton. A lot of the time, it would look as if he'd enter attack mode with tunnel vision; he'd predetermine his shots and moves instead of countering or responding to what the defense was giving him.

Here's an example of Randle bulldozing into a collapsing defense with his head down before coughing the ball up while three open shooters surround him:

ESPN

Here's the turnover:

Randle has clearly made strides since the start of the year in regard to his offensive awareness and decision-making. It was evident against Wichita State in the round of 32 of the NCAA tournament, when he dished out six assists to go with his 13 points and 10 rebounds. 

Just about all of his assists were the result of the defense paying heavy attention to him, and he made the Shockers pay.

"He's played better and better as the year's gone on," Calipari said of Randle, via The Associated Press (h/t USA Today). "Basically he's doing less, which looks like more."

Take a look at where the focus lies of every defender in Wichita State's lineup when Randle has the ball facing the rim inside the arc. It's now on him to recognize the threat he poses and ultimately use it to free up his teammates and hit them for easy scoring chances.

CBS Sports

On this play, Randle threw a dart to a wide-open Aaron Harrison on the opposite wing, who stepped up and nailed an uncontested catch-and-shoot three-pointer.


Randle also had a couple of dimes off drive-and-kicks, or by simply taking a dribble or two to attract a help-defender before hitting the man he left with a pass. 

His talent is eye-opening, and it's been that way since his first game at Kentucky. When teams face the Wildcats, Randle should be the No. 1 focal point of their pregame defensive meetings.

How will Randle fare as a pro?

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Still, he'll have a set list of things to work on over the summer and as he progresses as a pro. He's going to have to find ways to make up for his lack of length by diversifying his offensive game and eventually extending it out to the perimeter. And he needs to continue to use his talent to make his teammates better, especially when defenses game-plan to take his offense away. 

Defensively, he's got a lot to learn, but he should be strong and athletic enough to hold his own protecting the post. Regardless of how well Randle performs in the Final Four or how he measures at the NBA combine, he's going to draw draft looks from every team on the board. 

Randle offers legitimate All-Star upside as an offensive mismatch and game-changing presence around the basket.

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