Kentucky's star power forward Julius Randle officially declared for the 2014 NBA draft Tuesday, announcing his decision at a news conference in Lexington, Ky.
After a strong freshman campaign that included a run to the NCAA title game, the 6'9" bruiser decided to make the one-and-done jump to the Association. He discussed the move on Twitter:
I would like to thank the entire Kentucky family for this year, but I have decided to take the next step and enter into the NBA draft.— Julius Randle (@J30_RANDLE) April 22, 2014
As he moves on to the next level, what will his style of play and impact look like?
Among scouts, fans and media, Randle has frequently been compared to one of the NBA's most effective interior players: two-time All-Star Zach Randolph of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Both forwards play a powerful brand of basketball, and Randle's similar size and southpaw scoring are reminiscent of Z-Bo. But will Kentucky's freshman phenom actually turn out to be the next Randolph?
Effective, Powerful Spin Moves/Pivot Moves to Left
Zach Randolph has several effective moves in his arsenal, and one of his most dangerous is the spin move over his right shoulder for a left-handed finish. He often uses a righty dribble to get the defender moving, and then uses his 260-pound frame to spin forcefully to the hoop and shield his man from the ball.
Randle showcased this move every night at Kentucky, as it was his favorite way to create off the bounce. As long as he doesn't overuse it in the NBA, it will be a highly productive weapon for him.
Watch him pull a Z-Bo-type spin against Florida (0:54):
If he mixes in other moves and becomes more of a threat with his right hand, he'll be an unpredictable attacker and effectively execute this spin cycle regularly. The combination of gracefulness and power is difficult to contain.
Randle also shares Randolph's love of pump fakes and pivots. Much like the Grizzlies' anchor, the young prospect tries to get opponents up in the air and then steps through for high-percentage finishes.
He's not as crafty as Z-Bo on the block yet, but his natural talent and strong physique may potentially enable him to deliver similar maneuvers.
Strength, positioning and shielding is such a big part of Randle and Randolph's games because they're "below-the-rim" finishers. In other words, they don't rely much on rising above opponents to score.
Randle is less grounded than Randolph, which we'll expound on later, but he still gets a lot of his buckets horizontally because he goes through people and doesn't have a long wingspan (6'11").
In order to get a shot off, both players often double-clutch while shielding with their bodies, shooting on the way down for a low release point.
Rebounding Prowess: Positioning, Instincts and Putbacks
The debate about Randle's overall ceiling and offensive impact is ongoing, but no one can deny he'll be a handful on the glass as a pro.
He and Randolph both averaged 13.5 rebounds per 40 minutes as college freshmen, as they both used their sturdy frames to get position and let timing and instincts do the rest. Randolph has averaged double-digit rebounding in the NBA eight times, and Randle could put up similar numbers if he maximizes his physical gifts.
Like Z-Bo, Randle has the ability to wear down opponents. He grabbed a dozen or more boards 15 times in 2013-14, and we know he's going to bring his motor and nose for the ball to the Association.
Prolific rebounders like these two are not only good at tracking down their teammates' shots, but they're also good at following their own misses. They have a knack for snatching the caroms and quickly flipping the ball back in the hoop.
At this point, Randle has a long way to go to become as savvy as Randolph on the offensive glass (Z-Bo led the NBA in O-boards twice), but he's got tremendous potential in that department.
Outside Shooting and Overall Touch
Those who automatically equate Randle with Randolph and hail the Kentucky star as the next Z-Bo are severely underestimating Randolph's shooting skills.
Randolph doesn't have advanced moves to create shooting opportunities, nor does he elevate to get separation on the release. Yet, somehow, he finds a way to take and make countless 15-20 footers every season.
With a well-timed jab step and a high trajectory on his shot, he's able to sling it over opponents and convert at a high rate. His jump-shooting ability helps stretch the defense and open things up for cutters, not to mention driving lanes for himself.
Randle has jump-shooting potential, but he's nowhere close to harnessing it.
His motion isn't as smooth as Randolph's, even when Randolph was at Michigan State. Scouts and analysts have noted that Z-Bo's shot was better than Randle's coming out of college:
The other thing you hear from scouts in that "Randle isn't Z Randolph" Zach much better shooter at early age. Still really like Randle.— Russillo (@ryenarussillo) January 15, 2014
Even aside from jump shots, Randolph seems to have a softer touch on flip shots, runners and short-range bankers. That's not meant to be a knock on Randle, it's just that Randolph has a really smooth game for someone his size.
While power is a big part of Z-Bo's game, it's important to note he also possesses craftiness and a deceptive skill level that is extremely rare among big men.
In many instances where Randle would just try to bully opponents or fight through contact, Randolph may find a way to shift around and hit a leaning jumper or connect with a teammate on a crisp pass.
The NBA vet isn't a great dribbler, yet he can do some special things with the rock—things that Randle can only hope to do at this point. Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix said "Randle has to prove he has Z-Bo's knack for positioning and soft touch," while ESPN's Jeff Goodman referred to Randolph as "way more skilled and crafty."
If you've watched Zach Randolph play much at all, you can tell that he's one of the least athletic players in the entire league.
He's not quick, he can't go end-to-end in a hurry and his leaping skills make a lot of backyard ballers look like Olympians. He jumps roughly a centimeter on his outside shots, and his fast-break plays are far from graceful. Even in his prime, Randolph lacked any sort of explosiveness.
Randle, on the other hand, has some bounce in his game. He can do stuff like this:
This athleticism gap doesn't just mean Randle can dunk more often or make the occasional acrobatic play. It means he'll be more versatile defensively from a positional standpoint; he'll be able to guard some 3s in addition to the post players.
It also gives him the opportunity to play on the wing as a slasher, provided he improves his ball-handling skills. He definitely has the foot speed to compete against most small forwards.
When he gets momentum in the open floor, he can rise up and finish over defenders or make athletic blocks, both of which Randolph cannot accomplish. And lastly, Randle can elevate on his outside jumpers, which gives him a distinct advantage as a shot-creator.
Julius Randle is the next...
Ultimately, you can't completely confine Julius Randle to the Zach Randolph comparisons, despite their similarities.
It's not fair to Z-Bo, whose shrewdness and skills have turned him into one of the trickiest matchups in the league. He's got a much smoother shot and was a 20-10 player in his prime despite lower-tier athleticism.
It's also not fair to Randle, who is considerably quicker and more vertically adept. His rebounding movements look a shade more like Moses Malone than Randolph, and the mobility and skill potential of his game has elements of Chris Webber and Lamar Odom in them.
There's nothing wrong with seeing a lot of Z-Bo in Randle. But their skills, styles and impact aren't identical, and Randle's career could look noticeably different when it's all over.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR