A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Why I prefer Julius Randle to Andrew Wiggins as the best 2014 NBA draft prospect

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Andrew Wiggins is considered a near unbeatable frontrunner for the #1 pick in the 2014 draft. Some even rate him as a generational prospect and the best since Kevin Durant and Greg Oden.

I prefer Julius Randle, widely considered his most serious challenger for the spot.

Wiggins’ reputation is built athletic prowess. While Wiggins is a very good to great athlete at worst, I’m not as over the moon about his athleticism as most, as I’ve written here and here. Where Wiggins is impressing people most, is his ability to leap incredibly high when dunking, off 2 feet when having time to prepare himself. I presume some use dunking explosiveness as a barometer of athleticism.

It may be for raw, human athleticism in a vacuum. But the NBA requires specific athletic skills more than others. In the NBA it’s crucial for a perimeter player to have an explosive first step, allowing him to penetrate the defense and create offense at the rim. When it comes to leaping, it may help one finish at the rim – but other features like strength, touch, instincts play a role in how well a player finishes. Furthermore, it’s arguably more important to leap quickly and to be explosive off 1 foot, to catch the defense off balance, than it is to jump higher than everyone with time to prepare. That maximum leap may find value in aiding rebounding and shotblocking for Wiggins, but to be a superstar, he’ll need dominant offense.

The player Wiggins reminds me most of athletically based on games available filmed for television, is Paul George. George is a very good athlete, but his speed isn’t blazing fast, unlike some transcendent athletes like Lebron James and Dwyane Wade. When adding to just average ballhandling, George is not a dynamic slasher. Another reason I favor the George comparison is his feel for the game and fluidity may be one of the league’s best, which also appears to be Wiggins’ most unique strength. George however has proven to be a good shooter in the NBA to key his offense, while Wiggins is unproven in the area – scarily only hitting 61% of his FTs his senior season. George is also bigger and longer than Wiggins, helping him defensively. If my reading of Wiggins’ slashing talent and feel for the game are correct, I’d need to see him become one of the best shooters at the SF position, to indeed be a perennial all-star. Otherwise what I’m confident in his defense. He has the athleticism, length and feel for the game, to be a standout defender, like George is. Due to questions about his slashing and shooting, I’m wary of predicting more than average offense for Wiggins – For now.

Julius Randle has an advantage in a few ways to me. For one, of the two he is the player I see as having that dynamic, rare first step for his position. Combined with impressive ballhandling for a PF, Randle looks to be a nightmare attacking the basket off the dribble. His great strength, should also help him finish at the rim. Randle in fact, arguably resembles Lebron James in his combination of speed and strength for his height, though clearly less talented in non-physical elements of the game and more likely to be a pure PF.
In addition to this, Randle’s skill for his position currently projects more encouragingly for me. At SG or SF where Wiggins will play, anything less than 3 pt range, which is in play for Wiggins, is below average shooting skill and is a cause of both inefficiency and spacing issues for offenses. But at PF, having shooting range that goes to 20 feet out, but not three, is above average shooting and spacing for the position. For example Andre Iguodala’s shooting is a liability for a SF, while Chris Bosh’s shooting at PF is an advantage, despite Iguodala having equal if not better shooting range in a vacuum than Bosh. Randle is known as a player who can hit midrange jumpshots and a FT% over 70% in high school, is encouraging for his age. In addition to potentially shooting it well for a PF, Randle’s brute strength gives him potential as a skilled post player. Wiggins may also develop a post game, but arguably needs to develop his frame more than Randle does – plus it’s generally less common for wing players to go to the post as a regular weapon. In addition to shooting and slashing, Randle’s feel for the game, fluidity and craftiness also appears to be well above average for a power forward, if not competitive with Wiggins’.

When combined, Randle’s offensive tools stand out more to me right now than Wiggins’. I see more from Randle as a slasher for his position than Wiggins and his skill level compared to his position, looks more encouraging. At best he could be both unstoppable attacking the basket for a PF, but also with shooting range and a crafty feel. The best comparison for Randle lately for me is Blake Griffin, another ultra athletic power forward of about the same size, with a great feel for the game. However what holds Blake back is developing that great mid-range shooting game that Bosh and Kevin Garnett had. While it’s no guarantee, with his much better FT shooting, it’s certainly in play for Randle to end up with that range Blake lacks. If he tops out, his brute strength could also give him more of a true post game Blake doesn’t have. I would  rate Randle’s offensive upside as higher than Blake’s.

Like Griffin, Randle is a bigger question mark on the defensive end than Wiggins, as he’s not as big for his position and is unlikely to be a shotblocker, though with his athleticism, strength and feel, respectability seems plausible on that end.

For Wiggins to surpass Randle for me by draft day, I’d need to either be proven wrong about his slashing, or I’d need to see him become a more skilled shooter and skill weapon for a SF than Randle is for a PF. That’s conceivable enough, as certainly it’s early enough in the process that the book on these prospects could change rapidly. But at least with the information I have and trust right now, I prefer Randle as the most talented 2014 draft prospect and the prospect with the best chance at being a superstar.

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Written by jr.

August 16, 2013 at 9:55 pm

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