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Posts Tagged ‘Julius Randle

Joel Embiid, Julius Randle and the valuing of length and strength

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Joel Embiid is expected to be drafted 1st or 2nd overall, while Randle is mocked at the 5th to 7th picks. These prospects have more in common than you may think. Both were rated as top 5 but not top 2 prospects coming into this college season, then had productive seasons on high profile college programs. Both have above average athleticism driving to the basket or playing above the rim, but not elite. Both have impress lateral mobility for their position. Both have fluidity and feel for the game. Both put up impress rebounding statistics this year. Both have standout footwork in the post, signifying back to the basket potential.

Where does Embiid separate himself? By conventional wisdom, it’s his length and position. Embiid reportedly measured at 7’1 in shoes, 7‘5.75 wingspan and 9‘5.5 standing reach at a workout, after missing the draft combine. The average NBA C judging by the Draftexpress combine database, is around 6’11 in shoes, 7’3 wingspan and 9’2 standing reach.

However these measurements were not as official as at the draft combine. Here are Embiid, Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins comparisons of their workout and Hoop Summit measurements:

Embiid (Hoop Summit 2013): 7’0 in shoes, 7’5 wingspan, standing reach not measured

Embiid (workout): 7’1 in shoes, 7‘5.75 wingspan, 9‘5.5 standing reach.

Parker (Hoop Summit 2013): 6’8 in shoes, 7’0 wingspan, 8’8 standing reach

Parker (workout): 6’9 in shoes, 6‘11.75 wingspan, 8‘11.5 standing reach

Wiggins (Hoop Summit 2013): 6’8 in shoes, 7’0 wingspan, standing reach not measured

Wiggins (workout): 6‘8.75 in shoes, 7’0 wingspan, 8’11 standing reach

Judging by all three players measuring higher in shoes than at the Hoop Summit and how far up Parker’s standing reach leaped, I think it’s fair to treat Embiid’s 9‘5.5 standing reach estimate as overstated. A still well above average standing reach like 9‘3.5-9‘4.5 is more likely than 9‘5.5

Julius Randle measured 6’9 in shoes, 7’0 wingspan and 8‘9.5 standing reach. The average measurements for PF is around 6‘9.5 in shoes, 7’1 wingspan and 8’11 standing reach. Therefore Randle’s length disadvantage for a PF is about the same as Embiid’s advantage at C.

But their bodies are shaped differently in another way. Randle’s strength is one of his biggest advantages at PF, while Embiid is comparatively slender for a C. Randle measured 250 pounds at the combine, compared to average PF weight of 232. Embiid was 240 pounds at the Hoop Summit the last time he measured, compared to average C weight of 247 pounds. The differential in strength becomes more significant when realizing Embiid’s height for a C is taller than Randle’s vs the average PF, meaning Randle’s strength is more compact for his height than Embiid. Weight is not a perfect way to measure strength, but the eye test backs up Randle’s frame for his position is stronger than Embiid’s, especially in the lower body.

In a way, Embiid and Randle just have inverse physical tools. Similar athleticism, but Embiid has length substituted for Randle’s strength and vice-versa. Thus when judging Embiid vs Randle, we have a clash between the value of length and strength. Length has long been beloved among NBA teams by allowing a big to be a shotblocker/defensive anchor, considered a key on a championship team. But are we sure that length is more important than equal amounts of strength in the modern NBA?

For example, here are the top 20 PFs or Cs last season and my approximation descriptions of their strength and length level for their position:

1. PF Lebron James (29.90 PER): Solid length, Elite strength
2. PF Kevin Love (26.97): Below average length, Elite strength
3. PF Anthony Davis (26.54): Elite length, Below average strength
4. C DeMarcus Cousins (26.18): Elite length, Elite strength
5. C Brook Lopez (25.50): Elite length, solid strength
6. PF Carmelo Anthony (24.50): Solid length, Elite strength
7. PF Blake Griffin (23.98): Below average length, Elite strength
8. PF Dirk Nowitzki (23.68): Elite length, Solid strength
9. C Brandan Wright (23.60): Solid length, Below average strength
10. C Al Jefferson (22.75): Solid length, Elite strength
11. C Andre Drummond (22.65): Elite length, Elite strength
12. C Al Horford (22.08): Below average length, Great strength
13. PF LaMarcus Aldridge (21.84): Great length, Solid strength
14. C Tim Duncan (21.40): Elite length, Elite strength
15. C Dwight Howard (21.36): Elite length, Elite strength
16. C Nikola Pekovic (20.72): Solid length, Elite strength
17. C Joakim Noah (20.06): Below average length, Below average strength
18. PF Kenneth Faried (19.9): Solid length, Below average strength
19. PF Paul Millsap (19.83): Below average length, Great strength
20. PF Serge Ibaka (19.66): Elite length, Solid strength

Here are 10 other former all-star bigs I thought deserved mention:

C Pau Gasol (19.34): Elite length, Below average strength
PF David Lee (19.21): Solid length, solid strength
C Chris Bosh (19.11): Solid length, Below average strength
PF Zach Randolph (18.37): Below average length, elite strength
C Marc Gasol (18.27): Elite length, elite strength
PF David West (17.55): Solid length, elite strength
C Tyson Chandler (16.48): Elite length, Below average strength
C Andrew Bynum (15.25): Elite length, elite strength
C Roy Hibbert (13.54): Elite length, elite strength
C Kevin Garnett (13.35): Elite length, solid strength

Of those 30 players, there are 11 I listed as having more length than strength in Davis, Lopez, Nowitzki, Wright, Aldridge, Faried, Ibaka, Pau Gasol, Bosh, Chandler, Garnett. There are 10 players I listed as having more strength than length in Lebron, Love, Anthony, Griffin, Jefferson, Horford, Pekovic, Millsap, Randolph, West. There are 9 I gave about the same of each length and strength, good or bad, in Cousins, Drummond, Duncan, Howard, Noah, Lee, Marc Gasol, Bynum, Hibbert.

If one removes Lebron and Carmelo from the list as they were natural perimeter players and remove Wright because of his limited minutes-driven dubious inclusion, it leaves 10 length over strength players on the list and 8 strength over length ones.

Positionally, 13 of the 30 players are PF and 17 are C, however I’d claim 18 of the players (Love, Davis, Griffin, Nowitzki, Wright, Horford, Aldridge, Duncan, Faried, Millsap, Ibaka, Pau Gasol, Lee, Bosh, Randolph, West, Garnett) were drafted as PFs more than C.

Overall, I don’t see a reason to think length is a more valuable attribute than strength for big men in today’s game. Although length gives bigs a key skill in shotblocking, many of the most productive bigs in the game have had strength as their meal ticket instead of length, perhaps due to an inherent offensive advantage to strength compared to length. The “model” elite big men comes in various forms. Some great bigs like Davis, Lopez have more in common with Embiid than Randle, but others like Love and Griffin share a greater resemblance to Randle of the two. If accounting for the possibility Randle’s game doesn’t translate due to length but Embiid’s does, one also to consider the possibility Randle’s back to the basket game offense and rebounding translates better than Embiid’s because the latter can’t hold position as strongly due to his body.

As for the value of playing C, of the 8 last playoff teams (Miami, Brooklyn, Washington, Indiana, San Antonio, Portland, Oklahoma City, L.A. Clippers), here is how their starting bigs ranked in PER:

1. MIA PF Lebron James (29.40) (*Heat best player)
2. LAC PF Blake Griffin (23.98) (*Clippers 1st/2nd best player)
3. POR PF LaMarcus Aldridge (21.84) (*Blazers 1st/2nd best player)
4. SAS PF Tim Duncan (21.4) (*Spurs 1st/2nd best player)
5. OKC PF Serge Ibaka (19.66) (*Thunder 3rd best player)
6. MIA C Chris Bosh (19.11) (*Heat 3rd best player)
7. LAC C Deandre Jordan (18.19) (*Clippers 3rd best player)
8. POR C Robin Lopez (17.68) (*Blazers 3rd-5th best player)
9. IND PF David West (17.55) (*Pacers 2nd-4th best player)
10. BKN PF Paul Pierce (16.81) (*Nets 1st-3rd best player)
11. WAS PF Nene (16.67) (*Wizards 1st-4th best player)
12. SAS C Tiago Splitter (16.58) (*Spurs 4th-5th best player)
13. WAS C Marcin Gortat (17.66) (*Wizards 3rd-5th best player)
14. IND C Roy Hibbert (13.54) (*Pacers 2nd-5th best player)
15. BKN C Kevin Garnett (13.35) (*Nets 4th-5th best player)
16. OKC C Kendrick Perkins (6.32) (*Bottom 5 OKC player)

While PER is not the end-all for rating players and some players aren’t at their true position (ie James is an original SF, Duncan is effectively a C playing out of position, Bosh a PF playing out of position), certainly the message is clear. It’s not necessarily true that PFs are more important to contending caliber teams than C, but the assumption Cs are more important than PF, should be doubted. At least in 2014, power forwards are leading the teams and are more often top 2 players on the team. At the same time, more of the less important bigs on these teams are Cs.

I currently have Embiid 3rd and Randle 4th on my talent big board. Embiid may very well have a better career than Randle. There is many variables other than length or strength that will go into the success of either including athleticism, skill level, feel, or effort level where Embiid is as impressive as Randle if not more. But I don’t feel Embiid’s style of prospect being a long C instead of a shorter, strong PF is an advantage that will create this separation. Usually it’s not about what type of prospect you are, just how close you are to perfecting that style. Randle may very well end up better for his style of player, than Embiid for his.

Written by jr.

June 7, 2014 at 2:52 pm

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.

Written by jr.

August 16, 2013 at 9:55 pm

On Kelly Olynyk’s summer league and upside, gauging athleticism

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Kelly Olynyk was the star of Orlando Summer league. His averages of 19.5 points, 8.0 rebounds. 2.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game in 26.5 minutes is dominant production per minute. More impressive to people was how he did it. Easily. Consistent. With a variety of skill moves. On a different level than his peers.

Naturally summer league statistics are close to meaningless. Just check out the history of players like Jerryd Bayless and Anthony Randolph during it. However, since he’s a hot product at the moment, I thought I’d dive into why I was so high on Olynyk before his draft – ranking him as my 2nd most talented prospect behind Anthony Bennett.

What’s obvious about Kelly is his feel for the game is one of the best in the class and potentially will be one of the best at his position in the NBA. Everything he does is smooth, under control and with layers of craftiness if he needs it. These instincts and superior sense of space were clear in summer league, as they were at Gonzaga.

His shooting skill may actually be a little overstated. Olynyk has been rated by some as a future Mehmet Okur, Ryan Anderson type 3 point shooting big, but he only hit 9 of 30 from the shorter NCAA 3 point line his entire senior season as Gonzaga and 25 for 75 his entire college career. Anthony Bennett took and hit more 3s as a freshman at UNLV than Olynyk did in his three seasons at Gonzaga. In summer league Olynyk went a fairly meek 3 for 13 from 3 point range. With that said, hitting 77.6% of his FTs his final year in college is impressive touch for a big man and it’s clear that Olynyk’s midrange shooting tough is great. Furthermore even hitting any 3s at this stage in summer league is fine, considering many prospects need time and struggle early extending their range from NCAA to NBA. For example, Trey Burke went 1 for 19 from 3, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went 7 for 31, in both cases far below their shooting aptitude in college. With that said if I had to venture a guess, it’d be that Olynyk’s shooting career based on his numbers now is more likely to resemble Chris Bosh and Kevin Garnett’s. Both players had an exceptional midrange stroke but didn’t lean on their 3 point shot as a consistent weapon, albeit both did occasionally take them. Bosh attempted 1 3 pointer a game last year for the first time, his career high before that 0.6. Garnett attempted over a 3 a game on two occasions in Minnesota, peaking at 1.4 3PA – but 13 of his 18 seasons he had 0.5 3PA or less.

The most interesting area of debate for Olynyk is his athleticism and general physical talents. The reason Kelly slipped in the draft is that despite gaining obvious attention for his skill and feel, he had been labeled too underwhelming an athlete to be more than a 3rd big. Some said his footspeed was too poor to guard PFs, forcing him to be a stretch center who would potentially be abused in the post defensively.

First of all even in a vacuum, the idea that Olynyk is any sort of weak athlete, just seems false to me. This play alone dispels the myth of Olynyk being a plodding spot up shooting C who can’t move, such as what Ryan Kelly is:

That one play covers a lot of athletic skills. He shows elite transition speed for a 7 footer and even acceleration late. Then of course, he shows impressive leaping and finishing ability for the poster. While one play is one play, a Kelly-like slouch athletically can’t make that play, ever.

However what really impresses me is shown in this video

The whole video serves to show some of Olynyk’s athletic traits, such as his transition speed and leap finishing. However, the section that really stands out to me starts at 1:26, in “Off the Dribble”. On a few plays Olynyk creates plays by facing a defender off the dribble, then driving into the paint, going right by them to score. He does this with what appears to be a very good, long first step for a PF, which is the most important thing for just about any prospect. In the NBA not all athletic traits are created equal. One of the reasons that Kyrie Irving and James Harden were underrated coming out of college – they were labeled as not having perennial all-star upside – is that they were called average athletes despite their skills. One of the reasons for this is that you didn’t see Irving and Harden showcasing their vertical leap and putting down highlight reel dunks. However, both Irving and Harden do have an exceptional first step, allowing them to attack the basket off the dribble. In reality, this first step meant more than standout leaping ability. More leaping ability presumably helps finishing skills at the basket, however Irving and Harden have the size, enough vertical athleticism and skill to finish there not only passably, but an elite level for their position. In reality, their athletic strength of a first step has unlimited value to their games, while their weakness of lacking a high max vertical, doesn’t seem to affect their game at all. My lukewarm position on Andrew Wiggins is built on a similar idea. Where Wiggins is wowing people athletically is that he jumps higher off two feet than just about any NBA player we’ve seen has. However personally I see a decent, but not great first step and ability to attack the basket off the dribble. This has made me presume that Wiggins from an NBA/value perspective, is a good but overrated athlete. It may be true that he’s one of the most athletic HUMANS of his size that has played basketball, in a vacuum – but if it’s not the right combination of athleticism to translate to equally elite NBA value, it won’t matter. Wiggins is an excellent prospect and potential all-star for other reasons (I see Paul George’s feel and athleticism, but in a 6’7 body with a raw jumpshot) but I do not see a generational athlete, for the inverse reasons of why Irving and Harden’s athleticism is so valuable. The opposite of Wiggins is Julius Randle, who may have one of the most explosive first steps and ability to penetrate that the power forward position has seen. I would call Randle the most physically gifted player of his highly ranked 2014 peers and the most likely superstar, although he needs to prove himself on a skill level to cement that.

Like Harden and Irving, Olynyk’s outstanding ballhandling for a 7 footer, helps mask some of that athletic “weakness”, if he has it. That ballhandling is one of the reasons why he looks to have the potential to attack the basket off the dribble. From a slashing perspective, his good athleticism with elite ballhandling, may be as good for as having more clearly explosive athleticism, but average to subpar ballhandling. As for his finishing at the basket, Olynyk has both showed the ability to leap vertically, plus at 7 feet tall he may not need to leap once he gets there. I’m not positive that Olynyk’s ability to slash off the dribble will stand out, but it has the chance to. In addition to his skill and feel, it could make him a tremendous prospect.

Olynyk really has many similarities to Chris Bosh. Bosh has an elite feel for the game and is a strong midrange shooter. Bosh is also skinny like Olynyk and is one of the best ballhandlers for a PF, which along with his elite first step, allows him to attack the basket off the dribble to compliment his shooting game and feel. The main difference between them is I feel Bosh has the superior first step. Where Olynyk could actually make up that difference, is if his 3 point shot developed into a more consistent weapon than it has for Bosh. In that case Kelly could showcase similar talent. Either way, the comparison is favorable to Kelly and it wouldn’t surprise me if we see him in an all-star game, if not multiple ones.

Written by jr.

July 13, 2013 at 12:45 pm