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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

Figuring out who goes #1 in the 2013 NBA Draft

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Fittingly in a year without a dominant #1, the #1 pick in the NBA Draft is as open for grabs as it’s been since 2006, the Andrea Bargnani year.

I’d narrow down the candidates to these 9: PG Marcus Smart, SG Ben McLemore, SG Victor Oladipo, SF Otto Porter, SG/SF Shabazz Muhammad, PF Nerlens Noel, PF Anthony Bennett, PF/C Cody Zeller, C Alex Len. That makes all the prospects in the conversation for a top 5 pick, making it near impossible one of them isn’t the top pick.

Here’s my ranking from least likely to most likely of this group:

The longshots

9. PF/C Cody Zeller – Likely to carry around a “limited upside!” label around, as ever prospect with non-dominant physical tools does. The combine won’t be a good day for him, with his short arms. He needs a huge tournament run and the right team to be picking 1st. Washington is a fit because they won’t be drafting guard, limiting their options at 1st – Cody also would add to their professionalism and win-now focus lately. New Orleans grabbing him to pair with Anthony Davis is also conceivable.

8. SG/SF Shabazz Muhammad – Not great explosiveness at the 3 and short for the position, will likely doom him. Unlikely to get a big boost from the tournament or workouts/the combine. Best chance is if a team who specifically searching for a scorer gets 1st overall – such as Detroit, Minnesota or Phoenix

7. SF Otto Porter – Like Shabazz, without dominant athleticism is likely to be labeled a lower upside player by the pundits. The biggest thing going for him is team need, as with Washington, New Orleans, Detroit, and Phoenix’s need for a franchise SF, he’d fit like a glove. Washington is the team to watch, as SF overwhelmingly is the spot they need to improve.

Fringe contenders

6. C Alex Len – Not playing in the tournament will hurt, but he makes the list on merits of being the highest ranked true C prospect. Cs have gotten so much love historically in the draft, that a team falling in love with filling that position, can’t be ruled out. Washington again is a possibility once guards are ruled out, while he’d also compliment New Orleans’ needs.

5. PF Anthony Bennett – Bennett may need a big tournament run by UNLV to get in the mix. I have a hunch he’s the type of player a team could be in love with – which is all it takes to go 1st. Charlotte is an excellent fit because of their offensive and frontcourt needs. He’s a big candidate for Washington with the liklihood they take a SF, PF or C, slimming down their choices. Sacramento may be interested in a blue chip PF after trading Thomas Robinson. If Toronto jumps to 1st, he’d also be a favorite with the financial incentive of having a Canadian star prospect.

4. PF Nerlens Noel – Hard for me to get behind Noel landing at 1st with his ACL injury. I figure the impatience and not seeing him in the workout stage, will cost him more than long term risk of his injury. Noel’s lack of offense may have costed him the 1st pick if not for his ACL anyways. Cleveland is the team to watch for Noel, as hoopsanalyst.com – the draft metrics site, who’s numbers ranked Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson 2nd in their draft years – has Noel as overwhelmingly the guy in this draft. Charlotte and Orlando are other teams with the patience to pick Noel. Noel playing beside Demarcus Cousins in Sacramento would be a great fit for him if they had the patience to take him. Toronto is so likely to draft a PF with the top pick, that he becomes a favorite.

The favorites

3. SG Ben McLemore – With McLemore the question is, will teams believe in him as a slasher enough to see him as having star upside? Or will his jumpshot orientated game, give him the label of good, but probably not great. But the biggest reason McLemore is 3rd, is I don’t see the workout stage going as well for him as the top 2 players. McLemore would be the favorite for teams that need a scorer, like Detroit, Minnesota, Phoenix. The best fit of all is likely Charlotte, who need a scorer/shooter beside Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kemba Walker. Sacramento has enough perimeter shot takers, but could have interest.

2. SG Victor Oladipo – I see teams believing Oladipo has star potential, because with his  elite slashing and elite two way instincts, he just needs a consistent shooting game to round it out. Needing shooting is a great spot for a prospect to be, as it’s usually assumed a player can develop strongly in that area. Especially considering Oladipo is over 44% from the 3pt line this year, even if nobody entirely believes in the validity of that number, it proves the base is there for a great shooting game in the pros. And with a great perimeter shooting game, Oladipo’s upside would be nearly unlimited. Oladipo is also likely to do great in the workout stage, which favors players with “110%” motors who try to kill the prospects they’re matched up with. He also could get huge publicity from the tournament. I look for Cleveland, Charlotte, Orlando, Phoenix, Detroit, Sacramento to have heavy interest in Oladipo’s upside and fit on a winning team. The biggest thing holding me from putting him 1st, is he’ll be a 21 year old Junior by the draft, compared to the top ranked player’s 19 year old freshman status. Freshman and sophmores get a huge edge in the draft process compared to juniors and seniors, all other things equal, most of the time.

1. PG Marcus Smart – Like Oladipo he’s likely to get labeled a star upside player, because with his explosiveness, size and IQ, he’s just lacking the outside shot to complete his game. That he’s young will play well for him, in regards to whether that shooting should be expected to added. Smart also will likely compete extremely hard in the workouts, helping him gain buzz as a player with the motor, work ethic and leadership to guarantee NBA success. A big tournament would help him, but he’s been productive enough this year to maintain his buzz without it. Smart will likely be seen as having one of the highest upsides and highest floors in the draft, with his age primarily giving him the edge over Oladipo. Orlando is the best fit for him, albeit New Orleans, Phoenix, Sacramento are also fits.

For fun, here’s my gun to my head predict for whom each of the lottery teams take, if given the top pick:

Charlotte Bobcats – SG Victor Oladipo
Orlando Magic – PG Marcus Smart
New Orleans Pelicans – PG Marcus Smart
Cleveland Cavaliers – PF Nerlens Noel
Detroit Pistons – PG Marcus Smart
Phoenix Suns – PG Marcus Smart
Sacramento Kings – PG Marcus Smart
Washington Wizards – PF Anthony Bennett
Minnesota Timberwolves – SG Ben McLemore
Toronto Raptors – PF Anthony Bennett
Philadelphia 76ers – SG Victor Oladipo
Portland Trailblazers – SG Victor Oladipo
Dallas Mavericks – PG Marcus Smart
Utah Jazz – PG Marcus Smart

Written by jr.

March 19, 2013 at 6:21 pm

2011 NBA Mock Draft, Version 1

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I’m going to be writing a handful of pieces about the 2011 draft over the next month. My short prognosis of it is its an Ichiro Suziki draft, not a Mark McGuire one: Don’t expect any home runs, but it should be a very nice draft to get a single or double. In other words, no superstars but lots of players fitting in the solid starter to solid bench player category.

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Written by jr.

May 22, 2011 at 5:41 pm