Julius Randle does not care about his opponent's safety. He will put his head down and drive all 250 pounds of his body right through his defender's chin if said defender is foolish enough to stay in the way. He has incredible instincts on the offensive glass and a relentlessness to go get the ball. It's no accident that he grabbed over 13 percent of his teammates' missed shots.
He's a powerful and aggressive forward with decent size (6'9, 7' wingspan), but what makes him an interesting offensive prospect is his touch around the rim. He can contort his body mid-air to get his shot off, a rare skill for a player of his stature. Randle shot 70 percent at the rim, per Hoop-Math.
It might be harder to score like that in the NBA, though. He's too dependent on his left hand, and that makes him predictable. He's also still learning when to pick his spots to attack. There are times when Randle sees a double team, puts his head down and tries to cram his way through it. That tactic worked sometimes in college, but it won't in the NBA, where the size and strength gap between Randle and his defender closes. He'll need to develop a mid-range jumper, a skill we rarely saw at Kentucky, in order to keep defenses honest.
Many also question whether Randle will ever develop into an above-average defender. He averaged just one steal and 0.6 blocks per 40 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference, and low block and steal numbers are often indicators of a poor defender on the next level. Randle is quick enough on his feet to stay in front of NBA power forwards, but he doesn't have the arm length to become a rim protector.
Throughout our profile series, we've used Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough's method of scouting, as described to SB Nation's Paul Flannery. We take an in-depth look at three games: a prospect's best and worst performances, and another somewhere in the middle. That way, we can project his ceiling, understand his weaknesses and find a medium.
Best game: at Ole Miss, Feb. 18
Stat line: 25 points, 6-of-7 shooting, 13-of-14 from the free throw line, 13 rebounds, one block, one steal.
Randle is a much better athlete than people realize, and it showed in the first few minutes of this game. He raced down court, chasing down an Ole Miss fast break and swatted the ball at the rim. A few possessions later he caught an alley-oop in traffic. Watch how quickly he gets off the ground:
He's often compared to Zach Randolph because both are left-handed post players, but Randle is much lighter on his feet. He isn't a great rim protector, but he slides his feet really well, allowing him to stick with quicker players out to the perimeter. That skill allowed Kentucky coach John Calipari to implement a defensive system that relied heavily on switching ball screens.
In this game, Ole Miss mixed in a full-court press with a congested 2-3 zone. When Randle got out in space, he was unstoppable, scoring through whatever poor sucker Ole Miss put in the back of the press. When Kentucky slowed down into half-court offense, there wasn't much room to navigate because the Wildcats didn't have good perimeter shooters. Still, Randle pulled in four offensive boards, scoring or getting fouled on each.
Randle's hands are so strong and he's so aggressive that it's nearly impossible to beat him on the glass one-on-one. Is there any question who came away with this rebound?
Kentucky built a big lead, but Ole Miss stayed close because Marshall Henderson went all Marshall Henderson in the second half. Down the stretch, Randle put the Wildcats on his back, carrying them to the finish line. In the last six minutes, he went 10-of-10 at the stripe. Ole Miss cut the lead to six, then Randle bailed out a messy UK offense with this bucket through all five defenders:
There were other options to choose for Randle's best game. He had more than 20 points and 10 rebounds in seven contests and was excellent in the NCAA Tournament. But I like the way he attacked Ole Miss' zone and carried the Wildcats through the end.
Worst game: Florida, March 16
Stat line: Four points, 1-of-7 shooting, seven rebounds, two blocks, one steal, two turnovers.
Randle averaged 14.5 points and 11.5 boards on 61 percent shooting against Florida in the first two meetings, but the Gators were prepared for him in the SEC Tournament title game. Whenever he caught the ball, the defense shifted over to stop him from getting to the basket.
There's nowhere to go there. This happened all game, as Florida clearly wanted someone else to beat them.
It also mirrored the type of defense college teams played all season against Randle. He averaged 24.0 points and 14.3 rebounds through the first three games, then teams starting focusing all of their defensive attention on him. No one in college basketball faced more double and triple teams this year. Kentucky had few shooters to keep defenses honest, so it was easier to send more attention to Randle in the paint.
At the beginning of the year, Randle was a turnover machine, but that improved through the course of the season, once he began to learn how to deal with extra defenders. Through the first 17 games, he averaged 3.3 turnovers. But in the remaining 23, he turned the ball over just 1.9 times per game.
There were times in this game where Randle was out of control, forcing his way to the rim rather than taking what the defense gave him. Florida was one of the best college defenses last season; Randle wasn't going to beat the Gators by driving through three defenders.
Randle's only bucket against Florida was a mid-range jumper in the first half.
He caught the ball in the high post, turned and examined the floor. Patric Young, one of the few college basketball players strong enough to handle Randle, sat in a defensive stance and welcomed the free throw line jumper. Randle took and hit the shot. It's a simple play, but it shows how Randle matured over the season. Earlier in the season, he might have tried to force his way to the cup. Here he takes, and makes, the shot that's given to him.
Randle will still be a big, powerful dude in the NBA, but he won't have as much of a size advantage as he had in college. It's important that he learns how to take what the defense gives him rather than forcing bad plays in traffic.
Somewhere in the middle: Louisville, March 28
Stat line: 15 points, 5-of-11 shooting, 12 rebounds, one assist, one steal, four turnovers.
Louisville full-court pressed Kentucky's young guards all game and switched back and forth between a zone defense and man-to-man. But the Cardinals trapped Randle any time he got the ball in the post, much like Florida did in the SEC Tournament championship game.
Randle got a little antsy. He passed well out of double teams, but he attacked way too hard from the top of the key, despite all five Cardinals keying in on him. He was at his best on the offensive glass, where Louisville and its NBA-sized front court still couldn't contain him. Randle has such good instincts for rebounding that he seemingly grabs the ball the moment you notice it's a miss. If there's a crowd going for the ball, he almost always comes away with it.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Randle's front-court partner, got injured midway through the first half, leaving Randle to handle most of the rim protection. It didn't go so well.
Randle is an underrated one-on-one defender, where he uses his body strength to muscle opponents away from the rim, but he isn't a shot blocker. Louisville destroyed Kentucky in the paint without Cauley-Stein. Dakari Johnson, Cauley-Stein's replacement, works hard, but he isn't going to close off the rim. In the NBA, Randle will need a shot blocker alongside him in the front court.
Randle heavily favors his left hand. When he drives right, he'll come back left 99 percent of the time. If he doesn't, he'll try to finish with his left hand on the right side. But he gets away with it because of his unusually stable body control. He can contort his body, use his size advantage, and still get off a controlled shot with his left hand.
That's a shot over two NBA-sized defenders in Montrezl Harrell (6'7, 7'3 wingspan) and Mangok Mathiang (6'10). And again:
Randle just knows how to create space. He'll jam his butt against a defender and push off for those extra few inches to get an efficient shot.
But Randle's best play came in the game's waning moments. With under a minute left and the Wildcats down two, he drove from the top of the key, spun back to his patented left hand and kicked it out to an open Aaron Harrison in the corner.
Watch that play. Then, watch it again. Randle could have forced up a shot through traffic, but instead, he fired a laser right into Harrison's shooting pocket for the eventual game-winning jumper. Randle made a lot of great plays in his NCAA Tournament run, but that one tops them all.
Randle is a forward with a rare combination of power and finesse. He can plow through defenders or spin around them. He shot 9.4 free throws per 40 minutes and sank 71 percent of those attempts. He can grab a rebound and bring the ball up court or sit in the post and work his defender from the block.
He has his shortcomings, of course. Randle will never be an above-average shot blocker, his shot selection still needs some work and he needs to improve his overall perimeter game. But the tools are there. He can come into the NBA and be a productive offensive player from Day 1.