One of the most legitimate reasons fans were so disappointed when Boston fell to sixth in the NBA Draft Lottery is the available talent. Had the Celtics gotten a top-4 pick, they likely would have been able to fill a position of need simply by drafting Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum or Jabari Parker. Instead, the best players likely to be available are fours who probably won’t be able to play center — Noah Vonleh, Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle.
Randle is an interesting prospect for Boston. Many aspects of his game appear to be similar to a player the Celtics already have in place — Jared Sullinger. After all, both had back-to-the-basket games and great advanced metrics in college, both are very strong but perhaps a little undersized, both are clearly power forwards who can’t defend the rim. So why would Boston take Randle with its sixth pick?
Before we continue, let’s run through some comparisons between the two.
As you can see, the numbers are strikingly similar, with Sully’s advanced college stats checking out a little higher than Randle’s. Randle may well end up being the better defender since his speed will give him options as the big defender in the PnR and his strength will cause problems for smaller players, but the difference probably isn’t significant enough to make a final decision over.
The biggest difference between the two is in Sullinger’s jumpshot. This season, Sully was an abysmal 27 percent from behind the arc on 2.8 attempts per game (3.7 per 36 minutes), but he can shoot from mid-range (45.6 percent on long two-pointers), which makes him a pick-and-pop threat.
But Randle has Sully beat in several aspects. First, he’s a much better ball-handler and passer. Both players finished with nearly identical turnover rates, but Randle can take his man off the dribble as well as score off the bounce in transition. He’s very left-hand dominant, but his combination of strength and athleticism serves his back-to-the-basket game well, and the speed will likely allow it translate to the NBA a little better than Sullinger’s. Randle doesn’t have Sully’s range (yet), but he very well might not need it initially.
Drafting Randle would make certainly Sully superfluous, however, so Boston would likely have to make a decision between the two. Part of that decision would be based on each player’s talent, obviously, but part also would be based on the package the Celtics could get in return. If Boston could get a very good player in return for Randle, the Cs might draft and deal him, even if they think he will eventually be the better player. But they’ll have to weigh the options carefully — Sullinger plus (Player X acquired in the Randle deal) vs. Randle and (Player X acquired in a deal for Sullinger). The better combination would be constantly in flux during trade negotiations, depending on the value of Player X, and it would be an extremely tricky situation, either way.
The good news: Boston would be keeping at least one big, bruising player (Tyler Lashbrook, in his excellent breakdown of Randle’s game over on SB Nation, correctly called Kentucky’s ex-power forward a “hoss”) capable of scoring and rebounding on both ends of the floor, and either way the Celtics would have a chance to get value back in return. If you believe (as I do) that players like Sullinger and Randle have a lot of value in today’s NBA, seeing the Celtics pick Randle and test the trade waters for both wouldn’t be bad draft night result at all.
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