Julius Randle isn't 20 yet but he is a physical presence that could provide immediate scoring and rebounding for the Magic.
Bob Donnan/Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
The condition of Joel Embiid’s back may not be much of a concern to the Orlando Magic, given that all indications are the center from Kansas will be gone before they pick fourth next week in the first round of the NBA draft.
The condition of Julius Randle’s right foot could be an entirely different matter.
Randle, the forward who helped Kentucky reach the NCAA championship game this spring, broke the foot during his senior year of high school and needed to have a pin inserted in it. A report last week said several team executives expressed concern that the foot hasn’t healed correctly and would require surgery following the draft, but Randle told reporters after a workout that he was ”pain-free. No pain before, during or after. I’m fine.”
He said much the same thing Tuesday after working out for the Los Angeles Lakers. Still, if any organization should be wary of the potential foot problems of a gifted athlete, it’s one that struggled for close to a decade after signing Grant Hill to a lucrative contract.
But with the Magic needing a power forward that can both score and rebound on a consistent basis, it’s hard not to think long and hard about Randle, who averaged 15 points and 10.4 rebounds while playing all 40 games for Kentucky as a freshman.
He may not be the equivalent of Anthony Davis, who was the No. 1 pick in 2012 after helping the Wildcats win a national championship on a team that included current Magic reserve guard Doron Lamb, but for a program that has had more than its share of one-and-done players under John Calipari, Randle might be the most NBA-ready of the bunch.
Randle’s upper-body strength is impressive for someone who won’t turn 20 until late November. While that allows him to finish strong at the rim, he has also displayed the ability to hit mid-range jumpers and is effective in pick-and-roll situations. And he made 70 percent of his free throws, a statistic that is bound to improve even more with repeated practice.
Above all, Randle is an accomplished rebounder. He ranked fourth in the nation in offensive rebounds and second in defensive rebounds.
Just because Randle was able to muscle — some might even use the term ”bully” — his way to rebounds in college doesn’t mean he’ll get away with that as a rookie, especially since he lacks ideal length. But the biggest concerns raised could be that he lacks a perimeter game and is not very good with his right hand. Teams are bound to dare Randle to go to his right until he can demonstrate some degree of ambidexterity.
While Kentucky has clearly been a dominant program of late, that success hasn’t carried over to the NBA. Davis has never made the playoffs in New Orleans, and John Wall didn’t reach them with Washington until this past season. How would Randle react to playing on a 50-loss or 60-loss team?
The Magic were in the bottom third of the NBA in field-goal percentage last season, and Tobias Harris — who played the bulk of the minutes at power forward — averaged barely more than one offensive rebound a game. Adding Randle should allow Kyle O’Quinn to go back to backing up Nikola Vucevic at center while giving Vucevic a muscular sidekick. And while he’s around the same age as Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, Randle might be more physically ready than any of those three to contribute when next season opens.
WHY THE MAGIC SHOULD AVOID HIM
Although general manager Rob Hennigan wasn’t around when Hill played his last game for the Magic in 2007, that doesn’t mean the recent concerns about Randle’s foot won’t make him pause. Plus, it’s not clear if he has much of an upside. What the Magic see of him is likely to be what they’ll get.
Randle’s 24 double-doubles were the most by a freshman in Kentucky history, breaking the mark shared by Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, and one shy of the single-season school record held by Dan Issel.