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Kentucky Basketball: Defending Julius Randle's Upside From Jonathan Tjarks

Jonathan Tjarks has an article over at the mothership suggesting Julius Randle's wingspan is a "big problem."

Andy Lyons

Comes now Jonathan Tjarks to try to throw cold water on the idea of Julius Randle being a top 5 pick. Unlike many such attempts to cast doubt upon players, Tjarks attacks Randle's measurables, namely the length of his arms:

Randle is built like a Tyrannosaurus Rex: all torso and no arms. He has a 6'11 wingspan, per Draft Express, which is enormous in most contexts, but not the super-sized world of the NBA paint. When matched up against the best power forwards in the world, he's going to have a significant length disadvantage, a problem that could impact his game on both sides of the ball.

Let's dispose of the hyperbole, which, while it serves Tjark's purpose to demonstrate his point, is really over the top — seriously, dude, Tyrannosaurus Rex?

Julius, is that you? (via spencer77)

Randle's wingspan is actually right in line with the human norm, which is very slightly over a 1/1 ratio. Randle is listed to be 6'9" (in shoes) (81") tall with a wingspan of 6'11 inches (83"). That's what we would call a "normal" wingspan, but Tjarks correctly points out that most big men in the NBA have a slightly abnormal larger wingspan at the same height. He also rightly points out that is an advantage in professional basketball.

In basketball, wingspan is very useful for a lot of reasons, but the primary factor Tjarks discusses in his piece is ability to guard the rim. He uses the recent dunk by Russ Smith against Randle as an example. Randle really wasn't in great position to block that shot, and Smith came with his right hand, avoiding Randle's lefty block from the weak side, which is the wrong hand to use to block it, anyway. I think that one example is really a pretty poor one, but it is fair to say that it's a data point, if nothing else. Regardless of its true utility as an example of Randle's alleged deficiency, it is certainly an eye-catching illustration.

Assuming Randle's unshod height is around 6' 8", which would remove the 0.8-1.1 inch boost of his shoes, the average NBA player's wingspan at that height is 7' 0.8" (let's just round it to 7' 1", shall we?) so at 6' 11" he's giving up about 2 inches in wingspan. But more important to shot blocking, which seems to be Tjarks' main point, is standing reach. Randle's is 8' 9.5", and if we remove the shoes, 8' 8.5".  The NBA average for his size is just shy of 8' 10.5" So he's giving a way almost two inches there, on average.

My big question is, is two inches in standing reach a reason to think twice about a player as skilled as Randle? Tjarks notes that Randle is very left-handed, and that is absolutely a legitimate concern that he needs to address. It is also legitimate to note that Randle's defensive statistics are anything but stellar, and you could forgive an NBA GM for considering those two things of genuine significance. But a two inch wingspan and standing reach liability seems like a comparatively minor concern.

The thing is, Randle is likely going to wind up having to play more of a hybrid 4/3 role in the NBA, and he has both the speed and quickness for it. His ballhandling isn't the best yet, but it is getting better and will surely improve even more. In fact, it looked very much improved in the first half when he scored 17 points on Louisville, probably 12 of them from slashes to the basket rather than actual post moves. What Tjarks has done, I think, is pigeonhole Randle as a post player at the next level, and I don't really think that's what he'll be.  Apparently, neither does John Calipari, who compared his preferred development path to that of Patrick Patterson. No matter what you think about Randle, he has a much better face-up game than Patterson did at this point in his career, although to be fair to Tjarks, Patterson also wasn't a top 5 draft pick.

It seems unlikely to me that Randle will be cast in the role of rim protector by anybody, and his outstanding feet and remarkable quickness for his size more than make up for any minor reach deficiency when it comes to defending his position. Tjarks classifies this shortcoming as a "big problem" with his NBA upside, but I'll respectfully decline to buy that argument. We really won't know fully until June gets here where Randle is going to go, but my feeling is that NBA GM's will be more sympathetic to my argument than that of Tjarks in this case.