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Five Graphs: Julius Randle

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A signing that should not be considered underrated

New Orleans Pelicans v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

“Five Graphs” is back and better than ever! Well, maybe not ever, but it is certainly back. If you are not familiar with the concept of this Posting and Toasting exclusive series, you should take a moment to read the first article about Jarrett Culver and R.J. Barrett. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. Take your time. It’s not like this article won’t be on the Internet forever.

For those who actually are familiar with the series and read my work on a regular basis, let’s talk about Julius Randle. The five-year pro put up career-highs in points per game, 3-point shooting, PER, and some other notable stats (more on that in a bit). Randle will be 25 years old during the early part of the season and signed a three-year, $63 million contract with a third-year team option. Some may consider this a per-year salary overpay, but that’s how short-term, team-controlled contracts work.

The Knicks have been mocked by a number of cornballs and losers members of the media and blog bois for not backing up the Brinks truck to a 31-year-old 7-footer coming off the worst possible injury in basketball, who prefers the nickname “The Servent” over “The Slim Reaper,” and willingly followed a coffee-shop philosopher with injury concerns to the New Jersey Nets, who have a cult following that’s ready and willing to murder Sharon Tate again. Outside of the Bobby Portis signing (more on him in a later article), every signing the Knicks made was shrewd, smart, and fits exactly with what the franchise wants out of its players (offensively, because they Knicks don’t actually care about defense), especially the Randle one.

Let’s dive into some key statistics about Randle.

Free throws

One of the critiques thrown at David Fizdale and the Knicks last year was that the team did not have an offensive identity. And to an extent, that is kind of true... maybe? If you’re of the belief that offensive identity is intrinsically tied to passing, off-ball movement, and 3-point shooting, then yes, that criticism is valid; however, that’s not the only way offensive identity is defined. The Knickerbockers’ identity was and will continue to be getting to the line and attacking the rim.

While 3-pointers get all the love for their efficiency, they still rank third in the hierarchy of “the most efficient shot in basketball” behind shots at the rim and — wait for it — free throws. The efficiency of free throws are why the Rockets and James Harden get so in their feelings about how there is a grand conspiracy by the NBA to not give them foul calls. It’s why Harden chases after three-point shooting fouls. His free throw percentage this past year was 87.9 percent, which translates to a 1.758 points per shot on two-point shooting fouls and 2.637 points per shot on three-point shooting fouls! Talk about efficiency.

Harden is seventh in the league in free throw rate (0.449) amongst players who have a 20 percent usage rate. Guess who’s right behind him with a 0.447 free throw rate? That’s right, Julius Randle!

Randle averaged 6.7 free throw attempts per game and shot 73.1 percent from the line. That comes out to 1.462 points per shot on two-point shooting fouls, which is higher than last year’s league average points per shot on 3-point attempts (1.065) and points per shot on shots within three feet (1.316).

Getting to the line is Randle’s bread and butter and fits with exactly with what the Knicks are striving to do.

Passing

One of the more underrated aspects of Randle’s game is his passing. Over the past three seasons, he has had assist percentages of 19.5, 15.8, and 15.5 percent, respectively. According to Cleaning the Glass, he ranked in the 92nd, 90th, and 86th percentiles in assist percentage amongst “bigs.”

In terms of scoring efficiently on a points-per-shot-attempt basis and generating assists, Randle is just outside some of those elite pockets, but still an absolute plus in both categories. This is a type of player the Knicks haven’t had in... honestly, I can’t remember. If you want to count Carmelo, I guess, but Melo never played as a big forward like Randle does.

Anywell, having a guy who can play either big man spot who is a plus passer, scores efficiently, and gets to line at an excellent rate should do wonders for this Knicks offense.

Key on/off numbers

Alright, now that I roped you in by hyping up Julius Randle on offense, this is where things get a bit dicey. Let’s look at his career on/off numbers from Cleaning the Glass.

I removed his actual first year, because he broke his leg 13 minutes into his first career game. A few notable observations from these figures:

  1. There is a slight drop in points per possession differential from 2017–18 to 2018–19 and a notable drop in effective field goal percentage differential, but still plus values.
  2. Slight improvement upon free throw rate differentials and a significant improvement upon offensive rebounding rate.
  3. Despite his teams still having better defensive points per possession while on the bench, Randle’s on/off differentials in that statistic improve every year.
  4. The Pelicans’ defense when Randle on the floor was not worse in opponent effective field goal percentage and generating turnovers. Probably doesn’t have to do Randle directly, but still were technical pluses nonetheless.
  5. The defensive rebounding rate fluctuation is weird.

Playing with Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday certainly helped some of these on/off splits, but Randle still had a plus-2.2 on/off differential and an expected win value of plus-6 for the Pelicans, per Cleaning the Glass. This was the first time he posted positive figures in those metrics in his career. Hopefully these figures get better.

Adjusted plus-minuses

This wouldn’t be a true Drew article if I didn’t bring up some adjusted plus-minus metric into the discussion. Let’s look at Randle’s offensive and defensive RAPM and RPM as well as his box plus-minus (BPM) since the 2015–16 season.

Randle’s defensive RAPM and RPM dropping notably this past season after improving is definitely concerning. Despite the drop in defense, Randle still manages to be a plus player according to RPM, but just by a thread. BPM also has him as a plus player as well, which does add a bit of comfort, maybe? Not entirely sure, to be honest.

The silver lining with these results is that there is notable growth from his first season through his fourth despite the defensive drop. Will a new team that doesn’t have a “superstar” quitting in the middle of the season, and more or less being the focal point of a team motivate Randle to get back into his upward trajectory in these adjusted plus-minus stats? Similar to the last section, let’s hope so.

Play type data

Last, but certainly not least, is the Synergy play type data. After going missing on NBA Stats for quite some time, the data appeared back on the website. And as a treat for everyone, I made an interactive dashboard of Julius Randle’s career offensive and defensive play type numbers.

Take some time to explore the numbers because there is a lot of information here. One little tidbit I would like to add is that despite being in the 44th percentile in transition offense last season, Randle ranks third in transition shooting foul rate behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James, per NBA Stats. On this Knicks team, he’s only going to get more transition opportunities as Fizdale prefers players to push the ball once they grab the defensive rebound.

Another interesting tidbit from Randle’s 2018–19 season data is that he averaged 1.02 points per possession on spot-up attempts, which ranked in the 60th percentile. This may very well be an outlier given Randle’s historical averages on spot-ups, but if this becomes more of a norm, this should in theory begin to open the floor up more for guys like Dennis Smith, RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, etc. to get into the lane. I personally wouldn’t put too much stock in Randle’s spot up numbers to either stay the same or improve, but I’m not gonna kill ya if you want to be optimistic.