Julius Randle wasn’t the only one smiling after his workout for the Utah Jazz alleviated concerns about his right foot.
The Jazz, which picks fifth in Thursday night’s NBA draft, covet Randle, this year’s top power forward, for his low-post abilities. The Kentucky standout’s draft stock reportedly dropped amid concerns that a fracture in the foot he suffered in high school had not properly healed.
“There’s no issue with my foot,” Randle told the Salt Lake Tribune after Wednesday’s workout. “I’m good, ready to go to summer league, wherever I am.”
Randle leads a power forward draft class that has solid depth, and he looks like just the right fit for Utah. The Jazz is looking to replace center/power forward Al Jefferson, whom it allowed to enter free agency before last season rather than pay him the three-year, $41 million salary he received from Charlotte. Jazz vice president Walt Perrin said the team does not have any concerns about Randle’s foot.
Randle, who as a freshman led Kentucky to the NCAA tournament title game in April, draws similarities to the Memphis Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph — a low-post beast. Like Randolph, Randle is 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, left-handed and strong.
Unlike Randolph, he tends to drive — almost exclusively to his left — and spin in the lane rather than post-up. But he makes quick, strong moves in the post and finishes against contact.
“He does need to develop his right hand, and sometimes the length of 7-footers in the lane bothers him,” NBA scouting director Ryan Blake said. “But he’s 19, and he was strong in the lane.”
Consistent, too, averaging 15 points and 10.4 rebounds with 24 double-doubles, best in the nation.
He’s the best of a strong group at the position. Four power forwards — Randle, Indiana’s Noah Vonleh, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and Michigan State’s Adreian Payne — could be selected in the top dozen picks. And that doesn’t include Doug McDermott, the best shooter in the draft who at 6-8 is not considered a power forward, where he played at Creighton.
Vonleh, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season, is expected to go higher than Randle because of how Vonleh fits the position. Vonleh is not as strong in the low post, but he is 6-10 with long arms; he shot 48.5 percent from 3-point distance (52.3 percent overall); and he led the conference in rebounding at 9.0 per game to go with 1.4 blocks.
The Orlando Magic has shown interest in selecting him at No. 4, but he also made a good impression on the Philadelphia 76ers, who may pick him at No. 3. The Magic considers Vonleh as a needed complement to emerging center Nikola Vucevic, a good scorer in the lane and rebounder.
Vonleh can take double-team pressure off Vucevic while opening drives to the basket by guard Victor Oladipo, who was drafted No. 2 overall last season out of Indiana.
Gordon, at 6-9 the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year who helped Arizona to the Elite Eight, is considered the best athlete at the position but one who may swing between power forward and small forward.
“He’s freakish athletically, he’s a good defender and he’s improved his ball-handling to where it’s really good,” said Blake, who compared Gordon to the Dallas Mavericks’ Shawn Marion, although Marion is not as tall. “(Gordon) has an ugly jumper, but he can nail it.”
Payne, who’s 6-10 and 245 pounds, was a senior last season. He is considered to be the best stretch power forward in the draft, with McDermott projected as a small forward. Payne shot 42.4 percent on 3-pointers and took 104 last season, compared to Vonleh’s 33.
Other power forwards who could go in the first round are Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early, Clint Capela of Switzerland and Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes.
LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant III, 6-9 and 256 pounds, is rated the No. 10 or 11 prospect at the position and could go early in the second round. O’Bryant, an All-SEC first-team pick the past two seasons, averaged 15.4 points and 7.7 rebounds last season as a junior.
“He’s a big, strong kid, and he’ll mix it up in the paint,” Blake said. “He’s one of a lot of power forwards in this draft who will be available in the second round who can help teams if they go to the right one.”