NBA

Charles Oakley says Julius Randle is ‘a better version of Zion Williamson’

The New York Knicks did everything in their power to land Zion Williamson in 2019. They had the NBA‘s worst record and even cleared their starting power forward slot by trading Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks. But the ping pong balls didn’t bounce their way, and the lottery gods awarded Williamson to the New Orleans Pelicans

Charles Oakley doesn’t think of it as a particularly damaging loss. In his eyes, the Knicks signed the superior power forward a month later when they inked Julius Randle to a three-year deal. During an appearance on SiriusXM NBA Radio (h/t Marc Berman of The New York Post), Oakley celebrated the fact that New York finally “got a superstar” by declaring that Randle is the better and more versatile player.

“I think (Randle’s) a better version of Zion Williamson to me,” Oakley said Monday. “Because he can do more. Zion is just hype in the league. But in the playoffs, he’ll be just like the Greek Freak. They’ll have the wall for you. First of all, Zion Williamson got to get the playoffs.”

To an extent, Oakley has a point. Defenses have flummoxed two-time defending MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in the playoffs by building a wall in front of the rim and trying to force him to shoot. Williamson has made only 15 shots outside of the paint all season. Randle has made 266. He has made 42 percent of his mid-range shots and 41.6 percent of his 3-point attempts. By that measure alone, Randle is the more versatile offensive threat. 

But it hardly matters because Williamson is so absurdly good near the basket that he still beats Randle in most measures of overall offensive production. Zion averages more points in fewer minutes with a higher field goal percentage, effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage than Randle. Most catch-all offensive metrics rank Williamson significantly higher than Randle. Williamson, for instance, has posted 6.9 offensive win shares to Randle’s 3.3, while Williamson’s offensive box plus-minus of 5.9 comfortably beats Randle’s 3.1. Aside from the versatility that Randle’s shooting provides, there is little evidence suggesting that he’s better than Williamson, and even if he is, it should be noted that the comparison is unfair on the basis of age. Randle is in his seventh NBA season. He’s had far more time to develop his skill set than Williamson, who has played only 79 NBA games. 

But when the Knicks missed out on Williamson, and later Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, their future appeared bleak. The emergence of Randle and Williamson’s college teammate RJ Barrett has changed that. The Knicks may not have a singularly gifted talent like Williamson, but a nine-game winning streak has carried their record to 34-27, fourth-best in the Eastern Conference. Even if Randle isn’t quite Williamson, he’s the best pure power forward the Knicks have had since Oakley, and if Oakley’s success in New York is any indication, the Knicks are going to be perfectly happy with Randle rather than Williamson moving forward.



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