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What is it about Brandon Randolph?

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The sophomore guard seems to have a knack for drawing strong opinions; here we look at guards who have had similar freshman seasons and where their careers took them.

"WHERE IS MY CAREER TAKING ME?!"
"WHERE IS MY CAREER TAKING ME?!"
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Randolph, 2014 - 2.6/1.3/1.3 on .354/.192/.636 shooting; ORtg 88.4, assist rate 17.1%, TO rate 20.7%; 13.3 minutes per game
Not, at a glance, the kind of stat line that gets people excited to share what's on their minds.

But every time we write about Brandon Randolph - and sometimes when we write about not Brandon Randolph - we get a lot of interaction in the comments. There is a group that is fond of pointing out that some factors (Coach Mack's light use of Randolph late last year, Coach Mack's addition of four new guards to the roster, the fact that Coach Mack decides who plays and when) don't project favorably for Randolph going forward. Another group notes that Randolph is a talented player and a hard worker and that nobody should be writing him off just yet. The first group responds, and around and around we go.

This all leads me to wonder if it's reasonable to hope that a player similar to Randolph will one day be getting the meaningful minutes. Thanks to the similarity scores on KenPom.com, we can at least make a reasonably educated guess at it. You can get a lot more detail on the similarity scores here, but the basic idea is that it takes players on teams of similar quality and in the same academic year, compares their weighted stat lines, and then uses a number between 0 and 1000 to represent how similar they are. Anything over 850 is a meaningful match, and anything over 900 is remarkably close.

KenPom lists five players whose stat lines as freshmen gave them an 895 or higher similarity to Randolph's 2014 line. Of those five, 2012 John Isaac and 2012 Brandon Herman immediately fall out of this comparison. Both of those players played one year at the D1 level before transferring to a JuCo. We'll consider that the least favorable outcome for a player like Randolph; congratulations, we've already avoided that.

The next step up from that is 2012 CJ Cooper of UTEP. Cooper's stats got an 895 similarity score with Randolph, but he's not a great comp for reasons we'll discuss below. Cooper's sophomore campaign witnesses him post a game line of 5.1/0.8/1.0 on .405/.385/.743 shooting. His ORtg jumped from 89.5 to 104.4, but his assist rate dropped and his TO% stayed level and unimpressive. Cooper's minutes took a modest bump, from 15.1 per game to 15.8.

The problem with this comparison is that Cooper was 17-59 from deep as a freshman and 35-91 as a sophomore. Randolph, as you may recall, was 5-26 from beyond the arc and is by no means touted as a great outside shooter. He is also an inch taller and 35 pounds heavier than Cooper at the same age. Unless you think Randolph is suddenly going to start lifting from deep, I think the statistical similarities between he and Cooper are superficial at best.

The next player is 2012 Jordan Gathers of St. Bonaventure, also an 895. He put up 1.7/1.2/1.2 on .339/.161/.500 shooting as a freshman and 3.5/1.8/1.8 on .424/.375/.783 as a sophomore. His ORtg rose 13 points to 107.3 and he clocked a semi-impressive 22.4% assist rate. With the increased production came increased minutes, up from 11.7 to 15.5 per game.

Gathers is probably a little better comp for what I expect out of Randolph. His 3P% was impressive, but it came on just 12-32 shooting; I can see Randolph hitting 12 threes this season and posting a reasonable percentage if he picks his spots. Gathers was slightly turnover prone, a decent defender, and - at 6'3", 200 - similar in build to Randolph. The Bonnies didn't need him to carry the load, but he was a more than serviceable bench option.

Finally, also with an 895 similarity score, there is 2009 Jordan Taylor of Wisconsin. Taylor shot an identical 5-26 from deep and posted an even more miserable .260/.192/.588 shooting line on his way to 1.6/0.9/1.2 per game. He played 13.2 MPG to Randolph's 13.3. He was slightly turnover prone (like Randolph), a miserable shot, and generally inconsistent in his output.

You likely remember what happened next: Taylor posted 10/3.2/3.6 on .395/.327/.718 shooting as a sophomore before being maybe the best player in the nation as a junior. His ORtg jumped to 110.1 from 80.9. He posted an impressive 25.8% assist rate coupled with an eye-popping 11.8% TO rate. His minutes per game jumped to 29.5 and he was an incredible valuable offensive force despite a modest shooting line because of his ability to pick his spots and make things happen for his teammates. If transferring to a JuCo was the least favorable outcome, Jordan Taylor is the most favorable.

So what does that tell us? I don't know. Of the five players from the KenPom era who posted the most similar lines, two were just in over their heads at the D1 level. CJ Cooper profiles as a much better shooter than Randolph is, so he probably doesn't tell us much. After the sophomore year detailed above, Jordan Gathers put up 8.2/2.2/2.1 for the Bonnies last year, a line I think we'd all take from Randolph going forward. And the last one turned into an All-American before his career was over.

I think Randolph has it in him to follow a similar arc to a successful career in college. If he wants that chance, though, he's going to have to fight tooth and nail against a crowded depth chart this season to prove he deserves it.