The eighth player in Denver Stiffs draft coverage, is a former wide receiver and probably the best defensive player in this class. The SEC's Defensive Player of the Year, Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein.
Who is Willie Cauley-Stein?
Cauley-Stein is 21 years old, born on August 18th in Spearville, Kansas. A town with an estimate population of 802 people (information from 2012). Before attending Kentucky to play basketball, Cauley-Stein was a standout high school wide receiver in football. His senior year in high school, he was ranked the no. 1 wideout in Kansas and recorded 64 catches, 1,265 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Cauley-Stein turned down offers from Alabama, Florida and Kansas St. to play for the Wildcats and coach John Calipari at Kentucky. He was named a Consensus first team All-American, first team All-SEC member and All-SEC Defensive team member this past season for Big Blue. Cauley-Stein also was named the NABC Defensive Player of the Year for 2015, becoming only the second player from Kentucky to win the honor alongside Anthony Davis.
In the following interview you can get to know Cauley-Stein a little bit, he talks about his love of sneakers.
Take a look at Cauley-Steins' stats from Kentucky:
1.) Elite Defender with Defensive Versatility: There is no question that Cauley-Stein is the best defender in this draft and probably one of the best defensive talents, to come out of the collegiate ranks. Last season Cauley-Stein ranked second in defensive rating (80.0) and first in defensive win shares (3.4) in all of college basketball. He can do just about everything on the defensive end of the floor, and is able to guard all five positions. Cauley-Stein has great quickness for a seven footer, he has extremely quick feet and hands (showing the ability to stay in front of smaller players, even guards). He also is a great rim protector with good length (7'3" wingspan), and does a great job of altering shots at the rim and shows very good timing as a shot blocker.
What makes Cauley-Stein such a rarity defensively though is his ability to switch onto guards. The Kentucky big can guard all over the floor (from the top of the key to the low block), covers a ton of space, quickly. He's an elite pick and roll defender, showing phenomenal hedging ability with the ability to also get back to his man. Cauley-Stein also has phenomenal recovery speed, so even he when gets beat off the dribble he shows the quickness to recover and still contest (not to mention his wingspan helps him when he gets beat going towards the rim). Lastly his defensive awareness is elite, he is a tremendous team defender and great at rotating over to give consistent help. Bottom line, I think Cauley-Stein is probably better than most of the defenders in the NBA today and could win multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards.
2.) Athleticism: Cauley-Stein has phenomenal physical ability, with a rare combination of elite size and speed. At 7'0", 240 lbs. and sporting a 7'3" wingspan, he possesses prototypical size for a NBA center. His length allows him to be a effective rebounder, primarily on the offensive glass. A former standout high school wide receiver in Kansas, he has rare quickness and movement skills for a center. Cauley-Stein can absolutely fly in the open floor, looking like a gazelle and has phenomenal leaping ability. He can finish above the rim, through contact or length and finishes with authority. I'm not sure there was a player in college basketball last season that had more poster dunks than Willie.
3). Offensive Upside: For as a good of a defender he is, Cauley-Stein definitely has a lot to improve on the offensive side. However, he made strides this season, with his overall offensive ability and showed potential. Cauley-Stein has a improved 12-15 foot jumper he showcased this season and also has very solid shooting mechanics (he stays square and has a high release). He also showed improvement as a free throw shooter, as well as some new post moves to utilize on the low block. Cauley-Stein is a extremely underrated passer, he has very solid court vision and accuracy as a passer. No question the seven footer is raw offensively, but the upside is there for him to be a very productive player on that end eventually.
1). Offensive Awareness and Feel: Cauley-Stein is a project on the offensive end, described by many as raw. While he's shown some improvement, his offensive awareness and IQ need to improve. Sometimes he can get lost on the offensive end, watching, and getting in the way at times - not knowing what to do or where he should be. He doesn't really have a great feel for the game offensively like he does on defense, and has limited sense of floor spacing, thus far. His low post scoring can also be tough to watch, his touch isn't very good on his hook shots and he needs to continue to develop a better arsenal of go-to moves on the low block.
2). Rebounding Consistency: Cauley-Stein is an above average rebounder and doesn't really need to improve his skill, as much as he needs to improve his consistency on the glass. He does a good job of fighting for boards on the offensive glass, but that effort can waver at times on the defensive end. He can be inconsistent with his box outs, watching the shot go up instead of putting a body on his man. You'll see this poor rebounding trait (failing to box out) among athletes that are used to getting boards based on almost pure athleticism. He must pay attention to details, like boxing out, because there are too many great rebounders in the NBA. Becoming a more reliable defensive rebounder, only will add to his already incredible defensive repertoire.
3) Strength: Over his three seasons at Kentucky, Cauley-Stein definitely grew into his body more, but could add a few more pounds to his frame. At 240 pounds, I'm not as concerned with Cauley-Stein's strength as most are, but an extra 10-15 pounds wouldn't hurt either. Sometimes Cauley-Stein can get outmuscled for boards, but it's not a commonality. Once in a NBA strength and conditioning program, I expect Cauley-Stein to add a little muscle mass.
Most people immediately point to Dallas Mavericks center Tyson Chandler, when finding a comparison for Cauley-Stein, but I think Willie is twice the athlete that Chandler is. Tyson doesn't possess the defensive versatility or overall quickness that Cauley-Stein does. Think of a more athletic version of Joakim Noah. Like Noah, Cauley-Stein thrives on the defensive end, but because of his quickness he can be an even better defender than Noah.
Noah has improved his shooting skills while in the league, and became a good passing big. Cauley-Stein can have the same type of development. As noted earlier, Cauley-Stein is a underrated passer with good vision, and given time to improve his decision making - can become a playmaking center for an NBA team. If he doesn't improve much from where he is now, Cauley-Stein will still provide a team with a defensive anchor for the next decade.
How can the Nuggets get Cauley-Stein?
Most Stiffs readers have mixed feelings about Cauley-Stein, which I can understand. There is no question adding Cauley-Stein creates a log jam at center for the Nuggets and could create some serious spacing issues offensively. However, what's troubling to me is I've seen some fans say they don't want Cauley-Stein, cause he changed his middle name to "Trill" earlier this month. I think if you don't want your team to draft Cauley-Stein for this reason, that is a very foolish and shortsighted mindset to have on the SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
Cauley-Stein is such a unique, remarkable defensive talent, that I have him currently ranked as the sixth best prospect in this class. He should go anywhere from 6-10 and will be a prospect, I'm sure the Nuggets consider at no. 7 come June 25th. He would immediately improve Denver's poor perimeter defense and give the Nuggets a phenomenal rim protector. Adding a unique defensive talent like Cauley-Stein, could be a smart move for Denver and help solidify their defense for years to come.
The seven footer would be a fan favorite in the Mile High City, also fitting in perfectly to an up-tempo offense. I definitely share some of the concerns with drafting Cauley-Stein, his unpolished game on the offensive end is a concern. Figuring out how to play Cauley-Stein and Jusuf Nurkic together would be a difficult task, to say the least. This could create some major spacing issues for the Nuggets, however I think Cauley-Stein's improved shooting and passing skills could alleviate some of those concerns.
Ultimately I'm not sure the Nuggets will draft Willie Cauley-Stein with the 7th overall pick come draft night, but he is a guy that should be on their short list. There is a good chance he'll be available when Denver picks (again, looking like he's in the 6-10 range) and I would be more than happy to add the former Kentucky Wildcat. Regardless, whoever drafts Cauley-Stein is getting one heck of a player and possibly the best defensive talent this league has seen in years.