2015 NBA Draft profile: Willie Cauley-Stein
There were only four centers in the NBA this past season who averaged more than two blocked shots a game. None of those four were drafted any higher than 14th overall.
But Willie Cauley-Stein, who blocked 233 shots in 105 games as a rare Kentucky player to stay for three years under John Calipari, seems like a cinch to change that in a few weeks.
At 7-foot-1 and 242 pounds, Cauley-Stein fits the mold of what centers used to be but, save for such exceptions as DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers, seldom are anymore. While there may not be a better defender in the draft, questions remain about the offensive skills of someone who averaged just over six field-goal attempts a game as a junior for the Wildcats — with most of those being putbacks and dunks.
In a pre-draft workout last week in Los Angeles, Cauley-Stein was said to have shown an ability to hit jump shots from a variety of spots on the floor, including from 3-point range. He is unlikely to blossom in the pros to the degree of Anthony Davis, who averaged a modest 14.2 points in his one year at Kentucky before averaging more than 24 points last season for the New Orleans Pelicans. But if he can come close to reaching his potential on offense, the team which selects him should end up with a keeper.
"The guy is an amazing athlete," said one of the few analysts invited to his workout. "Just the way he covers ground. I mean, I don’t know if there’s a guy in the NBA who can do that."
His size, mobility and active hands set Cauley-Stein apart last season on a team which won its first 38 games and featured the likely top overall pick in Karl-Anthony Towns. His speed is comparable to that of players a foot shorter than him. He led Kentucky in steals and is good at avoiding foul trouble, although part of that could be because he averaged less than 26 minutes a game.
There are already signs of his improvement on offense. After being a horrible free-throw shooter as a freshman and a sophomore, Cauley-Stein hit 61.7 percent of his attempts last season. If he can develop a consistent low post game, he’ll shake the perception of him being a one-dimensional player.
The intensity with which Cauley-Stein played has had a tendency to waver. He had only two points and five rebounds in 33 minutes as Kentucky’s dream of becoming the first undefeated national champion since 1976 came crashing down against Wisconsin. Being part of a 10-man platoon rotation makes him something of an unknown quantity as an offensive option.
Perhaps the biggest concern has centered on how much Cauley-Stein actually cares about basketball. His interest in art doesn’t quite fit the profile of a typical top five pick, and he spent part of his time at last month’s combine needing to assure teams that he is serious about the game.
Jordan has averaged a double-double each of the past two years for the Clippers after averaging no more than 8.8 points a game in any of his first five seasons. He played only one year in college and didn’t get drafted until the second round in 2008. A more accurate comparison might be made to Tyson Chandler, who has lasted 14 seasons with a rather limited offensive game but won a championship ring with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and was named Defensive Player of the Year the following season.
There have been reports that the Boston Celtics, who aren’t scheduled to pick until the 16th selection, will look to move up in the first round in the hopes of landing Cauley-Stein. The Celtics made the playoffs despite finishing last among all 30 teams in blocked shots per game (3.6).