Willie Cauley-Stein – An elite defender?

Will Cauley-Stein will make an immediate impact on the defensive end. (Photo credit to gannett.cdn.com)
Willie Cauley-Stein will make an immediate impact on the defensive end. (Photo credit to gannett.cdn.com)

Willie Cauley-Stein really impressed me this season, and has intrigued me during his three seasons at the University of Kentucky.

He put on muscle, got a few more tattoos and became a better basketball player.

Like every player, he can improve more, though.

Cauley-Stein already reminds me of DeAndre Jordan.

Long, athletic, great defender, solid rebounder, a poor free throw shooter, and little offensive game is what Cauley-Stein is all about.

He can block and alter shots, and change games on the defensive end. He is a solid rebounder who averaged 6.4 rebounds per contest while playing 25.9 minutes this past season.

I think he can be an immediate defensive game-changer at the next level. The best thing about him, and this is something Jordan can’t do, is he can guard every position on the floor. And I think he will be able to do it well. He moves laterally extremely well and is quick enough to stay in front of all players. On occasion, he will get beat, but everybody gets beat.

Like Jordan, Cauley-Stein is a very good runner and is able to get out in transition for easy points. He is a tremendous finisher above the rim and is a huge target for guards. It takes him a split-second to elevate and his length helps him easily slam the ball through the hoop in traffic. He is a human dunking machine.

A lot of people might not remember, but Jordan was a second round pick. Cauley-Stein will likely be a lottery pick.

Right now, his offensive game is more refined that Jordan’s, and it probably will always be better. He can put it on the floor for one or two dribbles, although I believe he traveled a lot and it wasn’t called, and can get to the basket. He doesn’t always finish, but he normally will get fouled.

He is a mix of Jordan and something not very many scouts have seen before when it comes to defending on the perimeter. I believe he is a better and more valuable defender than guys like Jordan and Serge Ibaka. I believe he is on the level of LeBron James and Anthony Davis when it comes to guarding perimeter players. Heck, he might even be better than Davis already. He is elite.

His offensive game does leave a lot to be desired, but it isn’t as raw as most people probably think. He doesn’t have a great inside game, but he does have a nice hook shot, and his length will always make it a little easier to score.

He will always be a defensive guy, I think. He understands where to be and when, and his length and athleticism let him get away with making a lot more mistakes than other players. That being said, he has very sound defensive fundamentals.

As a player, what could his ceiling be? I’m not sure if I have ever seen a player with his unique defensive skills. He could turn out to be the next Dennis Rodman, but without all the antics and funky hair, or he could even be better than Rodman.

When I looked at where he is slated to go in mock drafts, I listed all the teams that need an elite rim-protector. Here is my list:

  1. Los Angeles Lakers; 2. Denver Nuggets; and 3. Charlotte Hornets.

Those are the three teams in the lottery that I assume would strongly consider selecting him, as all three are starved of a defensive big man.

I believe that he is a top 10 talent, no question about it. Also, I believe that when a team is in the lottery, especially the top 10, you draft the best player on the board, unless a team already has an emerging player at that position (see the Minnesota Timberwolves when they selected Derrick Williams, but already had Kevin Love). The three teams I listed will be picking in the top 10, more than likely, and all three could use a player like Cauley-Stein.

If he were a more complete player, with NBA-level offensive skills, he would be the No. 1 pick in the draft.

I see his ceiling being something between Rodman and something the NBA has never seen before on the defensive end.

Offensively? I’m not sure, yet, but I believe he could become a somewhat reliable option. Not a first or second option, but possibly a solid third option.

Like Devin Booker, Cauley-Stein will become a very good NBA player.

These are the two players in the draft that I’m the most confident in will turn out to be solid NBA players.


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