Willie Trill Cauley-Stein
NBA Position: C/PF
General Information: 21 year old junior, played at Kentucky. From Olathe, Kansas.
Measurables: 7'0.5", 242 pounds, 7'3" wingspan, 9'3" standing reach, 31' no step vertical, 37 max vertical
2014-15 Season Statistics: 8.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.7 BPG, 1.2 TOPG (25.9 minutes per contest) - 57.2% FG, 61.7% FT, 58.8% TSP
Summary: A heavy favorite around Sacramento, Cauley-Stein has the physical tools and skills to be an excellent, versatile defender who could serve as the long-term rim protector next to DeMarcus Cousins. While his offensive game showed far less development at Kentucky, he's a terror in the open court and would add a complimentary piece to the Kings offense.
Offensive Breakdown: Cauley-Stein is a limited offensive player and never made the big leaps you'd hope a three year collegiate would. Aside from his improvement at the free throw line (from 37.2% his freshman year to 61.7% last year), his lack of consistent visible development is concerning.
In the post, Cauley-Stein has some basic footwork down. With his long arms and quickness he can get good looks with hook shots and up-and-under moves, but he didn't show the consistent touch. In Kentucky's Tournament debut this season against Hampton (whose true center was 210 pounds), Cauley-Stein missed FIVE layups. (Edit: Go look at the DraftExpress weaknesses video below and skip ahead to 2:17.) Teams could go small against Kentucky, and he didn't show the touch to punish smaller defenders on offense.
The one major advantage offensively that Cauley-Stein has is his abilities in transition—his excellent quickness and explosiveness make him a dangerous weapon in the open court. DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony points out he converted on 77% of his attempts in transition. This presents Cauley-Stein the chance to find his offensive niche if he lands in the right situation.
Cauley-Stein says he's a much better shooter than his role at Kentucky showed (quote - "The shot's gold"), and while he showed some touch in his junior year it wasn't utilized enough to fully know. According to hoop-math.com, 39.4% of his shots came on two-point jumpers and he succeeded on 33.3% of them. It is fair to hedge on his offensive skills given he wasn't needed nor asked to score consistently, but expectations should be kept in check. Cauley-Stein will likely never be more than a complimentary offensive option, if one who thrives in transition, but his value lies elsewhere.
Defensive Breakdown: With his combination of defensive skills and physical tools, Cauley-Stein could become a top-notch defensive force in the NBA. His transition won't be an smooth one due to his lack of strength and his near tweener stature, but he'll compensate with keen instincts and quick feet that most big men his age lack.
John Calipari utilized his versatility to defend multiple positions and quickly help as needed per play. His per-game defensive statistics are solid if unspectacular—1.2 steals, 1.7 blocks, and a 7.6% block rate—but they don't fully measure his worth to Kentucky's defense. He was the heart and soul of a Wildcats' team that was third in the league in opponents points per game and first in opponents field goal percentage.
The well-used line "he can guard any position on the court!" is a oversimplification of Cauley-Stein's defensive abilities, and won't be completely true when he reaches the NBA. No coach would ask him to switch onto Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook and hang with them on the perimeter for any serious length of time—rather, what is true is that Cauley-Stein can handle more defensive situations with a wider range of players than most big men can. If he defends a guard/wing on the perimeter or in the pick-and-roll, Cauley-Stein possesses the foot speed to keep up with a good number of them, the length to compensate for those he can't, and the defensive instincts to make the possession tougher than most big man his age can. Having a big man who can defend the pick-and-roll and defend on the perimeter as well as Cauley-Stein can will be a huge boon for his future squad.
The most famous example of his defensive range was this final shoot from the Kentucky/Notre Dame Elite Eight contest. Cauley-Stein stayed glued to the Irish's Jerian Grant from end-to-end, and forced him into the corner with help defenders all around him. Even though he didn't contest the final shot, it shows how his defensive value will translate; Grant himself is a late-lottery/mid-teens selection in this draft, and Cauley-Stein kept up with him in a footrace while keeping his body angled to stop Grant from shifting to the middle of the floor.
The true weakness for Cauley-Stein's defense is his lack of muscle, and a 240 pound center in the NBA will have trouble the low block regardless of his length and athleticism. He'll likely always be skinnier than optimal, given his slight, lanky frame, but he can further improve on what he has with some heavy time in an NBA weightroom.
Not the most physical player, Cauley-Stein got beaten on the glass on both ends by stronger, tougher players. His 6.4 rebounds a game and 14.5% rebounding rate are among the lowest of the classes premier big men. Some of his weaknesses can be explained by his role; has always played alongside bigger post players (Nerlens Noel, Julius Randle, and Towns) who were asked to stick closer in the paint and attack the boards harder than the freer, roaming defender role Cauley-Stein was set into. Still, he needs to improve his determination and timing on the glass. He's learned how to use his length and athleticism to become an elite defender, but he must learn how to do the same for rebounding.
Intangibles: Cauley-Stein isn't the most consistent player in the class in terms of effort and intensity, although this became less of a problem last season. He emerged as the defacto veteran leader for Kentucky, and whether it was this leadership role or the extra years of maturity, he showed more focus and intensity. There are still plays where he gives less-than-stellar effort, but there aren't many young players who don't have this issue.
It is important to point out that there are some who are concerned that Cauley-Stein might not have the long-term determination to thrive in the NBA. He has more of a laid-back nature, and while many players have this off the court and still thrive, it leaked into his on-court performances. This piece from December by Jason King at Bleacher Report highlights it well, although again it's important to note that Cauley-Stein showed much more consistency in his effort and focus this past season.
Fit with Sacramento: On offense, Cauley-Stein should be considered a complimentary player at best until he proves otherwise. Luckily for the Kings, his complimentary skill is one that will fit in well in Sacramento. Kentucky ran the dribble drive system that the Kings brought Assistant Coach Vance Walberg in to perfect, and it's a system that emphasizes attacking the basket on the drive. Cauley-Stein is an elite threat in transition, and could offer what Derrick Williams did late in the season (and more consistently, since Cauley-Stein won't be benched for his defense). He must get stronger on the glass to handle NBA bigs, but he also showed a flair for put-back dunks. Add in his (hopefully) improving jumpshot, and Cauley-Stein could prove to be a fun—if still complimentary—offensive piece.
The notion that the Kings—and perhaps specifically Cousins—want Cauley-Stein so he can defend centers is a curious one, given that it wasn't his main defensive job at Kentucky. He's always played with bulkier players—Towns, Randle, and Noel—who had more time defending the strongest bigs. This had to do with role, since Cauley-Stein's mobility and quickness allowed him to do things his teammates couldn't, but the idea that Cauley-Stein would be asked to defend guys like Marc Gasol, Dwight Howard or Andrew Bogut right away is worrying.
This critic shouldn't distract from Cauley-Stein's ability to be an excellent rim protector. With his twitch-quick reactions and excellent length, he can become a long-term stud at the role. I just caution the idea that it will happen immediately. Cauley-Stein will need to bulk up AND learn to play tougher against bigger opponents before I'd be comfortable shifting Cousins off the biggest of the bigs. Cauley-Stein may draw comparisons to Tyson Chandler, but it'll take work before he'll be able to handle centers like Chandler does.
That said, Cauley-Stein's versatility would work well with a center like Cousins. Smaller players were afraid to attack Cauley-Stein off the dribble not only because of his own drive defensive skills, but because Kentucky had Towns as the intimidator in the paint—DeMarcus is already so good at this shifting to stop slashing players that this could be an instant and successful transition. Having three frontcourt players in Cousins, Cauley-Stein and Gay who can defend multiple positions as needed is a very "positionless basketball" type of lineup, allowing Coach George Karl to do many different things with the versatile Cauley-Stein on the perimeter/in the post as needed.
While there are plenty of intriguing players in this class (I'm still captaining the Emmanuel Mudiay bandwagon if anyone wants to hop on board), Trill remains my top hope for the Kings at No. 6 going into Thursday. His offensive development is concerning, but his abilities in transition would fit in well with Karl's fast system, and his defensive versatility and long-term potential would give the Kings their much-sought-after partner to pair with Cousins.
If you somehow missed it, I'd highly recommend going and checking out this piece by Blake on Cauley-Stein's workout in Sacramento.It has a number of excellent quotes from Karl about Cauley-Stein's development and fit with the Kings.
And as always, check out the DraftExpress breakdowns;