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Breaking Down Willie Cauley-Stein's NBA Potential and Draft Stock

GAINESVILLE, FL - FEBRUARY 12:  Forward Willie Cauley-Stein #15  of the Kentucky Wildcats looks for a rebound against the Florida Gators February 12, 2013 at Stephen C. O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida. The Gators won 69 - 52. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterMarch 2, 2013

When you look at Kentucky freshman Willie Cauley-Stein, it's easy to realize why he's such an attractive NBA prospect.

You can throw out the game film and put aside your scouting notes. Cauley-Stein aces the eye test and has the potential to make an impact even if his game never fully develops.

 

Elite Physical Tools

Willie Cauley-Stein's physical tools alone will get him drafted somewhere in the top 20.  

At 7'0'' with top-shelf athleticism and a monster wingspan, Cauley-Stein eats up a ridiculous amount of space in the middle. His size, length and springs allow him to finish with ease on the interior, catch lobs above the rim and get off his shot without ever being truly contested.

Defensively he has the tools to present himself as a viable NBA rim protector. He covers a ton of ground inside, with the ability to defend the post or act as a weak-side shot-blocker.

He's also incredibly strong. Contact bounces off Cauley-Stein, rarely preventing him from achieving his goal.

He was a wide receiver in high school, which shows how athletic, mobile and coordinated he is.

You won't find a better example of his elite physical tools than in the clip below, which illustrates all three physical strengths I previously mentioned:

 

Offensive Outlook

Cauley-Stein is awfully raw offensively. He's currently learning on the job and projects more as a long-term project than a short-term solution.

I can't remember seeing Cauley-Stein convert a field goal outside of the paint all year, hence his 64 percent field-goal percentage. Most of the time, he uses his strength and size to gain position down low and overpower defenders for an easy finish at the rim.

Cauley-Stein has added some moves to his post game, but he's still ironing out the wrinkles. He struggles when turning into the lane and is forced to adjust mid-move because of a help defender.

But in isolation, he's proved capable of creating his shot and converting it with touch.

Below, Cauley-Stein goes to the left hand for the jump hook in the post:

Other than being a back-to-the-basket, low-block scorer, Cauley-Stein doesn't have many other tricks in his bag. He's not a face-up threat and has shown no signs of a jumper (37 percent from the free-throw line).

Cauley-Stein projects as strictly a low-post scorer and off-ball finisher. He might be somewhat limited offensively, but his defensive impact is another story.

 

Defensive Impact

With Cauley-Stein's physical tools, he's able to impact a game defensively just by standing by the rim. He makes it difficult for penetrating guards to finish comfortably by clogging the lane and consistently contesting shots inside.

His strength plays a big role in his on-ball post defense, while his length makes him a threat to block shots as an off-ball roamer.

Below, Cauley-Stein reaches to swat a shot while protecting the rim off the ball:

 

NBA Draft Stock

Cauley-Stein's selling point to NBA teams is his long-term potential. He's likely to be put on a five-year plan, so teams interested in his services must have the luxury of time on their side.

While he continues to develop his offensive game, Cauley-Stein should be able to make an impact the way Andre Drummond has for the Detroit Pistons. Cleaning up misses at the rim, finishing inside and protecting the paint are all areas where Cauley-Stein can contribute that don't require a refined skill set.

If Cauley-Stein stays another year at Kentucky, he has a chance to go in the top 10 as long as he adds a few go-to moves into his offensive arsenal.

If he declares in 2013, Cauley-Stein still has the potential to get picked in the lottery based on his upside and unmatchable physical tools in a draft that lacks certainty.

If there were ever a year to take a chance on a raw, long-term project, this would be it.

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