Willie Cauley-Stein Scouting Report

TS% eFG% % FG at Rim FG% at Rim DREB 40 Min OREB 40 Min BLK 40 Min FT% FTA 40 Min Steal % Assist 40 Min USG PER
.593 57.8 61.2 72.5 6.4 3.7 2.7 61.7 5.2 2.9 1.5 18.1 24.3

*Stats provided for by synergysports.com, sportsreference.com, draftexpress.com and hoop-math.com

Strengths:

  • Prototype Height (7’0”) and Length (9’2” Standing Reach) for an NBA Center
  • Elite Athleticism and Leaping Ability: 37″ Max Vertical
  • Explosive and immediate jumper: Can Elevate at a Standstill or on the Move
  • Runs the Floor Like a Guard: Enormous Potential as a Rim Runner with Speed
  • Elite Transition Player with Speed and Finishing Ability
  • Explosive Finisher at the Rim off Lobs and Passes, Good Hands
  • Offensive Rebounding Instincts
  • Defensive Versatility: Can Switch Onto Guards and Contain
  • Elite Lateral Agility and Mover in Space
  • Utilizes Length in Passing Lanes to Amass Steals
  • Projects as an Elite Pick and Roll Defender: Best Big Man Pick and Roll Hedger and Shower in Recent Memory
  • Range to Contain Penetration and Recover to his Man
  • Length, Timing, Range and Athleticism to Protect the Rim

Perhaps the best combination of athleticism and defense for a center prospect since Dwight Howard (some of their athletic testing metrics are very similar), Cauley-Stein offers a potentially elite, albeit very specific package. Cauley-Stein possesses prototype height and length to defend NBA centers, while adding elite mobility and athleticism to boot. He projects as a mobile big man more than capable of playing at the increased speed of the new pace and space era with his lean muscular frame. Cauley-Stein covers ground quickly and gracefully in Serge Ibaka fashion, capable of moving in space in any direction. He runs the court like a guard, and beats most less-mobile bigs down the floor. Because of this, he projects to be an excellent rim runner in transition, and due to his athleticism, is an explosive finisher at the rim capable of catching passes and lobs with soft hands in traffic and finishing with ease. Cauley-Stein is an immediate leaper, capable of elevating both off two feet at a standstill as well as on the move. In the half-court setting, Cauley-Stein shows a nose for the ball and instincts on the offensive glass, utilizing his size and length to high point balls. His lack of lower body strength can be an impediment fighting over box outs, but with his length and activity level Cauley-Stein could be a force keeping balls alive, especially if he masters the Tyson Chandler tip-out, a skill that would serve his length well.

Cauley-Stein’s most translatable NBA skill however is his defensive versatility (see the following chart, noticing how often he plays on perimeter, per synergysports):

Play Type Freq. PPP Rank Rating FG% %TO %FT
Spot Up 33% .653 90% Excellent 29 8 9.3
Iso 22.9% .635 69% Very Good 23.7 13.5 15.4
Post Up 11% .84 43% Average 38.1 4 16
P&R Handler 10.1 .601 74% Very Good 40 26.1 8.7
P&R Man 9.7 1 25% Below Av 52.4 4.5 0

He possesses the best feet you’ll see from a big man, and is tremendously agile laterally.   As a result, Cauley-Stein has the ability to switch onto more mobile wings and guards and contain dribble penetration, while harassing passing lanes with his length to amass steals. Simply put, there is no one in the NBA Cauley-Stein’s size who can lay claim to defending all 5 positions competently (Draymond Green is really the only player who can come close, and he’s 5 inches shorter). Cauley-Stein enables enhanced defensive versatility scheme wise, especially in defending pick and rolls, as he can switch, hedge or show hard, or trap/blitz. In a pick and roll dominated league, Cauley-Stein has the physical gifts to take away the NBA’s most utilized offensive weapon. That is tremendously valuable.

In terms of defending the pick and roll specifically, Cauley-Stein has the aforementioned foot speed and lateral agility to wall off initial penetration from a guard, and the range and mobility to recover to his man after his guard recovers on the play.   As a shot-blocker, Cauley-Stein has the length, timing and range to be a deterrent at the rim. Towns has been the more renowned shot-blocker this year, but some of that is scheme based, as Cauley-Stein roams the perimeter more often blowing up initial penetration, as the less mobile Towns patrols the back line. He played more around the rim last year when paired next to the shot-blocking deficient Julius Randle, as evidenced by his post defense frequency dropping from 25% to 11%, per synergysports.  Cauley-Stein blocked 4.8 shots per 40 minutes last year per draftexpress’ online statistical database, showing his proclivity as a shot-blocker. Overall, Cauley-Stein projects as a defensive ace, capable of defending 94 feet x 50 feet.

Weaknesses:

  • Ball Skills and Overall Skill Level
  • Lack of Shooting Touch, Free Throw Shooting
  • Post Up Footwork
  • Passing Instincts Out of the Post
  • Lack of a Face Up Game: Can’t Dribble or Create
  • Lower Body Strength Defending in the Post
  • Defensive Rebounding
  • Age (22 when Season Starts)
  • Roster Fit: Harder to Build Around

While Cauley-Stein is an elite athlete and finisher, he’s not a particularly skilled player, lacking offensive polish across the board. He’s shown improvements as a jump shooter and from the foul line, raising the latter from a disastrous 48.2% last season to 61.7% this year, per basketballreference.com. However, he does not possess a soft touch. Even on layup or soft jump hook attempts at the rim, Cauley-Stein throws the ball too hard at the basket instead of shooting it with touch. Again, he’s had some moments this season where he converts a face-up jumper or a right running hook, but right now he’s mostly a finisher and offensive put-back scrapper, as the following offensive positional stats again per synergysports indicates:

Play Type Freq. PPP Rank Rating FG% aFG% TO% %FT
Post Up 19.5 .803 56% Very Good 41.9 14.8 14.8
Off Reb 18.2 1.07 53% Good 56.8 5.3 17.5
Cut 26.5 1.217 72% Very Good 59.3 3.6 28.9
Transition 17.3 1.352 90% Excellent 75.6 13 24.1
Iso
P&R Man 1.9 1.333 100% 16.7 33.3
Spot Up

As the eye test and positional stats will indicate, in typical college fashion Cauley-Stein posts up a fair amount. In the NBA, this will not be the case. Cauley-Stein does not currently have the lower body strength to carve out space in post-ups or duck-ins against stronger, taller veterans in the league, and does not possess the footwork or touch to convert efficiently. Perhaps most damning in this regard, Cauley-Stein is not in the same stratosphere as Towns or Okafor as a passer, and with more NBA active defenses who dig down and swipe at balls, Cauley-Stein is turnover waiting to happen in the post. He’s also not currently equipped to serve in any pick and pop playmaking or shooting role, ala his teammate Towns, for Cauley-Stein can’t dribble in traffic or diagnose plays at high speeds in face up situations.

Defensively, Cauley-Stein is a one-man destroyer as outlined above, but his one area of slight concern is post defense, due to his slender build and lack of lower body strength. He can be moved by stronger players on the glass, as well as in back to the basket post situations. His length and defensive awareness will help offset this, but it’s an area to monitor. On the glass, under similar explanation Cauley-Stein is not a tremendous defensive rebounder, snaring 6.4 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes (pace adjusted), per draftexpress.com. Too often defensive prowess and defensive rebounding are considered intertwined, when in fact they are different skill sets. Cauley-Stein is by no means a defensive rebounding liability, but he’s also not a DeAndre Jordan plug and play guarantee to dominate the glass.

Lastly, Cauley-Stein’s age (he’ll be 22 when the 2015/16 NBA season starts) raises concerns about developmental upside. While he has shown improvements this season in aforementioned categories such as free throw shooting, it’s unlikely he morphs into a pick and pop ace as a knock down shooter and passer, and he doesn’t have the extra 3 years to hone these skills like a 19 year-old. Drafting older players is often times a “you get what you draft” scenario, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing (See Damian Lillard). Cauley-Stein’s limitations skill-wise offensively do make him harder to build around however. You need a specific set of players, mainly floor-spacers, for Cauley-Stein to excel with the requisite space as a pick and roll dive man. As Dallas has shown with Chandler, that model can lead to one of the best offenses of all time (pre-Rondo), but requires more roster tinkering.

System Fit:

Offense: Up tempo Transition-Based; Pick and Roll Dive Finisher in the Half Court

Cauley-Stein’s skill-set leaves little uncertainty as to what offensive role he will play in the league. With his combination of speed, mobility and finishing ability, Cauley-Stein will be best used in a transition based system where he makes hard rim runs and simply beat less mobile bigs down the floor to finish at the basket. In the half court, Cauley-Stein will be best employed as a pick and roll dive man, sprinting out with his superior speed to set hard screens before the defense is set, and rolling hard to the rim to either finish lob passes at the basket or draw defenses in to create open shots on the perimeter.

Defense: Aggressive Show/Hedge/Switching Scheme

The fun part about drafting Cauley-Stein is the plethora of aggressive defensive schemes he allows you to employ. As the most laterally mobile big man prospect in years, Cauley-Stein can be a one-man pick and roll destroyer. He’ll be likely the only center who can comfortably switch onto most perimeter players in the league. He can also either hedge or show hard, containing the dribble penetration of guards, and has the speed and mobility to recover to his man. Simply put, Cauley-Stein is not a big man you want to drop back in a conservative “zone up” ice scheme, ala Roy Hibbert. He’s best served in a hyper-aggressive, versatile scheme where multiple looks can be given in pick and roll, and thus Cauley-Stein can be put in a position to create turnovers.

Team Fit: Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics

Cauley-Stein’s skill-set is exactly what Jason Kidd wanted from Larry Sanders as a player offensively, which is simply to set the pick on offense and dive hard to the rim to suck the defense in. Cauley-Stein has the blue-collar nature to be satisfied doing this type of dirty work, mostly entailing setting hard screens, playing off the ball, slashing and finishing lobs at the rim with little offensive usage.   Milwaukee has the most aggressive defensive strong side scheme in the league because they need to create turnovers to get out and run in transition to score (also because they can with their acres of long-arms). Cauley-Stein projects wonderfully in that scheme.

Similar to Kidd’s philosophy, Boston’s coach Brad Stevens wants to implement a more aggressive defensive scheme. He has the guard/wing athletes with Bradley and Smart to fight over screens to recover to the ball-handler in pick and roll, but does not have the big man athletes. Cauley-Stein would afford Boston a deadly pick and roll guard/big man duo, as well as much needed rim protection.

NBA Comparison: Tyson Chandler

Chandler is one of the best centers in the league despite being largely a non-threat 3 feet away for the basket (though he’s added a nifty face-up jumper this year). Why? Because he’s a blue collar player who accepts and thrives at what he does. There is something to be said for honing the skills you already thrive at instead of allocating time and resources towards improving weaknesses that you will likely never be better than replacement level at. Chandler is the poster boy for that sentiment. He’s an expert at reading defenses, knowing when to crash hard to the rim for lobs or when to set screens and bolt to open places on the court. Dallas is not the most efficient pick and roll “roll man” team in the league by accident. Chandler’s defensive awareness, positioning in screen and roll, and toughness in the post is also elite. Cauley-Stein is a better athlete than Tyson at this stage of the latter’s career and is more of a shot-blocker than rim protector. Plus, he has better feet than any big I’ve ever seen, so his upside defensively is greater.  But they are similar archetypes as players.

Potential: Defensive Player of the Year, High End Starting Center

It’s difficult to become a perennial all-star or star in general if you can’t score, and that’s fine. Cauley-Stein will impact games defensively in ways that are all not definable by metrics. If he embraces his role and focuses on the strengths of his game, Cauley-Stein could be the best defensive player in the league. And considering where the NBA is headed, a transcendent defensive big man who can move on the perimeter, protect the rim and finish lobs offensively is more important than a conventional post-up center.

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