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Over the next few weeks leading up to the 2015 NBA Draft I’ll be reviewing some of the top prospects slated to be drafted before or around the No. 7 overall pick, currently owned by the Denver Nuggets. Because abundant backdrop on each of these players can be found across the Internet, my goal is not to recycle statistics, personal upbringing stories or opinions held by the general public, but rather to interpret the data and ultimately determine whether the Nuggets should draft or pass on these future NBA-check collectors.
In BSN’s third Draft or Pass article we take a look at one of the more intriguing prospects in the upcoming draft both on and off the court in Willie Cauley-Stein.
21 years old | 7-1 | 242 pounds | Center | Kentucky
Willie Cauley-Stein is without question one of my personal favorite prospects in the draft. He’s adorned with personality, he’s one of the better defensive big men we’ve seen in years and even though he’s 21 his upside is tremendous. At his core, however, Cauley-Stein is all about defense. That’s why you draft him; that’s who he is; that’s what he was born to do. Think of him as a taller, more athletic Joakim Noah.
Why He’ll Succeed
Two factors here: defense and athleticism. Cauley-Stein comes equipped with ample amounts of juice in both categories. Physically he passes all the tests: He’s got great height and weight for an NBA center, he runs like a deer, he can shuffle his feet like a backup boy-band dancer and he’s got the “quick-twitch” jumping muscles scouts lustfully covet in big men. All of the above-mentioned assets are then converted into defensive energy on the court where Cauley-Stein can guard positions one through five with an intensity unrivaled by anybody in this draft or any other over the last five years. Naturally this lethal combination of athleticism and defense make it difficult to picture Cauley-Stein floundering at the next level.
Why He’ll Fail
There’s a school of thought that says because Cauley-Stein is somewhat eccentric, because he dyes his hair, wears paisley clothes, goes to art classes and assumes full control over his legal name that he will somehow get distracted from basketball and run off to become just another in the long line of NBA-athletes-turned-rappers. This, of course, is absurd. Originality should not be confused with waywardness.
The real reason Cauley-Stein might fail in the NBA is his offense, or lack thereof. To put it bluntly, Cauley-Stein has no offensive game. He dunks. And sometimes he dunks with his offhand. And at other times he dunks at a slightly different angle than his previous dunk. And that is the list of ways Cauley-Stein scores the basketball. Take away his ability to dunk on offense and you’re essentially playing four-on-five basketball.
Draft or Pass?
Tim Connelly has stated in interviews how he and the rest of the Nuggets front office are looking for a star in the upcoming draft. If this is the case, Cauley-Stein will likely be overlooked in favor of other more glamorous prospects. This, however, would be a colossal mistake as Cauley-Stein is a star — only a star of a different type: a defensive star. And his talents will only be magnified at the next level where the need for defensive versatility and paint protection are at an all-time high in the NBA. Which of course necessitates the fundamental question of what’s more valued in the NBA: offense or defense? Are the Nuggets really better off in the longrun drafting someone like Mario Hezonja who at his career apex could average close to 20 points per game as one of the better 3-point shooters in the league; or is it more beneficial to roll the dice with Cauley-Stein, to know he’ll transform the way opponents prepare for the Nuggets — especially pairing him alongside another defensive stalwart in Nurkic — and to bank on his offense developing down the road?
These are the types of dilemmas that can truly fracture a front office, alter (or solidify) a team’s identity and change the course of a franchise forever. And though Cauley-Stein isn’t the sexiest, most marketable pick out there, I have zero doubt his impact on the Nuggets franchise purely in terms of wins and losses would be no less than anyone outside the top two or three players in this draft, which is why Cauley-Stein is an unconditional “draft” as far as I’m concerned.