Despite the NBA having evolved into a more guard-dominant, perimeter-driven game than ever before, size still matters. Every contender has a talented big man. The two Knicks 6'10" or taller who've played the most minutes this year are Amar'e Stoudemire and Jason Smith. Meanwhile, there's an embarrassment of riches at the center position in Lexington, where in addition to Karl-Anthony Towns, the Kentucky Wildcats have another exciting talent climbing mock draft boards: Willie Cauley-Stein. Glenn Logan from A Sea Of Blue shared his insights on a player the Knicks may add this June.
How would you describe his game? What are his strengths? What areas need work?
Willie Cauley-Stein is an athletic power forward, sort of a poor-man's version of Anthony Davis. His lateral mobility is unmatched at the college level, and he runs the floor effortlessly. He's such a graceful, talented athlete that he looks 6‘6" rather than 7‘0", and his talent is so exceptional that he was an All-State first team wide receiver in Kansas, and preferred football to basketball.
Think a young Dwyane Wade in 7‘0" frame, or a smaller Shaquille O'Neil in his youth. His game is way different from either of those, but if you just set them to running and jumping, the similarity in natural athleticism would be striking.
As an offensive basketball player, WCS has shortcomings in his face-up game and his post footwork. However, he has very good hands and "feel," and is learning how to make jump shots. There is nothing at all "broken" about his form; he just lacks experience shooting from the perimeter and is learning a skill set he never had to develop. This year has seen a dramatic improvement in his jump shot technique and success. He still shoots only a few, but now he makes them.
WCS is an elite defender at the college level and will be at the NBA level as well. Davis was elite because of his length and timing, but WCS is elite because of his unnatural quickness for his size. He will take significant development offensively, but defensively he can guard any college position, 1-5. In the NBA, he probably can't guard the freakishly athletic point guards, but there aren't that many of those. He's so good defensively that he can and will take any given player away from an opponent. He's held most non-guard leading scorers to at or near season lows this year. John Calipari prefers not to have him cover guards, obviously because it takes him too far from the basket.
What's been his high point so far this year?
WCS's high point this season was probably against Texas, where he had 21 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks and 5 steals against a huge Longhorn front line. He dominated play on both ends of the floor, and handled Jonathan Holmes and Myles Turner with ease. WCS has a tendency to disappear at times, but his offensive game has only improved this year, and his defense has been peerless from day one.
Does he remind you of anyone you've seen play?
WCS...he's unique, in a way. Anthony Davis and he share a lot of similar traits as far as their size and ability to guard out on the floor, but Davis is more skilled and WCS more athletic. I'm sorry, but I don't follow the NBA closely and just don't have a good enough command of the players there to make an erudite comparison. He is a rare sort of player, as much for his mental approach as for his athletic ability.
What can you tell us about his personality? His background? How do you think he'd handle life as a high draft pick and coming to New York?
WCS, as we refer to him, is an unusual character. He's a kind of free spirit who is not in love with the idea of being an NBA player, although he understands that's his destiny in the near-term. His staying at Kentucky last year despite his coveted status as a draft pick revealed some of his quirky personality. His gentle, thoughtful nature as a man belies his athletic skill, which is so smooth and natural that it isn't immediately obvious.
No team can go wrong by drafting KAT or WCS in any position. Both are likely to have long and productive NBA careers, and either or both could eventually reach the All-Star level. They are very different players, but there isn't an NBA team I know of that couldn't use a skilled inside-out scorer, or a lock-down defender who can defend the perimeter as well as the post.