The Boston Celtics may be on the fringe of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, but that does not mean they aren't a "lottery-worthy" team. With the abundance of draft picks both this year and in the future, the Celtics need to get the ball rolling and begin to brainstorm about who they plan on selecting.
Enter Willie Cauley-Stein
Willie Cauley-Stein is currently a junior big man on the undefeated, number one college team in the nation, the Kentucky Wildcats. The 7-footer saw a heavy role as a freshman due to the torn ACL of Nerlens Noel. His role increased as a sophomore as he was an essential piece in Kentucky's road to the NCAA Championship. Unfortunately, he got injured halfway through the tournament. It has been argued that had Cauley-Stein played, Kentucky may have pulled off the win against UConn.
Now Cauley-Stein is a junior and a veteran leader on a young Kentucky team. To say he is the glue that holds the team together is an understatement. He is a big reason why the Wildcats are undefeated.
Primarily, Cauley-Stein is a rim protector: one of the best in college basketball and in the projected draft class. He is a 7-footer with a 7-2 wingspan, and he is super athletic.
He blocks 1.6 shots per game on average, but alters countless shot attempts as well. His length allows him to guard centers and his quickness allows him to guard power forwards. Rim protection is one of the biggest needs for the Celtics. Kelly Olynyk is not athletic enough to be a game-changing defender. Tyler Zeller is the closest thing they've got, but he can't always get the job done.
Aside from rim protection, Cauley-Stein is sneaky with steals. He is averaging 2.3 per 40 minutes, and is always trying to poke the ball out of players hands.
As a rebounder, Cauley-Stein should improve in the pros. He is a bit overshadowed by freshman Karl Anthony-Towns, who tends to be in the paint more often than Stein, but he still comes away with 6.3 per game. But there is one con to his rebounding. Being that he is more athletic and longer than most of his opponents, Cauley-Stein grabs his rebounds just from jumping and reaching rather than boxing out. When he is put up against equally athletic big men, he may have some trouble at first, but boxing out is an easily teachable fundamental.
Offensively, Cauley-Stein is strictly an inside scorer who salvages most of his points off transition buckets, put-backs, and alley oops. He doesn't run the pick and roll often, but has the potential to be a threat in that aspect. He currently averages 8.9 points per game. Cauley-Stein has showed flashes of a post move. He occasionally showcases a hook shot or turnaround, but will have trouble in the NBA because he is not a polished scorer yet. A department where Willie thrives on offense is rebounding. He collects a lot of misses, leading to second chance points. His athleticism carries over to offense...making for some pretty sick dunks.
Why should the Celtics draft him?
Athleticism: Willie Cauley-Stein possesses a rare athleticism that is hard to find in big men. Where there is athleticism, there is potential. Luckily, he's got length too. When you mix athleticism with length, the end result can be exciting. Just see what the Jazz are doing with Rudy Gobert.
Rim Protection: WE NEED RIM PROTECTORS and Cauley-Stein is arguably the best in the potential upcoming draft class.
Transition: Just like you saw in the poster dunk above, Cauley-Stein is a threat in transition. He can dribble in open space, run the lanes, and finish above the rim. He can be useful in simply outrunning his defender.
What is his ceiling?
I like to think of Cauley-Stein as a premature Rudy Gobert. But I also like to think of Rudy Gobert as a premature Rudy Gobert since he hasn't even begun to enter his prime. Stein can be a game-altering defender using his length just like the Jazz big man. He is already 21, so he has most likely hit his athletic peak, but his skill set still has tons of room to grow.
This season, most of the lottery prospects are freshman: Jahlil Okafor, De'Angelo Russell, Stanley Johnson. Cauley-Stein could be the only upper-classman chosen in the lottery. That being said, Cauley-Stein is still an intriguing talent worthy of a top pick.
The only question is...how would he look in green?