It's no secret that the Boston Celtics are exploring options to move up in this week's NBA Draft, with an eye on a few high-upside prospects that are unlikely to be left on the board by the time they are on the clock.
One of those prospects is Willie Cauley-Stein. The 7-foot-1 center out of Kentucky is considered by many to be the best defensive player in this draft and he could provide the Celtics with the rim protector they seek. While it's his defensive presence that has sparked Boston's interest, Cauley-Stein insists his play on both ends of the court account for why he believes he is the best player in the draft.
"Nobody plays both sides of the ball. I mean, they do, but I feel like most people care about offense and then play defense 'cause they have to," Cauley-Stein told the New York Post in an Q&A with Steve Serby. "I take pride in defense, and will play offense when I have to. Everybody overlooks my jumper, which if we went to the gym right now, you would be impressed with my jumper, or handling skills. I could do a lot of different stuff on the court that nobody knows about. If I was on a trash team, I could have took 20 shots a game, and averaged these crazy numbers, but don't have to do that, so it's just not part of you. But at the next level, you're going to be on a team to produce, so I feel like that's when it's going to come in. I think people are going to be shocked."
Cauley-Stein's self-assessment should be taken with a grain of salt, as it's clearly in his best interest to talk himself up as we approach the draft. That doesn't mean his offensive game isn't more polished than people realize. On a loaded Kentucky squad that also featured Karl-Anthony Towns in the frontcourt, Cauley-Stein was never asked to carry a heavy offensive burden, but that doesn't mean he's not capable of it.
Boston has plenty of ammunition to move up in the draft if they choose, including four picks in this year's draft. They pick twice in the first round at 16 and 28, plus twice in the second round at 33 and 45. They also have several young players on trade-friendly contracts and a bundle of future picks, including a pair of juicy future first-rounders from the Brooklyn Nets. Packaging some of those assets should be enough to move into the top-10 in this draft, which is likely where they would need to get to in order to have a shot at Cauley-Stein.
As optimistic as Cauley-Stein is about his upside, there are still those that have their doubts. He can talk all he wants about his undervalued offense, but teams will be hesitant to buy in on him as an all-around player if they've never seen him consistently produce on offense in game action. There's only so much they can learn from workouts.
There are also several teams with varying levels of concern regarding the health of Cauley-Stein's surgically repaired ankle, sources revealed to DraftExpress.com. Cauley-Stein suffered a stress fracture in his ankle in March of 2014, which persuaded him to return to Kentucky for his junior season. After consulting with doctors, some teams have some concerns that the ankle hasn't healed properly. This could cause Cauley-Stein to drop a few spots in the draft, but it does not seem to be enough of a concern for him to fall out of the lottery.
If he does slide a few spots, it only makes it easier for the Celtics to trade up to where they could obtain him. Sure, there's plenty of risk involved. His ankle may still be an issue and his offensive game may not be quite as polished as he wants us to believe. Despite those risks, his upside remains too tantalizing to ignore.
It remains to be seen if Cauley-Stein will actually be the best player in this draft, but he clearly isn't lacking in confidence. If Boston trades up to get him it will be primarily based on what he adds on the defensive end, but if his offensive game has as much upside as he claims, he could prove to be one of the best values in the draft.