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Charlotte Hornets NBA Draft Preview: Willie Cauley-Stein

The team's owner, the great one himself, Michael Jordan saw Cauley-Stein workout today. If he is there when the Hornets draft at number nine, he would make a great addition for the Hornets.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Hornets just traded for Spencer Hawes, who would seemingly play a prominent role in the team's frontcourt rotation next season. With Bismack Biyombo's fate with the team up in the air, the team could potentially have three centers on the roster next season without even considering the draft. Considering Jason Maxiell was the Hornets backup center at the start of the season, this sort of depth is a welcome change.

One other option would be for the Hornets to consider Willie Cauley-Stein with the ninth pick of the upcoming NBA Draft. After coming in for a solo workout on Wednesday, it's time to take a deeper look at Cauley-Stein and his fit with the team.

Measurements and Statistics

Height w/o shoes Height w/ shoes Weight Wingspan Standing Reach Body Fat
6' 11.25" 7' 0.5" 242 7' 3" 9' 3" 6.3

Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers Fouls
25.9 8.9 6.4 1 1.2 1.7 1.2 2

3.5 6.1 57.2 2 3.3 61.7


Watching Cauley-Stein play is like watching a young Tyson Chandler. Check out this dunk and tell me if this reminds you of something similar Cauley-Stein did in this year's NCAA Tournament.

Not only do they both move exceptionally well for their size (same height, same wingspan), but they both have above average hands and fluidity with the ball in their hands. Guys like Chandler and Brandan Wright make it look very easy to catch the ball on the move at the top of the key and find ways to score over and around impending rim protectors, but in reality it's very difficult.

If you're doubting Cauley-Stein's ability to do athletic things, I'd recommend checking out his high school football highlights.

Randy Moss impersonation aside, players that can set screens and be a real threat to score on the dive to the rim are more rare than you think. Cauley-Stein projects as that sort of player the first day he steps onto an NBA floor. An important counter to this skill set is the ability to make free throws. After shooting just 37.2 percent and 48.2 percent from the free throw line in his first two years at Kentucky, Cauley-Stein finally put together a respectable season at the charity stripe when he shot 61.7 percent as a junior. Couple this with his quality shooting in workouts, and like Chandler, Cauley-Stein shouldn't be a liability for "Hack-A" techniques.

So even though Cauley-Stein might not come into the league with much more offense than "screen, then roll", having that as an elite skill is a great foundation. Unlike players like Bismack Biyombo or Festus Ezili, Cauley-Stein has great hands and moves like a guard. If he can someday add either an 18-foot jumpshot or a few post-moves, watch out.

Not only does he project as an elite pick-and-roll player, but he might be the most complete defensive prospect to come out of the draft since Anthony Davis. He projects as a plus defender in all of the following categories/situations: rim protection, man-to-man post defense, guarding the pick-and-roll (multiple coverages), perimeter defense, transition defense, recovering, help defense, and playing passing lanes. Basically, his versatility for his size might be unmatched in the league, as a rookie. Obviously he has to prove it first, but the tools are all there.

The biggest key to his defensive ability is that his lateral quickness and mobility allows him to guard smaller, quicker players. This flexibility allows him to see the floor with basically any sort of front court partner (at least defensively). Have a guy who has to stay close to the paint, yet can't guard the paint (cough, Al Jefferson, cough), then Cauley-Stein can cover the "stretch-4" while also helping at the rim. Or do you need a rim protector to put next to your own "stretch-4", well he can do that as well.

This pays off even more as teams try to play small-ball. Being able to guard opposing "bigs", who are actually wings and tweeners, at 7-feet tall, creates a positive mismatch for Cauley-Stein defensively and on the offensive glass. Imagine having a player with Tristan Thompson's mobility and motor, plus Timofey Mozgov's rim protection and size. In the words of Bob Ryan from HBO's Entourage: "is that something you might be interested in?".


Like Jason Alexander who played George Costanza on the immortal Seinfeld, Cauley-Stein might eventually suffer from being type-cast. When a player is elite at a skill that is very effective, they typically are forced into that role and might stray from adding other parts to their game. Basically, if it isn't broke, don't fix it.

Cauley-Stein in an open gym can make quick hook shots with both hands, take two dribbles from the 3-point line to the rim, throw up reverse lay-ups, and hit open 3-point jumpers. However, in a real NBA game, those things will be much more difficult. Although Cauley-Stein is skilled, he may lack the skill to do much more than finish at the rim in the NBA for a number of years.

Building on that one-trick-pony potential weakness, is the fear that Cauley-Stein's shooting was more one year wonder than anything else. Watching him shoot doesn't inspire a lot of confidence. He's more of an athletic shooter than a disciplined one, and there's plenty of movement in his shooting motion. Do you take the year-over-year free throw percentage performance at face value? Or is there a risk that he floats around 50 to 60 percent his whole career?

Some might consider his age and non-impressive statistics as weaknesses. However, with Cauley-Stein the age might be a positive. The team that drafts him won't be paying him millions of dollars to develop, instead they're getting an NBA ready player that has shown improvement in a key statistic (free throw percentage). Also the statistics (or lack thereof), can be partly mitigated to his role for Kentucky. Playing next to players like Karl Anthony-Towns and sacrificing minutes provide meaningful context to the fact he only averaged 8.9 points and 6.4 rebounds.

Fit with Hornets

If the Hornets are serious about moving towards the more typical NBA model, which is heavily reliant on pick-and-rolls, then Cauley-Stein is a guy that fits for your team. Even if the Hornets don't move that direction, defensively Cauley-Stein fits into any NBA roster.

So if Cauley-Stein found himself as the third center on the roster for his rookie season, the opportunity to start would be right around the corner. In short, this is a perfect draft for talent and need scenario.

Mock Drafts

Draft Express 5th
CBS Sports 5th - 9th
NBA 11th
The Lottery Mafia 6th
ESPN's Chad Ford 11th

So it appears the analysts are torn. Do you think Cauley-Stein will be available with the ninth pick?