The Sacramento Kings selected Kentucky big man Willie Cauley-Stein with the No. 6 pick in Thursday night's NBA draft.
Cauley-Stein decided not to enter the 2014 draft after he broke his leg in the NCAA tournament. The forward averaged 8.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game for the Wildcats as a junior.
“I look at Willie for a team that needs defense now to get them to another level,” Kentucky coach John Calipari told reporters last week. “You take him, mold him offensively and you’ll have an All-Star. His balance needs to improve offensively, getting to the rim and finish and they’ll get to him in one summer.”
Mannix's analysis: Let’s read the tea leaves here. Sacramento takes Cauley-Stein, an elite defender several coaches have compared favorably to Tyson Chandler. Cauley-Stein is regarded as one of, if not the safest pick in the draft. He’s going to be a good defender, even if his offense doesn’t amount to much more than what it is now. But the Kings have a center: DeMarcus Cousins, who has been the subject of rampant trade speculation. The selection of Cauley-Stein strongly suggests Sacramento is open to trading Cousins, whose relationship with head coach George Karl has devolved badly in recent weeks. Good luck, Willie.
Strengths: Defense, defense, defense. Cauley-Stein is hands-down the best defender in this draft, and that includes guards and wings as well. He is an elite shot-blocker thanks to his awareness, vision and wingspan. He also shines on pick-and-roll defense and can handle guarding ball-handlers on the perimeter. He is comfortable playing from the low block to beyond the three-point arc defensively. His effort and intensity level were second to none on a star-studded Kentucky team last season and he has no problem diving for loose balls, setting screens or generally doing the necessary dirty work. Don’t sleep on his mid-range jump shot, either. His main offensive asset is as a rebounder, where he has good vision and length to track down boards.
Weaknesses: Offense, offense, offense. Cauley-Stein’s main offensive move in college was exploiting undersized centers for dunks. He has almost no moves in the low block and hasn’t shown an ability to back down defenders. He at times looks lost on the offensive end of the floor and can struggle with positioning. He has improved dramatically as a free-throw shooter—from 37.2% as a freshman to 61.7% a year ago—but must show more of an ability to consistently hit 15-footers if he wants to play big minutes as a pro. He has often been accused of being too passive, and indeed he had some truly bad games even a year ago at Kentucky. He’ll need to learn to give maximum effort each game during the significantly longer NBA season.