Eye on the Draft: Willie Cauley-Stein

The search for a rim protector has been going on for a while now in Boston and is clearly still an area of need moving forward. Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller are the only 7-footers on the team, and both suffer from being extremely white. Neither is going to wow you with their athleticism anytime soon. Jared Sullinger is barely the 6'9 he's listed at, and can hardly get his Jordans off the parquet. The Celtics need a big who can hold his own in the paint, but jump out of the gym as well. That player could very well be Willie Cauley-Stein of the Kentucky Wildcats.

Cauley-Stein stands 7 feet tall with a 7'2" wingspan, and some ridiculous hops. The junior center's offensive game is still a bit of an enigma, as most of his baskets are coming off second chance put-backs and transition breaks for dunks. But his shot blocking presence is likely to be the best available in the draft. Freak like ups give him the ability to alter shots on a regular basis and a good combo of strength and speed should allow him to play/defend either the center or power forward position at the pro level. Think DeAndre Jordan, but with a slightly better free throw percentage.

It's not just blocks either. Cauley-Stein is averaging 1.4 steals per game for the still undefeated Wildcats. That's even while playing limited minutes due to the roster being stacked with 5 star recruits by coach John Calipari.

His back to the basket game is unpolished and won't do much damage in the pros, but his offensive rebounding ability and athleticism make it hard to believe that you won't see him posterizing some big name NBA centers very soon..

As a freshman Cauley-Stein started 14 games in place of the then injured Nerlens Noel, who was out with an ACL tear. His strong emergence that year led many to think he'd lead UK to a championship in 2014 until ironically, Cauley-Stein tore his ACL in the same knee as Noel had done the year before. Both injuries happened during games against the University of Florida, and both happened after the Wildcats had blocked a Gator layup. WEIRD...

Kentucky made the final game in the tourny and came close to beating UCONN, but no Cauley-Stein, no cigar.

Chad Ford's most recent mock draft at ESPN.com had the Celtics taking Cauley-Stein at number 9, but his stock is rising as time passes and as long as UK stays undefeated, it's not likely to fall far. NBADraftExpress.com currently ranks him as their number 7 prospect.

If Danny Ainge does go big Willie style in the 2015 Draft, it would be the second consecutive year the Celtics took a Kentucky Wildcat in the first round.(Unless Cauley-Stein falls out of the top round, which isn't happening.) Old friends Cauley-Stein and James Young could wind up together in a starting rotation again, this time in Boston.

A lot of Celtics fans are probably reading this and thinking "NOT ANOTHER FAB MELO!!" But relax. Melo was a different player. Similar style, but he benefited largely from Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone defense scheme at Syracuse. He simply wasn't ready to handle man-to-man duties when the Celtics drafted him. Cauley-Stein looks ready and then some defensively. He's also a much more dynamic athlete than Fab...

From Kyle Tucker of the Kentucky Courier Journal:
Cauley-Stein is appealing because defending the pick-and-roll is critical in that league and he can do it in a number of ways. He can also legitimately lock down a small forward, power forward or center at the next level, and has defended point guards at times in college.

With all the picks Boston holds they're going to take a big with at least one of them. Wouldn't you rather it be in the top half of the draft and not the bottom? Time will tell whether or not he will fall into the Celtics' range, but the fact he is already 21 years old may knock him down a couple spots and right into Ainge's wheelhouse.

How would you feel about Willie Cauley-Stein in green & white?

Top Photo- Michael Clevenger, Courier-Journal. Mid Photo- Michael Conroy, AP. Bot Photo- James Crisp, AP.