The Celtics have a major deficiency at the center position, especially defensively. Kelly Olynyk can play the position, but he is a defensive liability, and the same goes for Tyler Zeller. Zeller actually had an excellent season in 2014/2015, but he showed that his defensive deficiencies would limit Boston when they faced upper echelon teams like the Cavaliers. If the Celtics want to take the next step and get beyond the first round of the playoffs, they must draft, trade or sign for a center that can protect the rim and make opponents think twice about taking the ball inside. With the 16th and the 28th pick, Boston might have to trade up to acquire the type of player they are looking for. The best option is Willie Cauley-Stein, a 7’0, 242 pound junior out of Kentucky.
Cauley-Stein hails from Spearville, Kansas and attended Olathe Northwest High School in Olathe, Kansas. Cauley-Stein was a basketball and football standout in his time at Olathe. He was such a good football player that he flew under the radar for basketball, at least until he dominated in a tournament in Kansas. He was offered a scholarship on the spot, but he passed and ultimately ended up playing for John Calipari at Kentucky. Cauley-Stein was the 10th ranked center nationally by Scout.com and 20th overall, while ESPNU had him slotted at 32 and Rivals.com had him 39th. He chose Kentucky over Kansas, Alabama, Florida, and Kansas State. The lure of playing for the Wildcats was just too hard to pass up.
John Calipari is not shy about playing freshman, and Cauley-Stein was no exception. His numbers over his three years at Kentucky remained surprisingly the same, averaging 24.5 minutes, eight points, 6.24 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game. With the amount of top recruits Kentucky signs every year, it makes sense that his minutes would remain the same, but most expected his production to improve. Unfortunately, it never happened, and some question whether Cauley-Stein can improve enough offensively to be a consistent starter in the NBA.
Defensively, there is no doubt that Cauley-Stein can be a big contributor for a good NBA team. He's been compared to many different bigs, but the best comparison, in my opinion, is Tyson Chandler. Chandler didn't have a great career in Chicago after he was drafted along with Eddie Curry, but he figured out his niche and is now one of the best defensive centers of the last 20 years. He also figured out how to contribute enough offensively to avoid being a liability, and Cauley-Stein is going to have to do the same.
For his size, Cauley-Stein is very coordinated and light on his feet. He has a wingspan of 7'2, and he stands at seven feet, so he has the long arms NBA executives are looking for. He also possesses excellent hands, mainly due to his days as a wide receiver in high school, and that is also unusual for a big man. Typically big men take time to develop their hands, and that is one area he won't need to work on. He does need major improvement with his post moves and there are some scouts that question his motor and his overall focus. If he can strengthen his weaknesses and continue to develop his strengths, he should have a solid but unspectacular career in the NBA. When the Celtics pick at 16, they'll most likely select Cauley-Stein if he's still on the board.