Could The Utah Jazz Pick Up Willie Cauley-Stein In The Draft?


Apr 4, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Willie Cauley-Stein (15) runs onto the court for the 2015 NCAA Men

With the Finals in full effect and the 2015 NBA Draft fast approaching, it seems that everyone has an opinion about what the Utah Jazz should do with their No. 12 pick. In my estimation, the best player available is the way to go more often than not.

According to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, the Jazz could get just that by stealing a potential top-five talent in the late lottery. In his latest mock draft for SI, Mannix has Utah selecting a player that some would claim has Defensive Player of the Year potential–Kentucky junior Willie Cauley-Stein.

The seven-foot, 240-plus pound Cauley-Stein was a consensus first-team All-American for the Wildcats this past season. In 105 career collegiate games, the big man averaged eight points, more than six rebounds and 2.2 blocks per contest.

While those statistics may not jump off of the page immediately (although that block rate is nice), his advanced defensive numbers put him at an elite level. Cauley-Stein finished second in the NCAA in defensive rating at 80.0 and his 3.4 defensive win shares led the nation.

Stastics aside, the eyeball test is one that Cauley-Stein passes with flying colors. His ability to guard the pick and roll, interrupt passing lanes, recover defensively and act as a deterrent at the rim were Rudy Gobert-like at Kentucky.

Given his impact on opposing offenses, it should come as no surprise that Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations and Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird apparently told the 21-year-old that he could become a $100 million player at the next level.

Cauley-Stein via Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star–

"“Larry told me, ‘I think you’re a $100 million dollar player.’ I hear that and I’m like, ‘Really?!’”"

Putting my full-on man crush for WCS to the side, I find it hard to argue with one of the greatest basketball minds of our time. If acquiring the best player possible with your draft pick is the objective, Cauley-Stein could fit the bill.

Given the presence of Gobert and Derrick Favors on the Jazz roster, some would argue that adding another offensively-challenged big man could be problematic. However, at a recent pre-draft workout, Cauley-Stein displayed a much-improved jump shot.

If he can become the kind of player that hits those shots with consistency while finishing at the rim and defending at a high level, Bird’s appraisal may not be far off. For the Jazz to get a player of that caliber outside of top ten in the draft would be nothing short of a home run for GM Dennis Lindsey.

Despite some of the uncertainty surrounding his offensive game, many still expect Cauley-Stein to go in the top five of the draft. If the teams ahead of the Jazz ultimately elect to go in a different direction and the center is still available when the team is on the clock, the franchise could strike gold by taking the big man at No. 12.

Next: Utah Jazz Add Jeff Watkinson to Coaching Staff

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