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Cauley-Stein brings rare defensive versatility

Willie Cauley-Stein, No. 8 on Chad Ford’s list of top 100 NBA draft prospects, made a name for himself at Kentucky as a defensive stopper.

Cauley-Stein won the 2014-15 SEC Defensive Player of the Year Award. He became the only player in Kentucky history to finish his career with 500 rebounds, 200 blocks and 100 steals. He also led the nation in defensive win shares this past season, according to College Basketball Reference.

His defensive versatility -- characterized by the ability to be a dominant rim protector and excel on the perimeter -- sets him apart from other center prospects in this year’s NBA draft.

Ignore blocked shots average

With Karl-Anthony Towns occupying the paint area last season, Cauley-Stein’s blocked shots went down from an average of 2.9 per game his sophomore season to 1.7. But Cauley-Stein’s effectiveness guarding the rim was not diminished.

According to Synergy, on any shots taken at the rim (no post-ups), Cauley-Stein limited opponents to 34.8 percent shooting (16-of-46), which ranks in the 87th percentile among NCAA players who defended at least 40 such shots. Cauley-Stein blocked 13 of the 46 shots (28 percent), and his help defender blocked three additional shots.

Cauley-Stein is more than a paint-clogging rim protector. He showcased his versatility by guarding smaller players on the perimeter, especially when opponents forced him to cover isolation plays.

Sturdy in isolation

Cauley-Stein defended 64 isolation plays last season, fourth-most among NCAA players. Among the players who defended the most isolation plays last season, Cauley-Stein was the only center in the top 10; eight of the top 10 were guards.

When defending isolation plays, he held his opponents to 22 percent shooting (11-of-49). The poor shooting percentage might not be a surprise considering that Cauley-Stein contested 92 percent of those shots (45-of-49). Outside the paint, opponents shot 16 percent (4-of-25) on isolation plays against him.

Cauley-Stein was often switched onto a smaller ball handler after a high screen. If the offense’s purpose of a switch was to create a mismatch, it did not work against Cauley-Stein. He switched from his initial assignment after a screen on 53 percent of isolation plays and limited opponents to 29 percent shooting.

When he didn’t switch, opponents shot 14 percent (3-of-21).

In both situations, Cauley-Stein harassed the shooter, contesting 86 percent of shots after a switch and 95 percent of shots without a switch.