NikeTalk › NikeTalk Forums › The Lounge › Sports & Training › The 2015 NBA Draft Thread: Draft Day Is Here
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

The 2015 NBA Draft Thread: Draft Day Is Here - Page 17

post #481 of 8508
Curious as to why people don't think Okafor can develop a reliable 15 footer? Him being so advanced in the post at an early age is hurting the perception of him.

Being able to score in the post is ALWAYS an advantage. The Bulls, Grizzlies, Clippers, Spurs, Blazers, Cavs, Rockets and Hawks all have bigs that can post. Jahlil Okafor won't hinder spacing at all, and he has a soft touch.

If DMC and Blake can develop their jumpers, why can't Jahlil?
Ravens, O's, Nuggets, Jazz
Ravens, O's, Nuggets, Jazz
post #482 of 8508
Originally Posted by durantula View Post

Memphis has the 3rd best record in the league...

Just interested, who was the 1st and 2nd and 4th and 5th.....

Good try using an outlier to justify, Memphis been getting torn apart by pace and space teams this season as well and get eliminated by one in the playoffs every year.
post #483 of 8508
Originally Posted by durantula View Post

Memphis has the 3rd best record in the league...

And Marc Gasol, there best player, is not a typical back to the basket 80s-90s center. 



I don't mean Harden as a carbon copy for Russell, but speaking re: potential. Agreed on his finishing needing to get better. Shooting and passing is really good. I think better finishing will come with some strength for a 19 year old kid. 

post #484 of 8508
Originally Posted by DaComeUP View Post

I'll still probably lean towards Russell over Jah.
That's a bold proclamation, and I'm on the cusp of co-signing. I've floated Russell over Jah in my mind over and over, but Okafor's rare offensive skill-set at accelerated development is awfully tempting. It makes incredible sense for my Sixers. Let's say they land the #2 pick, Towns goes first, you can't really select Jah without trading Noel or Embiid. Sixers need starting guards in the worst way, and I prefer Russell over Mudiay in a big way.
Originally Posted by durantula View Post

Memphis has the 3rd best record in the league...
Nobody likes defensive-minded squads more than me, but that grinding style and hard-earned possessions won't bring a title in all likelihood. It wouldn't surprise me if the Grizz won their opening series and were knocked out the next.

Interesting to see the playoff success Milwaukee has this season and Utah the next. Philly and Orlando are both building defensively conscious bases.
Originally Posted by WavyCrocket View Post

Curious as to why people don't think Okafor can develop a reliable 15 footer?
Jah can and probably will. My personal reason for taking Towns definitively first overall is that the gap between him and Okafor defensively is far wider than the offensive advantage Jah currently enjoys in college.
post #485 of 8508
Originally Posted by PMatic View Post
Originally Posted by nickmaz96 View Post

Phil better not have been one of them
@IAmDPick People that traveled to watch Mario Hezonja in flesh are calling Barcelona "clowns".
@IAmDPick Pacers, Pelicans, Spurs, Knicks, Lakers, Kings, Hawks, Nets and Memphis -- were all in Espana for Mario Hezonja.
@IAmDPick Barcelona attempts to hide Mario Hezonja with DNPs are increasing his NBA stock, a source said.

gotta love the ACB

post #486 of 8508
Originally Posted by awwsome View Post

Originally Posted by durantula View Post

Memphis has the 3rd best record in the league...

Just interested, who was the 1st and 2nd and 4th and 5th.....

Good try using an outlier to justify, Memphis been getting torn apart by pace and space teams this season as well and get eliminated by one in the playoffs every year.

GS Hawks... It's no surprise gs always gets dropped after an injury to a big. But ya I mean if you wanna argue regular my guest

Nobody is using an outlier. They are the only team who can qualify because they have 2 very good post players and they go through them in the playoffs. Last year they got eliminated by okc after zbo got suspended. Or have you forgotten?

The go through the bigs isnt being "phased out" There's just very few bigs who have the size/skill that you can actaully go through anymore.
Originally Posted by DaComeUP View Post

Originally Posted by durantula View Post

Memphis has the 3rd best record in the league...
And Marc Gasol, there best player, is not a typical back to the basket 80s-90s center. 

I don't mean Harden as a carbon copy for Russell, but speaking re: potential. Agreed on his finishing needing to get better. Shooting and passing is really good. I think better finishing will come with some strength for a 19 year old kid. 

Come playoff time that team goes as far as zbo takes them.
post #487 of 8508

You have no idea what you're talking about fam, Grizz get knocked out EVERY YEAR by a pace and space team, not just last year.

2011 - OKC
2012 - LAC
2013 - SAS (Sweep)
2014 - OKC

All pace + space.

GS goes down after an injury to a big? That's because of lack of rim protection, not a post up option.

7 of the 8 playoff teams in the West? Pace and space.

Top 4 East teams? Pace and space

Every NBA champion in the last 5 years? You guessed it.

Stop tryna be contrarian when you're wrong.
Edited by awwsome - 4/1/15 at 1:56pm
post #488 of 8508
Originally Posted by Osh Kosh Bosh View Post

No they are being phased out.

The rule changes have made it tougher to post up.

Tim Duncan
post #489 of 8508
1.) LOL at you treating okc, a team with the best scorer the NBA has seen since MJ years as a "pace and space team". No they're a team that relies 100% on superstars. They also had nobody who can post, youre not gonna clog the paint with Perkins. And Zbo got suspended last year, dont forget.
2.) Im going to need you to describe pace and space, because Blake and deandre jordan arent spacing anything.
3.) The spurs are a pace and space team, I'll give you that. Outside of them having arguably a top 3 coach of all time, they also have the best PF of all time, who is more than a very reliable post option for crying out loud.

Convenient how you leave out years 06, 08-10.

Again, back to my point. The bigs arent being "phased out", they just dont come around like they used to. This year we have Okafor who barring injury will be just fine, and KAT if (big if) he pans out are going to be serious threats for many years to come.
post #490 of 8508
Originally Posted by cleansneaksonly21 View Post

Putting the James Harden comp on Russell is completely unfair to him. He's nowhere near the athlete James is and won't be able to get to the rim as easily in the L which he feeds on.

I do think he'll be a better shooter and passer out the gate.

I'm struggling to think of an accurate comp for him

Athletically I would put them as equals coming out.


I would take him 3rd no doubt.

post #491 of 8508
Thread Starter 
To be fair, spacing has been the most valuable commodity in the NBA since about 2011.
post #492 of 8508
Originally Posted by soychulo View Post

Originally Posted by Osh Kosh Bosh View Post

No they are being phased out.

The rule changes have made it tougher to post up.

Tim Duncan

Mid post.

Especially later in his career.

He literally put the mid post on the map and his face up jumper is legendary.
An army of sheep led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by a sheep.
An army of sheep led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by a sheep.
post #493 of 8508
Originally Posted by PMatic View Post

To be fair, spacing has been the most valuable commodity in the NBA since about 2011.

I'm convinced a lot of these guys look at games without watching, anybody who says spacing is not the most important thing in an NBA team is out their minds.
post #494 of 8508
Thread Starter 
Justise Winslow Is Not Fair

Jahlil Okafor is 6-foot-11 and 270 pounds. He has catcher’s mitts for hands, and a Barkley-size ***. His footwork has the polish of a 10-year pro, and he’s quick enough to explode into spin moves around defenders and finish with either hand. On a college basketball floor, Okafor looks like a varsity player surrounded by eighth graders. And all of that is why it’s amazing that watching Duke right now means blurting out, “Forget about Okafor, what about THAT GUY?”

That guy is Justise Winslow.

He isn’t bigger than everyone else on the court, he’s barely polished, and it doesn’t matter. He’s the guy you can’t stop watching. I talked about him in the NBA draft notes last week, but before the Final Four picks up again this weekend, I think we need to go a little deeper here.
First of all, Winslow is the reason Duke is in the Final Four. We know that, right? In the Sweet 16, he delivered the knockout punch (21 points, 10 rebounds) when Utah was threatening to make a comeback in the second half. On Sunday it was the same thing. Gonzaga had a chance to tie the game at 53, with just under five minutes left. But Kyle Wiltjer missed a layup for the tie, and then Winslow went to work.

He attacked the rim and got fouled, draining two free throws. On the next possession, Tyus Jones missed a 3, but Winslow got the rebound and drew a foul on the putback. Two more free throws. Next possession: Winslow grabbed the board on defense, jab-stepped into the defense on the other end, and drained a 3. Seven straight points meant a two-point lead turned into nine. The game was pretty much over at that point.

It’s not a knock on the other Blue Devils to say that Winslow is the reason Duke is in the Final Four. Okafor is great, and even when he’s not dominating, he demands so much attention that it frees up his teammates. Tyus Jones is one of the most fearless freshman point guards I’ve ever seen, and he just destroyed Kevin Pangos on Sunday. Even role players like Matt Jones have stepped up.

But Winslow is the piece that’s been missing from Duke teams the past few years. Even as Coach K modernized his recruiting to add more superstars, he hasn’t had anybody with this kind of edge. Austin Rivers was fine and Jabari Parker was fun, but they didn’t bully people into submission. Okafor’s post game is beautiful, but nothing about him ever feels brutal. With Winslow, it’s different.

He overpowers big men for rebounds. His blocks demoralize people on defense. He careens through the lane in transition. The whole thing just looks exhausting for anyone stuck defending him. It’s like teams spend entire games guarding everyone else on the floor, and then look up and say, “We have to deal with THIS?”

Now he’s even hitting jumpers. He shot 40 percent from 3 during the regular season, and he is 7-12 from beyond the arc in the tournament. That jumper could make his NBA future a lot more interesting. And that’s the other part of this conversation.

There are two ways to look at Winslow’s NBA future. You can definitely make the case that he’s a top-three pick. On Monday, our college hoops savant Mark Titus wanted to know why he couldn’t go no. 1.

The question makes sense. Okafor has been considered for the no. 1 pick all year, but Winslow has been better all tournament. He has fewer questions marks than his All-American teammate and just as much as upside. As the NBA places more and more value on defense, Winslow is a guy who can guard anyone on the perimeter. Within a few years in the NBA, he could be one of the best all-around wings in the league. He’s raw as a scorer, but his shooting form is fine — unlike, say, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s — and in addition to dominating people in transition, there’s no reason to think he can’t turn into a dependable 3-point shooter. He is a future Jimmy Butler or Kawhi Leonard. He could definitely be one of the best players on a playoff team.

I think I’m on the other side of the “top pick” debate, though. Part of this selfish. I don’t want to see Winslow shackled with the expectations that come with going that high. He would be more fun as a secondary star than a franchise savior (who can’t totally dribble yet).

No matter how great he’s looked over the past few weeks, the NBA will be a tough adjustment. He will still have an athletic advantage over almost everyone, but it won’t be as dramatic as it’s been the past few weeks. Even if he eventually settles into the Kawhi role, he won’t be overpowering teams by himself. There’s an outside chance that he improves every piece of his offense and keeps his outer-space athleticism — in other words, he turns into Russell Westbrook as a small forward — but predicting a Westbrook trajectory is as ridiculous as calling someone the next Jordan.

The real question is what you want from a top-three pick. Do you play it safe and go with a guy who could definitely be the second- or third-best player on a title team? Or do you gamble and hope for someone who could carry a team one day? Winslow should be awesome in the NBA, but fitting that second criterion is probably a stretch.

His handle is still pretty balky, and his scoring in the half court never looks completely natural. Some of that will get better, but will it ever add up to a player who’s taking over the fourth quarter of playoff games? The best scorers are born, not developed. That’s why I would still take someone like D’Angelo Russell before Winslow. The NBA may value defense now more than ever, but drafting for defense might not be the smartest play. Offense will always be more valuable. You can find a Trevor Ariza or Corey Brewer every single year. Finding James Harden happens once a decade.

All of that is beside the point this week, though. In college, this weekend, this is the dude:

Last week, I wrote that the best thing I can say about Winslow is that every time he steps on the court, I’m worried he’s going to hurt someone. That isn’t true anymore. I’ve despised Duke with all my heart for my entire life. And the best thing I can say about Justise Winslow is that he had me rooting for Duke to make the Final Four this weekend. Watching this is too much fun.

He just turned 19, and we’re seeing him grow into his game in real time. Every month, he’s gotten a little bit better. March was the meanest display yet. Now it’s April, and we’re still going.

As complicated as the NBA question gets, college is simple. Winslow is being unleashed on guys who are half as strong and nowhere near as explosive. How do you stop a grizzly bear?

I have no idea. That’s Michigan State’s problem now.

Everybody else can just watch him eat.
post #495 of 8508
Originally Posted by PMatic View Post

To be fair, spacing has been the most valuable commodity in the NBA since about 2011.

It has 100%. Especially when near 100% of the top players in the NBA are perimeter players or extremely athletic PF's.

What I'm trying to get across is that the guys who could be a top player in the NBA who excel in "back to the basket" basketball aren't being phased out, they just simply don't come around anywhere near the rate that they used to. Since 2007, there have been only 2 bigs who have dominated to the point where they were a top prospect, Greg Oden and Cousins. That's it! We have 3 now in the last 2 years, 1 in Okafor who is most likely a sure thing, and 2 possibly in Embiid and KAT.
post #496 of 8508
Winslow. pimp.gifpimp.gifpimp.gif

Was high on him since HS but he's really stepped his game and is making himself more money every time he steps on the floor.
post #497 of 8508
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by durantula View Post

Originally Posted by PMatic View Post

To be fair, spacing has been the most valuable commodity in the NBA since about 2011.

It has 100%. Especially when near 100% of the top players in the NBA are perimeter players or extremely athletic PF's.

What I'm trying to get across is that the guys who could be a top player in the NBA who excel in "back to the basket" basketball aren't being phased out, they just simply don't come around anywhere near the rate that they used to. Since 2007, there have been only 2 bigs who have dominated to the point where they were a top prospect, Greg Oden and Cousins. That's it! We have 3 now in the last 2 years, 1 in Okafor who is most likely a sure thing, and 2 possibly in Embiid and KAT.
I'm not sure where I would handicap it, but there is validity to both sides of the argument. I'll also add Griffin, Kanter, Robinson too. Not the greatest list, I know. laugh.gif
post #498 of 8508
Originally Posted by cleansneaksonly21 View Post

Mid post.

Especially later in his career.

He literally put the mid post on the map and his face up jumper is legendary.

That is what I think Towns can be. He has a great looking shot. Cal doesn't let him stray from the paint too much so we don't see it.
post #499 of 8508
Originally Posted by PMatic View Post

Originally Posted by durantula View Post

Originally Posted by PMatic View Post

To be fair, spacing has been the most valuable commodity in the NBA since about 2011.

It has 100%. Especially when near 100% of the top players in the NBA are perimeter players or extremely athletic PF's.

What I'm trying to get across is that the guys who could be a top player in the NBA who excel in "back to the basket" basketball aren't being phased out, they just simply don't come around anywhere near the rate that they used to. Since 2007, there have been only 2 bigs who have dominated to the point where they were a top prospect, Greg Oden and Cousins. That's it! We have 3 now in the last 2 years, 1 in Okafor who is most likely a sure thing, and 2 possibly in Embiid and KAT.
I'm not sure where I would handicap it, but there is validity to both sides of the argument. I'll also add Griffin, Kanter, Robinson too. Not the greatest list, I know. laugh.gif

My bad I meant traditional "back to basket" type bigs, shouldve specified lol. Both griffin and robinson were athletic monsters and Idk how kenter was seen coming out because he never played in college lol
post #500 of 8508
Thread Starter 
Hollis-Jefferson needs a jump shot

To help readers get to know top NBA draft prospects, Insider offers a 360-degree look at many of them in a concise and thorough scouting report featuring three expert perspectives: Kevin Pelton (analytics), Fran Fraschilla (scouting) and Chad Ford (NBA front offices). Here's a look at Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

WARP projection: 0.7 (52nd among players in top 100)
Comparables: Devin Ebanks (96.glasses.gif, Julian Wright (95.1), Marcus E. Williams (94.4), DeMar DeRozan (94.2)
Strengths: FTA%, Rebound%, TO%
Weaknesses: Usage, Shooting, PF%

The analytics perspective

Because he made just eight 3-pointers in two seasons at Arizona, Hollis-Jefferson has one of the lowest shooting scores (which combines 3P%, 3PA/Min and FT%) among the wing players in my college database.

That list illustrates the task in front of Hollis-Jefferson. If he can learn to shoot, he has the ability to develop into a valuable 3-and-D player like Ariza or Carroll.

If not, he'll have to be an elite defender just to stick in the league, as Ebanks (whose .794 shooting rating was marginally better) and Wright were unable to do.

-- Kevin Pelton

The scouting perspective

Hollis-Jefferson was a great high school player and was a very good college player at Arizona. Now, the question is: Can he become a good NBA player at the small forward position? At 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds, Hollis-Jefferson has the size of an NBA wing player.

But the issue is that he played during his Wildcats career like a power forward. This season, he made 67 percent of his baskets at the rim. And he attempted 200 free throws. At times, his strength and athleticism overpowered opponents.

Unfortunately, in the NBA, he is unlikely to be as effective in the paint as he was in college. Hollis-Jefferson made just 33 percent of his 2-point jump shots and just 6 of his 31 attempts behind the arc. That becomes problematic because when NBA opponents can play off one perimeter offensive player, it "shrinks the floor" in defending the opponent's best players. It is an issue that NBA teams will weigh heavily.

Hollis-Jefferson's ballhandling is good but not elite. While he is an effective straight-line driver, he is not elusive enough with his dribble to play in isolation situations. Hollis-Jefferson's strengths are on the defensive end. Because of his above-average athleticism, 7-foot wingspan and over-the-top intensity, he has a chance to be a very good NBA wing defensive stopper. He's the same size as former Kentucky star and current Hornets small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who would be a good role model for him.

-- Fran Fraschilla

The front-office perspective

Hollis-Jefferson was a top-rated prospect out of high school and has been on NBA radar screens since going to Arizona. When Brandon Ashley went down last season and Hollis-Jefferson took over a big role on the offense, his strong play raised his draft stock into the mid-first round. Hollis-Jefferson decided to stay another year at Arizona, hoping to move his stock into the lottery.

Alas, like a number of heralded freshmen, he saw his draft stock slide this season. While he's produced slight upticks in points per game, rebounds per game, steals per game and shooting percentage, they weren't dramatic. His lack of improvement on his 3-point shot was the biggest source of his stock slide.

Still, Hollis-Jefferson has value in the NBA. He's an elite defender who can guard multiple positions on the floor. He's also an excellent athlete who finishes above the rim. He's also an unselfish leader who is willing to do the dirty work that so many coaches love. If he ever develops a passable jump shot, he has star potential in the NBA. His draft range is 18 to 25 right now, but he might be undervalued.

-- Chad Ford
post #501 of 8508
Thread Starter 
post #502 of 8508
Thread Starter 
No longer No. 1, could Jahlil Okafor fall even further on draft boards?

Jahlil Okafor is a dominant college basketball player and an elite NBA prospect. He’s one of the best post-scoring 19-year-olds we’ve ever seen, and will surely hear his name called quickly in the 2015 NBA Draft should he declare. But lately, nearly every mock draft and expert has bumped Karl-Anthony Towns up to No. 1, with Okafor sliding down to No. 2. While a lot of this has to do with Towns dominating recently, there are a few issues with Okafor that might be looming in the minds of NBA teams looking to draft him; most notably, his offensive fit and defensive limitations.

While Okafor is by no means a terrible college defender, he certainly isn’t a good one. With a block rate of just 4.5 percent (and 1.9 blocks per 40 minutes), Okafor doesn’t provide the rim protection a lot of NBA teams seek out of starting centers. He does a good job of going vertical to make it somewhat difficult on college players, but, while he might appear as a mammoth brick wall in front of the rim to college players, it probably won’t quite get it done at the next level.

Furthermore, Okafor doesn’t have the necessary lateral quickness to provide solid coverage in the pick and roll game. This is likely not something that is going to improve significantly, and odds are he will get targeted defensively with pick and rolls often in the NBA.

Compared to Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein, Okafor is not only down one name and hyphen to each, but the defensive shortcomings are glaring. Both Towns and Cauley-Stein project to be elite defenders at the next level, and either Wildcat big man will provide an anchor of rim protection for any NBA team. While Towns has shown the potential for tremendous offensive versatility, both aren’t on Okafor’s level in terms of an advanced offensive skill-set.

Here’s the biggest issue, however: Jahlil Okafor’s game isn’t a great fit with the modern NBA. While Okafor is almost a lock to be a great post scorer at the next level, the straight post-up is slowly going away in the NBA, giving rise to an era of ball movement and floor spacing. What contender currently in the NBA could you see a guy like Okafor fitting in with on the offensive end? The likes of the Warriors, Hawks, Spurs, and Cavs don’t want to focus their offense on slowing it down and getting it into the big guy in the middle. They want to keep the ball moving, spread the floor, and attack quickly. Something that Okafor could improve on to fit in at the next level is making quick decisions to attack in the post — if it’s there, go, and if not, kick it out.

Furthermore, it’s incredibly difficult to build a championship team in the NBA without an elite defense, and it’s even more difficult to build a great defense today without a capable defensive center. It hinders a lot of what you can do; it almost becomes a mandate that you have ball-hawking perimeter players, and it makes it more difficult to be flexible with the power forward spot.

Even with that in mind, there is one team in particular that makes the most sense for Okafor: the New York Knicks. There’s such a bare cupboard of future pieces in New York right now that they almost have to take the best player available. Not only that, but the Knicks are one of the few teams where Okafor would be a great fit offensively. If Phil Jackson is really intent on running the triangle offense in today’s NBA, Okafor is an obvious centerpiece for it.

The Los Angeles Lakers, on the other hand — another team waiting in the shadows for a top-five pick — would not be a good fit for Okafor. The Lakers’ only real long term pieces at the moment are power forward Julius Randle and combo guard Jordan Clarkson, giving reason for them to take the best player available. However, while Randle might develop into a great offensive player and elite rebounder one day, he won’t provide much floor spacing or rim protection.

If the Lakers paired Randle with Okafor, they certainly would have an intimidating young duo on offense and on the glass, but the defensive outlook of the team would be severely crippled; L.A. would be forced to find elite perimeter defenders that can shoot at every guard spot to even think about having the blueprint for a contender. Towns over Okafor in this situation is a no-brainer, and Cauley-Stein might even be preferable, if you’re trying to build a contender down the road.

All this being said, Jahlil Okafor is going to make one NBA team a hell of a lot better. His offensive polish in the low post is just insane. At 19-years-old, Okafor is already elite at scoring down on either the left or right block and turning either shoulder with a variety of moves. Whatever the odds are, you should bet on Okafor becoming the 2015-2016 NBA Rookie of the Year. But while Okafor might very well end up being the best player in the draft class, his defensive issues and offensive fit might force some teams to roll the dice with someone else.
post #503 of 8508
Chasson Randle has to get drafted after his NIT performance
post #504 of 8508
Titus' Winslow argument at No. 1.

A star, sure. I can hear it, and there's a lot to like. I don't view him as the perimeter superstar who a team could justify taking No. 1 over what else is to be had. When I say justify - I mean there's not enough that supports it yet where I'd feel good about doing that. His play in the second half of the season and specifically -- late in the season -- makes me wonder both ways.
post #505 of 8508
Thread Starter 
Tjarks covering what I have hinted at before (this time on the defensive side). Okafor isn't/won't be as ready as some think.
Good Centers Play Defense

When you are looking at what types of players you want to draft, one of the more instructive things to do is look at the rosters of the playoff teams and see if you can find any patterns. One that jumps out right away is that good teams tend to have C's who play defense. Here's a look at the Top 8 out West:

Golden State - Andrew Bogut
Memphis - Marc Gasol
Houston - Dwight Howard
Portland - Robin Lopez
Los Angeles - DeAndre Jordan
San Antonio - Tim Duncan
Dallas - Tyson Chandler
Oklahoma City - Steven Adams

The smallest guy on this list is Tyson Chandler at 7'1 240 and he's an absolutely exceptional athlete, although he is starting to slow down at the age of 32. Bogut, Gasol, Howard, RoLo, DeAndre, Duncan - these are all massive human beings who move their feet pretty well and know how to cover up the front of the rim.The one guy you could say isn't a high-level defender is Adams, if only because of his age and inexperience. And how does OKC make up for it? Serge Ibaka + Kevin Durant + generic defensive wing + Russell Westbrook in front of him. If you are a good team in the Western Conference, you are either getting good D from your C position (2nd line of defense) or you are getting good D from the other 4 positions (1rst).

Nor do these guys come on the free agent market very often. Duncan, Jordan, Gasol - they are all on the teams that brought them up. For the most part, you either have to draft and develop them or flip your own assets to get one. The Warriors turned Monta Ellis into Bogut while the Blazers lucked into Robin Lopez as part of a three-way deal. The only guys on that list who hit unrestricted free agency were Howard and Chandler. What happened to the teams that let them go? The Lakers and the Knicks are currently vying for the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, where they would presumably draft a C.

Even in the East it's the same story.

Atlanta - Al Horford
Cleveland - Timofey Mozgov
Chicago - Joakim Noah
Toronto - Jonas Valanciunas
Washington - Nene
Milwaukee - John Henson
Miami - Hassan Whiteside
Brooklyn - Brook Lopez

You have to go all the way to the No. 8 seed out East to find a C with a bad defensive reputation.

Now let's take a look at the rosters of the bottom 10 teams in the NBA and tell me if you notice a pattern:

Indiana - Roy Hibbert
Charlotte - Al Jefferson
Detroit - Andre Drummond
Denver - Jusuf Nurkic
Sacramento - DeMarcus Cousins
Orlando - Nik Vucevic
LA Lakers - Jordan Hill
Philly - Nerlens Noel
Minnesota - Nik Pekovic
NY Knicks - Player X

Wouldn't you know it, just about every C with the scouting report "great scorer but struggles to defend the paint" shows up. If you go down the list - Hibbert probably won't be on it next season with Indiana getting Paul George back, Drummond might be able to graduate out as he improves his defensive recognition under Stan Van Gundy, the reason people were excited about the Kings at the start of the season was that DMC had started to get going on defense under Mike Malone.

There are some good C's on that list. It's obvious that a lot of them could be on good teams - it's just that they have to be in a very specific situation to succeed. Pekovic seems like a good example. My suspicion it the reason that team in Minnesota last season didn't make the playoffs is because they didn't have enough rim protection. Switch Pekovic even with Robin Lopez and I bet the Wolves make it. If you don't have a good defensive C, you had better at least have a good defensive PF and Kevin Love is many things but he is not that.

The bottom line is that C is primarily a defensive position. You are the last guy between the opposing player and the rim. You can use whatever analogy you want - the QB of the defense, the goalie on the floor. It's great if your goalie can give you 20-25+ points the other way, but if it's going to compromise what he's going to do on D then it doesn't really have much of an effect on winning games. You can hide poor perimeter defenders on non-shooters or guys who aren't primary options. There's nowhere to hide a bad goalie. The only thing you can do is slide him to PF and play a goalie behind him.

The problem with that, of course, is that putting a guy with a C's size at the PF position AND playing him with another C means there is very little space to score on the other side of the floor. This has been the main problem for Greg Monroe over the course of his career and it is the No. 1 concern for Jahlil Okafor.

It feels like Jahlil has the Carmelo Anthony problem in that he has been such a gifted scorer his entire life he has never needed to play much D. Jahlil has been able to win basketball games by getting buckets since Day 1. The NBA is the first time in his life when that's going to change. If he starts right away, he is going to be tested on D every night. He is going to be tested individually, both in the pick-and-roll and the post, and as a team defender, in terms of the number of different actions he's going to have to call out. It's very hard to be a young C on a good team because you have so much responsibility and so many decisions to make. With Jahlil it will be 10x harder because he will also be having a lot of plays run for him and he'll be going up against the best 1-on-1 defenders he has ever seen in his life. He might need a year or two to really get going on offense and figure out the NBA lifestyle before he even thinks about the other end of the floor.

The question for whatever team that drafts him is how good can this guy be on defense and how quickly can he do it. It takes a long time for C's to develop - it's a very difficult position to learn. Rookie C's don't start very often and when they do they aren't usually on good teams. To complete the sports analogies, I'd say there are a lot of similarities between being the center in the NBA and the catcher in MLB. Most MLB teams don't care about offense from their C for the same reasons that NBA teams don't for theirs.

Let's look at the ages of all those Western Conference C's:

Bogut - 30
Gasol - 30
Howard - 29
RoLo - 27
DeAndre - 26
Duncan - 37
Tyson - 32
Adams - 21

Jahlil is 19. Unless he gets drafted to the Oklahoma City Thunder, it's probably going to take him awhile before he's ready to be a playoff C. The best case scenario is probably the trajectory of DeMarcus Cousins, a teenager who came into the league as a dominant scorer and who looks ready to turn the corner as a complete player at 24. At this point, the Kings just needed to have done a much better job of building around him. Here are the guys they took in the next four lotteries - Jimmer Fredette, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas.

If you have Jahlil developing into a dominant low-post threat at the ages of 20-23, you should be able to draft a pretty good team around him in the meanwhile. You can get a lot of elite two-way shooters to put in front of him and then you could really have something.

I'd say that (barring injury of course) Al Jefferson is probably the floor for what Jahlil becomes. He's just that gifted a scorer. How good his teams become is primarily going to come down to how good he can become at defense. My guess is he will be on one of the best teams in the NBA by the time he gets to 28-29 but that it could take him a long while to get there.

Whoever drafts Jahlil Okafor is going to have to be real patient.
post #506 of 8508
Thread Starter 
Tournament Wins Come From Smart Coaching In January, February

For all of the talent on Duke’s roster, there was no guarantee they would make the Final Four. After going 12-0 in non-conference play, Duke opened the ACC season with a 2-2 record, including a 12-point loss at NC State and a 16-point drubbing in Cameron at the hands of a Miami team that went on to the NIT. It looked like a carbon copy of the season before, when an offensively-minded group led by a freshman from Chicago (Jabari Parker instead of Jahlil Okafor) struggled on defense before being upset in the first round by Mercer. The difference this time around was that Mike Krzyzewski made a proactive line-up switch, inserting Matt Jones into the starting line-up for Amile Jefferson and going 4-out around Okafor.

The move replaced a 6’9 power forward who couldn’t shoot 3’s or guard smaller perimeter players (Jefferson) with a 6’5 3-and-D wing (Jones). All of a sudden, Okafor, Justice Winslow and Tyus Jones were playing in a lot more space on offense. Just as important, it moved Winslow from a position as a big SF to a small PF, allowing him to take advantage of his edge in speed against bigger and slower frontcourt players, none of whom could punish Winslow for his lack of size on the other end of the floor. You can imagine the move as an NCAA version of Steve Kerr taking David Lee out of the starting line-up for Draymond Green.

We saw the full benefits of the move in the Elite Eight. Duke was able to outlast Gonzaga 66-52 despite a subpar performance from Okafor, who was held to only 10 points by the Zags' massive frontline. Coach K’s team won thanks to their defense, most notably a strong performance from Winslow, who was matched up with Kyle Wilter, a 6’10 stretch 4. At 6’7 230 with a 6’10 wingspan, Winslow was a rock in the low post, pushing Wiltjer away from the basket and never allowing him to get comfortable. A Duke team that struggled with defense has become a lock-down outfit. They can slide Winslow and Matt Jones to almost any combination of players from the 1-4 positions, removing a lot of the defensive pressure on Okafor, Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook.

The move has also done wonders for Winslow’s draft stock, as he has gone from a late lottery pick to a guy who could be taken in the Top 5. His numbers have risen dramatically over the last two months, in large part because Coach K put him in a position to succeed on both sides of the floor. One guy who has slipped in comparison is Arizona freshman Stanley Johnson and it’s instructive to see the difference in how they were deployed by their respective coaches.

Johnson never got the opportunity to play 1-on-1 too much at Arizona. Sean Miller’s team did a terrible job of spreading the floor all season and it came back to haunt them in the Elite Eight. They lost 85-78 to Wisconsin in a game where they were outscored +30 at the three-point line. While Bo Ryan’s team played four and five three-point shooters for most of the game, Arizona often fielded lineups where Johnson was the only shooter on the floor.

Kaleb Tarczewski, their starting C, is still a fairly raw big man and he can’t space the floor outside of 10+ feet.

Brandon Ashley was supposed to be an ersatz stretch 4, but he ended up taking less than one per game over the course of his junior season. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a notoriously bad three-point shooter who can be left open outside of the paint. TJ McConnell, their starting PG, was their second best three-point shooter after Johnson at 32%.

Rather than playing as a small-ball 4 next to three three-point shooters like Winslow, Johnson played as a big SF next to four guys whom defenses could leave open. It was no wonder that he struggled to finish around the basket - there were always multiple defenders coming at him everytime he drove. Johnson was their best three-point shooter, but as an NCAA coach, you don’t want your 6’7 240 future lottery pick spending most of his time 25+ feet from the basket. That should be the job of your role players, the guys who should be making the lives of your star players easier.

It’s not that Arizona didn’t have three-point shooters on their roster, but they came off the bench because they didn’t have the size and athleticism of the McDonald’s All-Americans in front of them. There was no one on their roster like Matt Jones, a 6’5 athlete who can stretch the floor and defend multiple positions. Jones had 16 points on 10 shots against Gonzaga - it was the kind of shooting performance Arizona needed from one of their wings to make it to Indianapolis.

As soon as it became obvious that neither Ashley nor Tarczewski could defend Frank Kaminsky, Arizona’s only play of attack was to go small with either Johnson or RHJ at the 4, putting more speed on Kaminsky and creating space in the line-up to add three-point shooting. It was probably a move Miller should have made in January and February, even if it had come at the expense of a few regular season wins and keeping Ashley happy.

That’s why Coach K runs a dictatorship in Cameron, not a democracy. If Amile Jefferson felt bad about coming out of the line-up, one person that didn’t care at all was his head coach. Coach K’s job is to win basketball games not maximize the draft stock of his players. What’s funny is that the latter is generally a prerequisite for the former. No one gets much love from the scouts when their team underperforms expectations. Ashley has fallen out of the DraftExpress mocks and he currently sits at #99 on their list of the Top 100 NBA prospects.

For Sean Miller, the experience should be a valuable lesson. At the age of 46, he has become one of the elite young coaches in the country, returning Arizona to its place as one of the blue blood programs in college basketball. The only thing missing from his resume is a Final Four appearance. He had more than enough talent on this year’s team to make it there and win the whole thing, but he wasn’t able to find quite the right mix of players to have on the floor at the same time.

Miller’s loss to Wisconsin was similar to John Calipari’s loss in the Elite Eight in 2010, when a team with DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Eric Bledsoe was knocked off by a West Virginia team that didn’t feature a single player who stuck at the next level. What happened? Bobby Huggins sat in a 1-3-1 zone and dared Calipari’s team to beat it over the top. Ever since then, Calipari has made it a priority to recruit 3-and-D shooters, knowing that he would need three-point shooting to bust open the zones his teams would see in the NCAA Tournament.

Guys like Calipari, Coach K, Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino do most of their best coaching before the NCAA Tournament starts. Wins in March come in January and February, when a coach experiments with different lineups and rotations, and the summer before, when they round out their roster through recruiting, transfers and player development. A great NCAA coach is equal parts coach and GM. They have to build their program year round to be ready for March.
post #507 of 8508
Thread Starter 
@DeanOnDraft overload:
Justise Winslow Has Been Breaking NCAA Basketball

Justise Winslow has been gaining draft hype with an exceptionally strong NCAA performance, and I’m here to dump gasoline on the fire.

After losing at Notre Dame mid-way through the season, Duke looked like a slight disappointment with a 4-3 ACC record and a #8 kenpom rank after being rated top 5 preseason by every person and computer in the universe. But they followed up the Notre Dame loss with a win at then undefeated and 2nd ranked Virginia, the beginning of a vicious hot streak. Starting with the Virginia win, they have gone 16-1 with a 12-5 record against the gambling spread en route to a Final Four berth. If this hot streak were to be attributed a single reason, it would be that Justise Winslow has morphed into a superstar and put the team on his back. Here are his per 40 minute scoring splits with the first 20 games on the first line, and the latest 17 on the bottom line:

There is likely a variance involved in these splits, as it is unlikely that he suddenly became a much better shooter midway through the season. But he has upticked nevertheless, and his increase in both 2 pointer volume and with a huge spike in conversion is especially promising. Again there is variance involved as his early mid-range splits were horrific, but the fact that he has been able to increase his attempts against tougher defenses with such a big spike in 2P% suggests massive progression throughout the season. Now let’s look at his per 40 splits for other box score stats:

Every stat is trending up, often by massive margins. It is common for freshmen to improve as the season progresses, but they normally do not see such massive statistical upswings because 1) competition tends to get tougher in the second half and 2) it is not normal to progress this much. For comparison, here are the splits for his freshman cohorts:

Jahlil Okafor:

Tyus Jones:

Both players tended to hold steady or slightly downtick with fewer weak opponents to feast upon. There is no obvious progression for either, which highlights how awesome Justise’s leap has been. It also suggests that the uptick in team success is largely due to his growth into a star.

It may seem overreactive to throw him into the top 3 discussion based on three great tournament games, but really this is an extension of a trend that has been ongoing for half a season now. Not only have his statistics been trending off the charts, but he looks like a beast while accruing them. The plays he makes on both ends in transition, on the glass, and in attacking the rim are plays that no NCAA player other than Kelly Oubre on a good day is physically capable of making. His physical profile is stellar with solid height (6’7″) and length (6’10”) and exceptional strength and athleticism, and if he continues to improve his ball handling and shot making there is not much impeding his upside.

At this point Winslow is at worst the 4th best prospect in the draft, and it would be nothing short of lunacy to take Emmanuel Mudiay ahead of him. Winslow’s physical tools are just as good as Mudiay’s, except he has dominated top end NCAA competition whereas Mudiay has played well in a league where 38 year old Stephon Marbury reigns supreme. It is highly unlikely that Mudiay would be notably better at the NCAA level, but possible that he would be drastically worse, so it is correct to value Winslow above him.

Winslow is still no threat to Towns at the #1 slot, but it is perfectly reasonable to take him at #2 or #3 overall. It may seem like insanity to value the 22 PER player over his 31 PER teammate who was the #1 RSCI prospect and has been the consensus #1 pick all season, but Winslow’s skill set is far more valuable at the NBA level. Jahlil Okafor is a stud low post scorer, but it comes at the expense of the neither 3 nor D stigma. This makes him difficult to build around since there are few stretch 4’s who are good enough to atone for Okafor’s rim protection shortcomings and pairing him with a rim protecting 5 prevents him from having optimal spacing to operate in the paint with maximum efficiency. I can see him becoming a more efficient version of Zach Randolph, which is certainly a valuable NBA player which is why I maintain him as a top 4 pick. But Zach Randolph was not considered good until paired with Marc Gasol who 1) is a good defensive center and 2) can make long 2’s and is a great passer from the high post. Even if he hits his upside, Okafor still needs to be paired with a fellow big with a unique blend of strengths to play a big role on a contender. Also his FT% looms as a major wart, as it bodes ill for his ability to operate outside the paint offensively. If nothing else hurts his overall efficiency which is his principal selling point as a prospect.

In short, Okafor’s hype is based largely on scouts overrating the value of low post scoring, especially when it comes with neither rim protection nor outside shooting. While he has been as good as advertised, that is not good enough to be a top 3 pick in this class when he is such an awkward fit in the modern NBA.

This explains why the gap between Okafor (9.6) and Winslow (7.3) according to Layne Vashro’s EWP model was surprisingly slim entering the NCAA tournament. That gap should narrow given that Winslow has outshined Okafor thus far in the tourney. Further, if any player is underrated by EWP it is Winslow since he is far more athletic and has a significantly stronger split over the second half of the season. So according to math and logic and such, Okafor is at best is a narrowly superior prospect to Winslow. My gut feeling is that Winslow is a more valuable prospect that will become a more valuable pro. He is the player that I tune in to watch, he is the player with the killer physical profile, and he is the player that I would dream of building an NBA team around if he hits his upside.

I am unsure whether I take Winslow over Russell. I currently lean gently in the direction of D’Angelo, but Justise still has a game or two to change my mind. But more importantly, while watching the Final Four everybody should ask themselves: would you really be upset if you rooted for a team that picked Winslow over Okafor?
Stanley Johnson vs. Kelly Oubre: Who is the #2 NCAA SF?

Justise Winslow has locked himself in as my #1 NCAA SF with his beastly 2nd half, but there remains a compelling debate regarding the 2nd best NCAA SF between Stanley Johnson vs. Kelly Oubre. On the surface their per 40 statistics are nearly identical:

Stanley is 6 months younger, played more minutes per game (28.4 vs 21.0) and did so for a better team with a better defense. RSCI ranked Stanley #3 and Oubre #8, DX has Stanley 9th and Oubre 13th in the 2015 draft, ESPN has Stanley 11th and Oubre 12th, and Layne Vashro’s EWP grades Stanley (8.4) comfortably ahead of Oubre (5.4). All macro signs point toward Stanley Johnson having a small but clear edge as a prospect. But details are fun and occasionally illuminating, so let’s explore them before ending the article in agreement with consensus.

The biggest difference between the two players comes in their physical profiles. Stanley measured half an inch taller and 33 pounds heavier than Oubre at the Nike Hoop Summit, and has a big edge in physical strength. Oubre counters with go go gadget arms (7’2″ vs 6’11” wingspan), superior athleticism, and vastly superior quickness. Overall Oubre has a much more attractive physical package. While Stanley’s tools are not bad, they come with the red flag that average athletes with excellent strength often struggle to translate their NCAA production to the NBA.

Stanley Johnson somewhat reminisces of a SF version of Marcus Smart, minus the part where he is a defensive outlier. Johnson doesn’t have Smart’s defensive quickness as he gets beaten off the dribble much more frequently, and while he has a good steal rate (3.3%) it pales in comparison to Smart’s outlier rate (5.2%). And in spite of being 4 inches taller he somehow has a lower block rate at 1.6% vs 2.1%. As an NBA rookie, Smart has been an adequate floor spacer and passer, but has largely failed to get to the rim and finish or draw free throws off the dribble. As much as I love Smart, he would be a bland prospect without his awesome defense.

Stanley does not have an identical offensive skill set to Smart, so it is not a given that he will share the same translation issues. He is taller, has a better outside shot, and has a softer touch on short range floaters. But his half-court offense inside the arc is largely limited to driving halfway to the rim and then pulling up for short floaters. Other than that he has some frightening red flags. According to, here are his 2 point attempts split between transition vs half-court and rim attempts vs mid-rangers:

Stanley gets flack for his rim finishing, and rightfully so as his half-court splits are particularly ugly. It’s staggering that he is worse on half-court rim attempts than he is on non-rim attempts. For comparison, Marcus Smart shot 37/71 (52.1%) on half-court rim attempts as a freshman and 60/94 (63.8%) as a sophomore. Given Johnson’s size advantage, it is extremely disconcerting how badly he is struggling. This is slightly softened by his impressive half-court mid-range splits where Smart only converted 32.6% in his 2 years combined. So at least he may not be a complete zero inside the arc once he transitions to the NBA, but a good floater is a weak go to weapon in the NBA. It is a good plan B for the occasions when he can’t get all the way to the rim, but if he cannot get there ever and it becomes plan A then it does little to bolster his value.

Kelly Oubre has little in the way of a half court skill set, but in spite of his greater athleticism he is less reliant on transition scoring and his half-court splits are a bit stronger.

Further troubling for Johnson is that Arizona only faced 11 of 38 opponents featuring top 100 defensive 2p% and top 120 blk%. In those 11 games, Johnson shot an appalling 23/88 (26.1%) inside the arc. Given his volume of mid-range attempts, the sample is likely hurt by bad variance. But it logically follows that floaters and short jumpers are less likely to be converted when contested by length, and his rim woes are obviously exacerbated in such matchups. In comparison, Kansas faced 17 of 36 opponents who fit those parameters and Oubre converted 33/72 (45.8%) of his 2PA in slightly more total minutes than Stanley (362 vs 347). And in spite of fewer 2PA, Oubre drew more FTA in the sample 82 vs. 68. Also Oubre played 3 games against by far the top 2 interior defenses (Kentucky and Texas) where he collectively shot 8/14 from 2 with 13 FTA in 66 minutes. No matter how you slice it Stanley’s statistics suffered significantly more against defenses that most closely approximate NBA caliber competition. This aligns with the narrative that he is a greater translation risk than Oubre.

Oubre does not have a sophisticated offensive game, as his creation skills are limited and he projects to be little more than a floor spacer early in his NBA career. But he shows flashes of ability to drive and finish that are absent from Stanley’s repertoire, and with his superior athletic package he may be able to build on this as he ages. Stanley is a better passer with a better floater, but there is no clear path where he surprises as a quality NBA scorer. Paul Pierce became an NBA superstar with average athleticism, but he had elite feel, handles, and footwork and as of right now Stanley does not shine in any of the three categories. So unless he progresses his skill level tremendously in the next few years, he likely will be limited to being an offensive role player.

With respect to defensive playmaking, the two SF’s are nearly identical:

Both have great rebound and steal rates, and both have surprisingly low block rates. I believe that Oubre’s block rate is a bit of a fluke– he did not accrue a single block in his first 229 minutes while he was trying to solidify his role in Kansas’s rotation, and he ended up with a smaller sample of minutes than most lottery prospects. I suspect that his block rate would grow with a greater minute sample. Conversely this may indicate that his leaping ability pales in comparison to his stellar lateral quickness, and I could be overrating his athleticism advantage over Stanley. Either way I favor him as a defensive prospect because he is drastically tougher to beat off the dribble, and should have a much easier time guarding NBA SF’s. This is partially offset by his mediocre defensive awareness as he is sometimes prone to lapses, but his upside as a defensive wing is elite whereas Stanley is a mixed bag.

To narrow the gap, Stanley has equity to be a good defensive PF in the NBA once paired with a good rim protecting center. He rebounds well, he has enough strength to hold his own in the post, and he has quick hands to poke away entry passes. Further he might be perceived as a weak link in the defense when facing a slightly taller post-up PF, and less sharp coaches might try too hard to attack the “mismatch” and run highly inefficient post-ups against him. Even though he will likely struggle to contain quicker SF’s off the dribble, Stanley still could easily end up as a positive defensive NBA player. It would not surprise me if he became something along the lines of Draymond Green as a pro. In spite of all of the red flags, his stellar production at such a young age cannot be completely ignored and I maintain him as a clear lottery pick.

Oubre has a different flavor of red flags. He could barely get off the bench early in the season because he was so lost, and once he secured a starting role his inconsistency still resulted in a number of games where his minutes were limited with near empty stat lines. He does not have good feel for the game, as he would at times blindly barrel his way into the lane and get blocked or turn it over. He also has a mediocre assist to turnover ratio and questionable defensive focus. He is still learning how to play and I do not perceive him as a lock to become a good NBA player. But these flaws can partially be attributed to being an inexperienced freshman (Stanley was not immune to similar errors), and I feel that Bill Self was a bit overreactive in jerking his minutes around. And in spite of his warts, his bottom line looks good. He comfortably led the #10 kenpom defense in individual DRtg as a SF, he posted an above average ORtg on 23 usage, and his production did not drastically slip against the many stingy defenses Kansas faced. His flags are less worrying to me than those of Stanley, and I am more enchanted by his upside. I do not prefer Oubre by a landslide, but I clearly favor him as a prospect.

Oubre’s warts are enough to keep him outside of the top 4 conversation, but after that I gravitate toward him being the 5th best prospect in the class. He fits easily into NBA lineups as a 3 + D wing. He offers defensive versatility, as he has the quickness to guard SG’s and the height and length to play as a small PF, especially once he adds strength. Perhaps his basketball IQ and skill level never develop enough to become more than a mediocre 3 + D player, but I like enough about him to roll the dice on him falling somewhere on the spectrum of a quality 3 + D guy to all-star caliber.
2015 Big Board– How Do We Rate Mudiay?

Elite Tier

1. Karl Towns
2. Justise Winslow
3. D’Angelo Russell

These prospects are all high floor high ceiling studs. I would grade all of them in the range of a high end #2 pick to an average #1 in an average draft. Towns gets #1 because he’s a two way big prospect, and then Winslow and Russell are exceptionally close for #2. I favor Winslow because of his late season destruction and awesome tools, but Russell’s skill package is exceptional and he could be quite the offensive weapon. Whoever drafts these guys in the #3-5 range are going to be winners in this draft.

Note: I rate all three players below Joel Embiid and above all other prospects in the 2014 class.

Unique Blend of Elite Skill and Appalling Warts

4. Jahlil Okafor

Okafor is the most skilled low post freshman NCAA scorer I have ever watched, and I believe it will translate to the NBA given his monster size, length, hands, as well as footwork and rim touch. But he has holes in his game that the other top guys do not, and his lack of rim protection and shooting makes it difficult to place him in a lineup that maximizes his awesome low post scoring. He fits comfortably into the #4 slot on my big board, as there is a wide chasm between the top 3 and the rest of the class.

Upsidey Guys Who Are Starting To Get a Bit Warty

5. Emmanuel Mudiay

Assessing Mudiay’s draft stock is an interesting topic. I am a big advocate of swinging for the fences, since upside is far more important than downside and passing up a future star for a decent player is far more harmful than passing up a decent player for a bust. But the mystery box factor actually puts a dent in a Mudiay’s upside, as passing the check point of NCAA competence makes a player more likely to achieve their theoretical upside.

If Mudiay had spent this past season in college, he may have been as disappointing as past prospects such as Andrew Harrison, Marquis Teague, Austin Rivers, etc. Based on descriptions that his game needs polish, it is highly unlikely that he would have outperformed his #2 RSCI pedigree and boosted his stock by any significant margin. The fact that he is being evaluated as if he played NCAA and lived up to the hype is insane, as he is avoiding the risk that he falls out of favor with scouts with his flaws under a microscope without any opportunity cost. Drafting him over Winslow or Russell would be an unequivocal mistake with so much more downside and little (if any) additional upside.

This point should be especially obvious with the rookie disappointment of Dante Exum, who I believe had a more compelling thin slice. Mudiay’s physical tools are slightly preferrable, as he is more explosive with a better frame but does not quite have Exum’s quickness and is an inch shorter. Both have a gaping wart in their shooting ability, with Mudiay’s being marginally more worrisome. The difference maker is that Exum was reputed as having a superior basketball IQ and feel for the game, which I agreed with based on the one game eye test. I do not believe Mudiay has a poor feel or basketball IQ like Andrew Harrison does, but his decision making has been called into question and nothing shines for him skill wise. Everything is sheer potential– he could be a great PG if he adds polish to his half-court skill. He could be a beast defensively, but I see little discussion of him actually showing noteworthy acumen or intensity on that end. Any discussion of his draft stock needs to come with the glaring red flag that he might be terrible at basketball.

There is a point in the top 10 where it is worth taking the risk that he is bad at basketball given his physical tools, which are comfortably above average across the board. With height, length, speed, quickness, strength, and athleticism, he offers the whole package. But he nevertheless does not have the freaky nuclear athleticism of John Wall, Derrick Rose, or Russell Westbrook, which makes playing Mudiay roulette a bit less enticing. I am not sure exactly where to place him, but 5th is the maximum reasonable peak and he could be argued to go a fair bit lower. I am keeping him 5th for now because I don’t have any strong conviction that any of my lower prospects ran above him, but he is much closer to 10th in my book than is to the top 3.

6. Willie Cauley-Stein
7. Kelly Oubre
8. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
9. Stanley Johnson
10. Mario Hezonja
11. Kristaps Porzingis

These players all have arguments ahead of Mudiay. WCS offers the super power of elite footspeed and quickness in player with legitimate center size, which gives him tantalizing defensive versatility. Offensively he is strictly a garbage man, but he does not force bad shots and his FT% is improving, so he should at least be efficient in his limited role.

I already shared in depth thoughts on Kelly Oubre and Stanley Johnson. I noted in my writeup that I gravitate toward Oubre being the 5th best prospect, but I really don’t have enough faith in him being actually good at basketball to boldly place him above WCS and Mudiay. For now I am playing it safe and keeping him 7th.

On the other hand, I do have loads of faith in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. He is the Marcus Smart of this draft who is a defensive stud and the type of player who will find ways to help his team win games. His lack of 3 point range or offensive creation skill places a damper on his stock. But he is not a complete zero offensively since he is a good passer, an electric finisher, and has a respectable FT%. With his awesome tools and defensive versatility, I believe it is wise to just take him in the lottery and gamble that offensive game fills out adequately one way or another.

Mario Hezonja is a mystery box that I have little grasp on. With his athleticism, I buy the narrative that he has upside so 10th feels like a good place to rank him.

‘Staps is also a mystery box, and with Layne Vashro repeatedly tweeting the Bargnani comparison I have a hard time getting excited for him. With rumors of questionable work ethic and Staps being soft on the glass, it feels like some form of disappointment is inevitable. But he’s young, tall, toolsy, he can shoot, and I have not scouted him so I can’t take a strong anti-Staps position with great fervor.

Quality Role Players

12. Kevon Looney
13. Jakob Poeltl Somehow Rhymes with Turtle
14. Frank Kaminsky
15. Tyus Jones
16. Myles Turner
17. Kris Dunn
18. Christian Wood
19. Delon Wright
20. Sam Dekker

Looney’s stats are nice and his tools seem decent enough. Same with Frank, although smoothness for his size is his calling card rather than physical tools.

I want to love Poeltl more, as he offers nice rebounding and defense. But to my eye his offensive game feels a bit choppy, and I am skeptical of his upside on that end. Still a solid guy to take in the back end of the lottery.

It’s worth worrying that Tyus Jones will struggle translating his NCAA production similar to Tyler Ennis and Trey Burke, as he is tiny and not exceptionally athletic. But he has awesome skill, razor sharp instincts, and a better first step than his fellow undertooled T’s, so mid-1st round seems like a good time to gamble.

Myles Turner offers a unique blend of size and shooting, but to my eye he appears to be a stiff. He doesn’t pass, doesn’t get offensive rebounds, and was oddly inefficient inside the arc given his size and shooting ability. And in spite of his stellar block rate, he is not explosive and does not have the monster size of less athletic rim protectors such as Roy Hibbert or Rudy Gobert. Unless he develops a good NBA 3 point shot that he can get off at a high volume with his reach, I do not see him amounting to much as a pro.

Kris Dun has solid tools + solid stats and his mid-1st round standing seem appropriate. But I haven’t scouted him much so my opinion currently lacks depth.

Christian Wood I have not scouted, but on the surface he is intriguing to me. He offers rebounding, shot blocking, and has potential to develop into a stretch 4. He dominated in UNLV’s surprise win vs. Arizona, and he was certainly not aided by playing for one of the absolute worst NCAA coaches in Dave Rice. I am not sure he is necessarily underrated, but he is a player I would give a long and hard look if I was an NBA team with a mid-late 1st round pick.

Sam Dekker has been receiving loads of hype for his NCAA tournament performance, but to me he is the most bland prospect in the draft. He does not have any gaping weaknesses nor does he shine at anything in particular. I believe he will be a decent rotation player in the NBA, but I don’t see all that much upside.

In contrast to Dekker, Delon Wright has all sorts of funky polarity. I suspect that his lack of strength, quickness, or explosiveness will prevent him from translating his stellar college production to the NBA. But with his awesome combination of height, length, skill, basketball IQ, and instincts, he is a unique prospect and it is difficult to place a hard cap on his upside with high confidence. Thus he trades over boring Dekker.

Boring Role Players

21. Jerian Grant
22. Devin Booker
23. Caris LeVert
24. Bobby Portis
25. Trey Lyles
26. RJ Hunter
27. Cameron Payne
28. Rashad Vaughn
29. Robert Upshaw
30. Josh Richardson

This tier is more boring Dekker-ish players. Jerian Grant has an intriguing blend of physical tools, shooting, passing, and shot creation. But he also is old and has an bizarrely low rebound rate which is a bit of a red flag. I like him but feel he is slightly overrated after Notre Dame’s tournament run.

Devin Booker is the youngest prospect in the draft and can shoot the lights out, but offers little else. His passing and BBIQ are both solid, but he is a t-rex who is not particularly athletic and has exceptionally low steal, block, and rebound rates. He does not figure to make an impact defensively or with shot creation. He is a bland floor spacer to me.

Caris LeVert does a little bit of everything and has decent tools. His value takes a small hit because he missed most of this past season with a foot injury, but he could become a nice role player for a late 1st round pick.

Bobby Portis had a highly productive sophomore year– he is skilled, smart, and he plays hard. He has potential to become a solid stretch 4 in the NBA. But his lack of athleticism prohibits him from making a big impact, although I do suspect that his pro defensive impact exceeds what you would expect given his physical tools.

Trey Lyles is similar to Portis, and has even better handles and creation ability. But Portis strikes me as the more intelligent player, so I’m giving him the slight edge.

RJ Hunter is a 3 + maybe D prospect. Josh Richardson is a maybe 3 + D prospect.

Cameron Payne is the funkiest and most unique prospect in this tier. While he has lackluster tools for an NBA PG, he atones with a strong skill set as he guided Murray State to the 14th best kenpom offense in the NCAA. He is somewhat intoxicating to watch, and I feel compelled to make an campaign that Cam Payne has sneaky upside. But I can’t place my finger on a strong logical reason behind this, and with such PG depth in the NBA I do not want to overrate an undertooled PG dominating weak college competition.

Rashad Vaughn was the #10 RSCI recruit. While he appears to be a chucker, he posted solid NCAA statistics for an 18 year old. Like Christian Wood I am intrigued to see what he can accomplish once freed from the shackles of his horrific coach.

Robert Upshaw has serious red flags in his intangibles since he has been kicked off two college teams, but he is such a monster rebounder and rim protector that I remain intrigued.
post #508 of 8508
Thread Starter 
Two Parts to His Name, but Karl-Anthony Towns Is One Complete Player

The given name of Karl-Anthony Towns — the 7-foot Kentucky center who wears size 20 sneakers and just might be the N.B.A.’s next superstar big man — often came to represent two distinct personalities braided within one oversize body.

There was Karl, staid and sturdy, the name of his father, the coach, the driving force behind a 3.96 high school grade point average and a rigorous basketball routine: 1,000 jump shots made, six days per week, with only Sundays off for church.

And there was Anthony, the name spliced onto the end by his sister, Lachelle, bonding the boy to his mother’s Latino heritage. It was as if she knew her younger brother would need more than just basketball in his life. He would need to teach himself how to play piano; to play golf and Ultimate Frisbee; to bake cookies for his teachers; to study kinesiology; to even collect coupons.

Karl and Anthony seemed to converge in name alone. At St. Joseph High School, a Catholic preparatory school in Metuchen, N.J., Towns brought the Falcons to unprecedented heights on the court, winning three state titles in three years and cementing his legacy as one of New Jersey’s most esteemed high school basketball products and the top target of Coach John Calipari of Kentucky.

But in classroom No. 323, on the third floor of O’Neill Hall, Towns often lingered late, hoping to discuss life and spirituality with his religion teacher, Tom Cunningham, who came to know Towns as thoughtful and introspective. They seldom talked about basketball. Though raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, Towns eagerly adopted lessons from the textbook, “Path Through Catholicism,” to inspire winding conversations, frequently ducking back to visit Cunningham during lunch hour to ask more questions.

“I think he saw my class as a perfect vehicle to express his fears,” Cunningham said. “He needed a refuge from basketball 24-7.”

Towns seemed riveted by the allegorical tales about overcoming adversity, which took Cunningham by surprise. Here was a celebrated teenage phenom, gifted both athletically and intellectually.

At the Final Four in Indianapolis, Towns will be the focal point of Kentucky’s momentous effort to complete an undefeated season, as he has been all year. And when the season is over, he will most likely be one of the top two picks in June’s N.B.A. draft, falling perhaps into the lap of the Knicks, whose hat hangs on the back of his bedroom door.

If storm clouds were brewing, they would seem to be well off in the horizon. His appeared to be a charmed life, sustained by a steady home, a close-knit family, and an affable personality, which helped him become class president as a high school freshman. And yet he diligently prepared for choppy waters he half-expected would come. He raced through 135 high school course credits in three years, and his interest in kinetics seemed rooted in curiosity about his abnormal physical structure, how long his athletic career might realistically last.

It was as if Towns actively bolstered Anthony thinking he might need to support Karl — testing out other passions, in case something happened to his main one.

The Karl

When the Towns family moved into their split-level home in Piscataway, N.J., when Karl-Anthony was around 8, they knew adjustments already needed to be made. The dining-room ceiling was raised, and a big bed was lugged into Karl-Anthony’s room. By the fifth grade, he was 6 feet 3 inches tall.

He needed his own desk at school, since the round table the other children sat at was much too small for his legs to fit underneath. Children teased him. At the library, he picked out books about Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming to read about how other athletic giants handled their awkward formative years. Mostly, Towns longed for the moment, at 3 p.m., when his father would pick him up and take him to practice at Piscataway Technical High School, where Karl Towns coached.

There, even as a fifth grader, Towns practiced with the junior varsity. His mother, Jacqueline Cruz-Towns, noticed something about his ability early on: She thought he looked like a ballerina on the court.

“He was so graceful, even though he was so big,” Cruz-Towns said. “That’s when I knew he was going to do something with basketball.”

His father, a coach at Piscataway Tech for 15 years, noticed the balletic movements, too, but opted to press Karl-Anthony on his fundamentals, the sort of skills that enabled him to become one of the nation’s leading rebounders for Monmouth in 1984, at only 6 feet 5 inches. Despite Karl-Anthony’s obvious size, Karl Towns wanted his son to be able to dribble, pass and defend. On Saturdays, his mother and father would stand at opposite free-throw lines for hours as Towns dribbled around cones, pulled up for jump shots or drove to the rim, just speed and agility drills, Karl Towns called it.

“I didn’t want him to have any limitations,” Karl Towns said. “I made sure Karl’s game was complete.”

He was almost too complete. By the summer after his freshman year, Towns already had scholarship offers from programs like Michigan State, Syracuse and Connecticut. But his coach, Dave Turco, believed he had barely scratched the surface of his athletic potential, preferring to hover toward the 3-point arc rather than bang bodies in the paint. He led the team in 3-pointers, drawing comparisons to his favorite player, Len Bias, the former Maryland swingman, whom Towns watched on VHS tapes growing up.

But he worked at it, physically and mentally. He also watched tapes of Hakeem Olajuwon and Shawn Kemp, then spent hours in the gym replicating their moves. Cruz-Towns can remember him standing on top of his bed, magic marker in hand, scribbling inspirational quotes onto the walls, his handwriting large and loopy.

“The Harder You Work, The Harder It Is to Give Up,” one read.

“Play to Prove. Prove to Win. Win to Succeed,” said another.

A third read: “Greatness Comes At A Price.”

There were doubters, Karl Towns said, and he recalls plenty who thought his son’s game was too soft, his legs too skinny, his feet too big, and his personality too friendly to evolve into a successful big man at even the college level.

At Kentucky, the fiercest critic has been Calipari, who said he had been harder on Towns than on any player on the team this season. It is a function of his understanding that Towns can handle the appraisals, needed to toughen up — and also that Towns’s father had asked Calipari to keep the criticism coming. When Towns finished with only 1 point in 13 minutes in the round of 16 game against West Virginia, his father texted Calipari: “Stay on him, Coach. Don’t let up.”

“You have to let kids know what’s right and wrong,” Karl Towns said. “That’s the problem with a lot of programs today. Everyone’s just telling kids ‘You’re great, you’re great, you’re great, you’re great.’ And they’re not great.”

Towns scored 25 against Notre Dame two days later, leading the Wildcats back to the Final Four.

Not long ago, Turco, St. Joseph’s coach, teased Towns about the N.B.A., and what it would be like if he was drafted by either the Knicks or the Philadelphia 76ers. Towns enjoyed that idea. He told Turco he would be able to live with his family in Piscataway to save money and simply take a car service to either city.

“I’m like, ‘Karl,’ ” Turco said, shaking his head, “ ‘you really have no idea what’s about to take place.’ ”

The Anthony

There just never seemed to be enough food to satiate Towns’s growing body. After school, he would eat a footlong sub before his mother’s home-cooked dinners, even after having a hefty lunch of homemade chicken, rice and vegetables and his favorite snacks, granola bars and Buncha Crunch.

Grocery shopping became a weekly endeavor, straining the budget, until Towns figured out a way he could help: He started collecting coupons.

On Sundays, he and his father would dash to a convenience store, grab the newspapers and gather up the inserts.

“We didn’t buy nothing,” Karl Towns said. “We’d just get those coupons.”

Towns was organized; he put a coupon book together. Their laundry room was soon filled with surplus food, drinks, paper towels and dish soaps. Towns loved the idea that he was helping, that he was making life easier for his parents to provide, and then he loved passing along his little secret to others.

“He taught me how to coupon,” said Kelly Schnier, his guidance counselor at St. Joseph.

It did not surprise her to hear that Towns painstakingly clipped and collected coupons, and then planned how he would use them to maximize savings. She knew his favorite class, finance, was helping him learn about frugality and investment strategies.

“He’s always been realistic,” Schnier said. “He’s always done stuff to make sure he’d be O.K. if basketball didn’t happen.”

Did he need to become president of his freshman class and a three-year member of the student council? Probably not. He did so anyway. He joined Ultimate Frisbee and flag football teams, raised funds for a local charity, became a member of a social justice club, played golf and once told his parents he wanted to take up lacrosse (that he did not do).

“I’ve always felt the bigger picture is no matter what happens, just try to be the better human being,” Towns said. “That will get you through any adversity.”

When he brought in homemade cookies for Schnier it surprised her — not that she doubted he was capable of baking, but that he had the time to bake. He chose to blitz through his classes and graduate in only three years, a rare feat, according to Adele Ellis, the school’s director of scheduling.

“He wanted to show everyone he could handle the work,” Cunningham, the religion teacher, said. “He wanted to tackle it.”

Ellis, who also met regularly with Towns to keep him on track, had her own theory about why Towns sought such a diverse and laborious academic schedule.

“He would always say to me he knows that basketball is going to only take him so far in life,” she said.

It was a sentiment echoed by Schnier, who wound up eating lunch with Towns almost daily in her office. They chatted about movies and video games, but also about his interest in human kinetics, which he said he developed after visiting a hospital in the Dominican Republic with his mother, where the poor conditions startled him.

Schnier had a hunch he wanted to learn more about the causes of certain aches and pains already rippling through his 7-foot physique.

It became a teaching tool, like the lessons he absorbed in Cunningham’s class.

“I spent a lot of time explaining to him that I don’t care how many people are telling you that this is going to happen,” Schnier said of the N.B.A. “My job is to tell you it may not happen, and you need to make sure you have a good education and a good support system, and other skills to fall back on.”

The Wildcats

Kentucky first formed a connection with Towns in 2011 when he played for the Dominican Republic’s under-17 national team, which was coached by Oliver Antigua, the brother of the former Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua.

One year later, as a 16-year-old rising sophomore, Towns was named to the Dominican national team as it attempted to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. The coach of the Dominican team just so happened to be Calipari, and the coincidence raised a few eyebrows from competing recruiters.

Calipari, who became the Dominican team’s coach in 2011, has insisted he knew nothing about Towns, then only in eighth grade. But Calipari did something else that benefited Kentucky down the road. He and the assistant Del Harris urged Towns (who was six years younger than anyone else on the team) to practice his inside game with his N.B.A. teammates Al Horford and Francisco Garcia, building confidence in Towns’s post game.

Towns hit 127 3-pointers over three seasons at St. Joseph; with the Wildcats this season, he has attempted only eight. He was named the Southeastern Conference’s top freshman and a freshman all-American, after averaging 10.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 20.8 minutes of play this season entering Saturday.

“My team needed me to be a force around the basket,” Towns said. He added, about his shooting ability, “It’s always in my back pocket if I need it.”

Towns has jockeyed back and forth with Duke’s Jahlil Okafor as the projected top pick in June’s N.B.A. draft by most accounts, although his parents said the decision rested with him. Asked repeatedly about his plans Friday, Towns volleyed each inquiry.

“I haven’t declared to go anywhere yet,” he said.

The signs, since high school, point toward the pros. He always seemed to be rushing through, tasting as many opportunities as possible while speeding on toward what was prophesied: an N.B.A. career, hopefully long, hopefully successful, but prepared for something else, if not.
post #509 of 8508
Towns pimp.gif

give me him

NY Knicks | NY Jets | NY Yankees


"When I die I want the Knicks/Jets to carry my casket so they can let me down one last time"



NY Knicks | NY Jets | NY Yankees


"When I die I want the Knicks/Jets to carry my casket so they can let me down one last time"


post #510 of 8508
Thread Starter 
A WCS article from mid-season:
Superstardom Awaits Willie Cauley-Stein...If He Finally Decides He Wants It

The airfare had been purchased, the room at the five-star hotel reserved.

Still, as he packed his bags for his official visit to Kentucky in October of 2011, something didn't feel right to Willie Cauley-Stein.

"Cancel the trip," the apprehensive high school senior said to his guardian, former NFL lineman Will Shields. "I don't wanna go."

More than 600 miles away from Cauley-Stein's home near Kansas City, John Calipari and his assistants were prepping for the 7-footer's arrival in Lexington, where he'd have dinner with the coaching staff, hobnob with former-Wildcats-turned-NBA-lottery-picks John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, and sit courtside for Big Blue Madness, the official kickoff to Kentucky's season.

It was the type of weekend that would've made Cauley-Stein the envy of almost every basketball recruit in America, three days of hero treatment from the fans and coaches of a program fresh off a Final Four berth and on the cusp of a national championship. Calipari—who had produced seven first-round draft picks the previous two seasons—had already offered Cauley-Stein a scholarship.

Something, though, was making the high school senior hesitant to accept—let alone go on his visit.

"Even as we were driving to the airport," Shields said, "it was clear he didn't want to get on that plane. He was thinking, 'This is Kentucky. Am I good enough? Can I really hang with these guys?'"

Cauley-Stein has asked himself those questions a lot during the past three years.

He committed to the Wildcats a few weeks after his visit, but as Rivals' 40th-ranked senior in the country, he was often regarded as an afterthought, "the other guy" in a Kentucky recruiting haul that included three top-15 players, including No. 1 overall prospect Nerlens Noel.

NBA scouts who have pegged him as a lottery pick dote on Cauley-Stein's rare blend of athleticism and speed and drop their jaws when he outruns guards in conditioning drills at the end of practice, but Cauley-Stein doesn't consider it a big deal.

He's started 42 contests over two-plus years for a program that reached last season's national title game and is expected to do so again this season, yet he seems to view his career thus far as lackluster.

"I just feel like I haven't really done much," Cauley-Stein tells Bleacher Report. "I don't think I'm as good as people say."

He pauses.

"If I am," he said, "I haven't shown it."

Cauley-Stein hopes this is the season when things change, the moment when the self-doubt vanishes, the time when he finally makes significant progress toward that high ceiling his coaches long for him to reach.

No longer is Cauley-Stein tagged as a "project" like he was as a freshman. And the bouts of inconsistency that defined his sophomore season aren't acceptable anymore. Now a battle-tested junior, Cauley-Stein won't have any excuses if he fails or underwhelms.

"I guess you could say there's a little more pressure on me now," Cauley-Stein said. "If I don't show that I've been working on my game—if I don't prove that I've gotten better — I'm going to take a lot of criticism.

"People are going to say I'm a bust."

Yes, on a team filled with nine McDonald's All-Americans—he isn't one of them—it's time for Cauley-Stein to show he belongs. It's something he's determined to prove to Kentucky's fans and coaches.

And to himself.

Shortly after the conclusion of last season, Willie Cauley-Stein approached his grandmother with a serious question.

"Granny," he asked Norma Stein, "would you be mad if I didn't go to the NBA?"

Despite being sidelined with an ankle injury during the Final Four, Cauley-Stein had shown enough promise as a sophomore to be tagged a potential lottery pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Still, when he posed that question to Norma, Cauley-Stein wasn't debating whether he should turn pro that summer.

"He wanted to know what I'd think if he didn't turn pro at all—as in, ever," Norma said. "For a while he was really gung-ho about the NBA. I still think he wants to go. But he's just interested in so many different things besides basketball."

Indeed, chat with Cauley-Stein long enough, and you'll likely hear about his desire to start his own clothing line.

The guy who wears bow ties and cutoff sweatpants likes to watch zombie movies and has been known to ride a skateboard to class. His former roommate, Alex Poythress, joked last year that Cauley-Stein is often in "La La Land."

During a recent conversation with Bleacher Report, the topics that made Cauley-Stein perk up the most were, one, his days as a football standout at Olathe (Kansas) Northwest High School, and two, using his pedestal as a Kentucky athlete to touch and influence others.

"I want to change lives," he said.

As for basketball?

Cauley-Stein enjoys the game.

"But I don't know if he loves it," said Shields, the guardian. "He hasn't been bitten by the basketball bug yet."

In some ways that's understandable.

Cauley-Stein's path to Kentucky was unorthodox compared to the ones taken by his past and current teammates, many of whom were being groomed for college and pro basketball careers before they finished elementary school.

Cauley-Stein didn't silently wish to become an NBA player when he blew out the candles each year on his birthday cake, a practice Noel began at age 8. He didn't spend his childhood traversing the country on the AAU circuit like the Harrison twins or working out with personal coaches and trainers as Julius Randle did.

Those opportunities weren't available in Spearville, a one-grocery-store farming town in Southwest Kansas. Nicknamed the "City of Windmills," Spearville boasts 813 residents, many of whom gather at the Truck Stop the morning after Kentucky games to drink coffee and reminisce about their hometown hero.

"Everyone around here remembers Willie," Val Stein said. "People here used to be either for KU or K-State. Now there are a lot of Kentucky fans, too."

Cauley-Stein's mother, Marlene, was raised in Spearville and met his father, Willie, shortly after high school in nearby Dodge City, where both were standout college basketball players. Marlene played for now-defunct St. Mary of the Plains, an NAIA school; Willie starred for Dodge City Community College before moving on to Pittsburg State.

The two were never married, and Cauley-Stein's dad fell out of the picture a few years after his birth, when Marlene was hired as a dental assistant in Oklahoma City. So demanding was Marlene's work schedule that she often left young Willie and his older brother, Bryce—who were four and eight at the time—at the apartment by themselves with no supervision.

"It just wasn't safe," Norma Stein said, "so the boys moved back to Spearville to live with us until she got back on her feet. But by the time she was ready to take them back a few years later, they had made all new friends and were happy.

"They didn't want to leave."

So they didn't.

Raised by his grandparents, Cauley-Stein quickly grew accustomed to small-town life. Most days during the summer—while basketball prodigies from bigger cities were traveling the globe—his routine involved stopping by the grocery store to buy a Twix and then heading to the community pool to flirt with the lifeguards.

"They were way older than me," he said, "but it was still fun."

In the fall Cauley-Stein played quarterback for Spearville's eight-man football team and had visions of being a signal-caller in college. But when he grew seven inches the summer before his freshman year—making him 6'6" as a 13-year old—it became obvious that he should channel more of his energy toward basketball.

So much bigger was Cauley-Stein than the rest of his opponents that Norma took his birth certificate with her to each of his games in case someone questioned his age. Fearful that his size and strength might injure a smaller opponent, Cauley-Stein said he often shied away from contact. And he took more pleasure in watching his teammates score than in tallying 20 or 30 points.

It was an early sign of the passive, laid-back nature that sometimes hinders Cauley-Stein today.

In some ways, Louie Konrade isn't surprised. Konrade was a father figure to Cauley-Stein in Spearville, serving not only as his youth league baseball and basketball coach but also as a mentor and friend.

Konrade said he was able to get the best out of Cauley-Stein when he yelled at him and challenged him during the summers. But then the junior high or high school season would roll around, and Spearville would lose to the same groups of boys they had defeated three or four months earlier.

Carson Konrade, Louie's son, was one of Cauley-Stein's teammates.

"Carson would come home from practice frustrated," Konrade said. "He'd be, like, 'Dad, this isn't right. Willie isn't doing anything. He should have 20 points and four or five dunks a game. He's just coasting.'"

The problem, Konrade said, was that people were so in awe of Cauley-Stein that they coddled him, almost as if he were a celebrity.

As a 10th-grader he'd take calls from college recruiters in the middle of class, Konrade said. He loafed through conditioning drills in sports and was rarely held accountable by his coaches.

"And if he was struggling in a class, someone found a way to make everything OK," Konrade said. "They were using him. They were trying to further themselves through Willie. They knew he was going to be important and they wanted to stay in good with him, so they just did everything for him. They didn't make him earn anything.

"You had to get in his face for him to produce, but they wouldn't do that. They wouldn't push him."

Things changed the summer before Cauley-Stein's junior year, when he spent most of his time 300 miles away in Kansas City playing for the prestigious AAU travel squad, MoKan Elite. The exposure to college coaches and the opportunity to play against top-flight competition was priceless for Cauley-Stein, but there was one problem.

His grades.

According to Cauley-Stein, his grandparents and Konrade, Spearville operated under a different, more stringent grading scale than most high schools. After two years of classes it was clear Cauley-Stein would have virtually no chance of qualifying for a Division I scholarship if he remained at Spearville.

Shields—whose son, Shavon, also played on the AAU team and had become one of Cauley-Stein's best friends—offered to help. Cauley-Stein could live with him and his family over the next few years and get his academics in order while playing football and basketball at Olathe Northwest High School, about a five-hour drive from Spearville.

Not wanting to leave his friends, Cauley-Stein balked at the idea.

"But it really wasn't my choice," he said, laughing. "The decision was pretty much made for me."

Norma Stein said she "bawled for a month straight" after sending Cauley-Stein to live with the Shields family. But she and her husband, Val, knew it was the right thing to do.

"With what he wanted for his future...he wasn't going to get it here in Spearville," said Val, sitting a few feet from the kitchen where Cauley-Stein used to eat Norma's homemade pickles and slather peanut butter over his pancakes. Cauley-Stein's chihuahuas, Babbs and Skip, are sound asleep on the living room floor, snoring.

"Willie loved Spearville, but big-name coaches weren't going to travel all the way out here, to a town of 800 people, to watch him play. Deep down, he realized that."

Konrade, who talks with Cauley-Stein regularly, put it more succinctly.

"It was the best move he ever made," Konrade said. "That decision changed his life."

He hadn't even unpacked his bags and, already, Willie Cauley-Stein was in trouble.

It was his first night as an official member of the Shields household, and everyone was outside for a neighborhood block party. After an hour or so, though, Willie and Shavon went to hang out with a girl who lived down the street. No harm in that—except they didn't tell anyone.

"When my wife, Senia, found them, she lit into them so bad," Will Shields said. "She was screaming and yelling right in front of everyone and even more once they got home.

"Willie still talks about that night. He tells her, 'You went off on me so bad. I'll never forget that for the rest of my life.'"

For a teenager who had grown used to getting his way, it was a jolting experience—and it wouldn't be the last.

Willie and Shavon had midnight curfews, even on the weekends. If Cauley-Stein made more than one C on his report card, his cell phone was taken away. The Shields kept close tabs on his whereabouts and asked questions about his friends.

"With my grandparents, it was almost like a hippie lifestyle," Cauley-Stein said. "I could do whatever I wanted. If I didn't want to do my homework, I didn't do it. With the Shields, I had tutors after practice and after school.

"It was miserable for me at first."

Within two weeks, Cauley-Stein placed a call to Norma.

"Granny," he said, "I wanna come home."

But Norma and Val wouldn't let him, and eventually, things began to get better. The enrollment at Olathe Northwest was bigger than the entire town of Spearville, and Cauley-Stein began making friends and developing a social life that went beyond going to the pool or playing video games at a friend's house.

Academically, Cauley-Stein began to excel as Senia arranged for him to get extra help while making sure he was taking all of the classes (including some during the summer) he needed to qualify for a Division I scholarship.

And when it came to discipline, slip-ups were rare for Cauley-Stein, mainly because he knew he'd have to deal with Shields, who was intimidating both because of his 6'3", 315-pound frame ("I'd never seen someone that big," Cauley-Stein said) and Shields' habit of staring at someone when he was upset. ("I was scared of him at first.")

"I tried to stay outside the circle," said Shields, the NFL's Man of the Year in 2003. "I was just the enforcer who kicked him back in bounds when he went out of play.

"It was a tricky situation, because he was ours, but he wasn't ours. At any time he could've just said, 'Hey, I'm moving back home.' You want to push them and give them as much structure as you can, but you also don't want them to go into a shell and disappear."

Cauley-Stein did the opposite.

Disheartened as he was that a transfer rule prohibited him from playing football as a junior, he maintained an upbeat attitude, worked out with the team and then caught 57 passes for 1,140 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior after switching to wide receiver.

Most defenders didn't have a chance against a 7-foot receiver.

Cauley-Stein also played defensive back that season. After delivering a crushing tackle in one game, Cauley-Stein trotted back toward the line of scrimmage only to see his future coach, John Calipari, pumping his fist and exchanging a high-five with his former assistant Orlando Antigua on the sideline, where both had been watching the game.

Calipari and Antigua knew they were on the cusp of landing someone special. Labeling Cauley-Stein as a "hidden gem" would be a stretch, but for a 7-footer with freakish athleticism, he was as downplayed as you can be. Cauley-Stein averaged 15.8 points and 8.5 rebounds as a junior at Olathe Northwest, but local schools such as Kansas, Wichita State and Missouri hardly showed interest.

When word began to spread in Kansas City that he was being recruited by Kentucky, some who had seen him play expressed their disbelief on Internet message boards, where they referred to him as "soft" and mentioned his lack of an offensive game.

Calipari, though, didn't care about Cauley-Stein's reputation.

"I didn't want him for what he was," Calipari said. "I wanted him for what he could become."

Two years into his time at Kentucky, on a weekday afternoon, Willie Cauley-Stein received a phone call from Orlando Antigua.

"What in the world is wrong with you?" the assistant coach said.

Knowing he'd done nothing wrong, Cauley-Stein asked Antigua what he was talking about.

"Coach O was like, ‘Why would you dye your hair blond? It's all over the Internet,'" Cauley-Stein said. "I couldn't believe it. I had literally only had it blond for about two hours, and I hadn't gone anywhere."

As much as he loves Kentucky, Cauley-Stein is still uncomfortable under the magnifying glass that hovers over Kentucky's players 24 hours a day.

He walks out of the Wildcat Coal Lodge, and there are fans waiting for autographs. A trip to the mall is interrupted by requests for pictures. He tells someone about his passion for drawing, and it's discussed ad nauseam during a broadcast. He wears a flashy, colorful shirt while sitting out with an injury and then has to answer 10 questions about it after the game.

At times, Cauley-Stein is annoyed by the spotlight and views it at a nuisance. But he also appreciates its benefits.

"It's crazy," Cauley-Stein said, "because people look at you like, 'Dang, that's Superman.' But I'm like, 'No I'm not. I'm just a regular dude like you.'

"You've got the power to change people's lives, just by talking to them for a few minutes or by smiling at them. It makes you feel kinda weird, but it can also make you feel really good."

As well as he's adjusted to life at Kentucky off the court—he and Calipari once had their own "book club"—Cauley-Stein is still a work in progress on it.

A part-time starter as both a freshman and sophomore, Cauley-Stein averaged 7.5 points and 6.1 rebounds in his first two years as a Wildcat. Last season he was named to the SEC All-Defensive team after blocking 106 shots (2.9 per game), the second-highest single-season total in school history.

Defensively, NBA scouts say Cauley-Stein is already good enough to be a pro, which likely was the reason he was tagged as a potential lottery pick in last summer's draft. Cauley-Stein, though, said he hardly felt ready to leave Kentucky after just two years—especially after missing the Final Four last spring with an ankle injury.

"The injury played into me coming back a little bit," he said. "But mainly, I didn't wanna be just another dude that goes into the league and blocks shots and gets lobs and plays defense. I want to contribute in other ways, too, but I've got to get better.

"If I'm going to do it—if I'm going to go to the NBA—I want to do it right."

Kentucky's coaches hope he eventually will.

Wildcats assistant Kenny Payne, who was heavily involved in Cauley-Stein's recruitment, dotes on his 7'2" wingspan, his timing on blocked shots, his speed and coordination, and his ability to defend all five positions.

"He'll end up guarding a point guard on a switch, and we won't worry one bit," Payne said. "You just don't see a guy with his size that move his feet like that. There's nothing he can't do.

"He doesn't fully grasp how special he is, how good he can be."

A scouting report of Cauley-Stein posted on in October noted that he ran three-quarters the length of the court last summer in 3.15 seconds, a mark comparable to the one NBA All-Star Dwight Howard posted before turning pro. It also mentioned how Cauley-Stein bench-pressed 185 pounds 19 times, which goes against the theory that he lacks physical strength. The fact that Cauley-Stein has just 6 percent body fat is remarkable for someone who has gained 30 pounds since entering college.

"There's no question that Willie Cauley-Stein is currently the gold standard [for] athletic ability when it comes to centers in the college game," the report said.

The key is coaxing Cauley-Stein's talent out of him. Just as he did in Spearville and Olathe, he continues to need an extra nudge when, as Payne puts it, those "laid-back, small-town country ways" begin to resurface.

"Sometimes," Cauley-Stein said, "I don't feel like I deserve to be good because I don't work as hard as I should. I'm not going balls to the wall like I should be, so I think I don't deserve to have success.

"Some weeks I'll go super-hard at practice for two straight days, but then the third day, something happens away from basketball and I'll lose focus. I'll say, 'I just want to get through practice. I don't want to conquer it today.' But then I'll go home and realize I missed a chance to get better, and it'll bother me."

Ten games into his junior year, Cauley-Stein clearly appears to be playing with a purpose for the No. 1-ranked and undefeated Wildcats. He seems to be in attack mode more than he's been in the past, hunting shots and looking to score on one end of the court while carrying himself with a newfound swagger on the other end.

There's no question Cauley-Stein has been Kentucky's best player so far.

His statistics (10.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks) may appear pedestrian, but they also do not account for the facts that he plays just 24.1 minutes per game and is surrounded in every direction by future pros who want to show off their skill sets too.

In what was easily his best game to date in a Kentucky uniform, Cauley-Stein scored a career-high 21 points, snared 12 rebounds, blocked three shots and collected five steals in last week's victory over previously unbeaten Texas.

"I'm a more confident player—although I'm still not all that confident," Cauley-Stein said. "But at least now, you can throw the ball to me and I know what I'm going to do with it. Before, if it wasn't a clean dunk, I'd pass it. Now I'll shoot it every time."

That bravado looms large not only for Cauley-Stein's future, but Kentucky's as well.

"Sometimes he does [feel added pressure]," Norma Stein said of her grandson. "He just feels like he'll let people down if he doesn't get where they think he should be."

Just as he did before his Kentucky visit as a high school senior, Willie Cauley-Stein recently experienced a time when he didn't want to get on an airplane.

It happened a few days prior to last season's Final Four in North Texas. His ankle injury had ended Cauley-Stein's season one week earlier in the Sweet 16, and he didn't think he could stomach sitting on the bench as his teammates competed in the Final Four.

"There's no reason for me to go," he said during a phone call with Konrade. "I can't do anything. They don't need me. It'll be too tough."

Cauley-Stein, though, went on the trip and sat on the team bench during the Wildcats' loss to Connecticut in the NCAA title game. The experience was every bit as gut-wrenching as Cauley-Stein imagined, mainly because he felt his presence may have changed the outcome.

Although his injury would've prevented him from doing individual pre-draft workouts with NBA teams (thus, potentially hurting his stock), Cauley-Stein said the main reason he opted to return for his junior year was to help the Wildcats complete some unfinished business.

"I don't know if he even realizes it," Shields said, "but by coming back, he showed something he hadn't shown in the past. Watching your team lose from the sideline and then having the perseverance to rehab and come back for another year when you didn't even have to...that's hunger, man. That's determination."

As much as any time during his career, Cauley-Stein will need to exhibit those traits when Kentucky hosts North Carolina on Saturday. The Tar Heels boast a collection of post players that could at least throw a scare into Kentucky's vaunted frontcourt.

Whether it means driving to the basket against Tar Heels standout Brice Johnson or battling hefty forward Kennedy Meeks for a rebound, Cauley-Stein will have an opportunity to prove to coaches, fans and NBA scouts the main thing he questioned upon signing with Kentucky three years ago.

That he's good enough.

That he belongs.

"I haven't peaked at all," Cauley-Stein said. "There's still so much more I can do."
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Sports & Training
NikeTalk › NikeTalk Forums › The Lounge › Sports & Training › The 2015 NBA Draft Thread: Draft Day Is Here