Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
Cauley-Stein has been perceived as a potential top ten selection for the last couple years of his college career. He’s possibly the best post defender in this draft thanks to his length (7’+ with a 7’2” wingspan and a 9’2” standing reach) and his leaping ability. He’s also possibly the most versatile defender in the draft as he can defend in the post and also step out and stay in front of significantly smaller players on the perimeter, making him the ideal defender for your typical face-up big man. There’s been some buzz that Cauley-Stein is a part of the top tier of 7 or 8 guys in this draft and could break into the top five. That’s where the hype train needs to come to a halt.
Cauley-Stein is incredibly limited across the board on the offensive end. He hardly has any particularly effective post moves. He certainly doesn’t scare defenses with his jumpshot. And he’s really not even a particularly strong player who can establish position around the rim for easy baskets and putbacks off of rebounds. His offensive arsenal basically consists of using his length and athleticism to finish at the rim, in addition to his value as a pick-and-roll finisher due to his quickness. It’s great to be a smart and versatile defender. He could really change the game for a team when inserted on defense. But he has one of the more limited offensive games among lottery candidates in recent memory, and that makes him a big-time liability on the offensive end. It would be one thing if he was a 19-year-old center, who was naturally long and athletic and was being selected based off his potential for growth. But Cauley-Stein will be 22 before the season starts, and though he’s developed as a defender, it looks like he can only develop so much offensively before he reaches his peak, and that point doesn’t appear to be too far away. For a good offensive team with a suspect defense, such as Phoenix or Oklahoma City, Cauley-Stein could be a huge asset. But to your average NBA team, I don’t see him having the offensive ability to be a difference-maker worth taking in the top ten, let alone the top five.
Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Kaminsky is loved by many across America, and deservedly so. He won last season’s Naismatih Award as the best player in college basketball while nearly leading his team to a national title. He’s a true 7-footer with a very solid outside shot, and he’s proven himself to be a competent defender. He’s expected to be selected in the lottery, and it’s been speculated that a team might fall in love with his offensive versatility and take him in the top ten. The big question mark with Frank the Tank is whether his offensive skillset will translate into that of a great player or that of a limited bench player. Here at NBADraft.net, we’re not so sure Kaminsky will be able to come anywhere near achieving kind of success he had in college.
The main obstacle facing Kaminsky is whether he’ll be able to create the same kind of scoring opportunities in the NBA as he did in college. At Wisconsin, he was able to back down a lot of smaller defenders, sometimes from several feet from the basket, in order to get post position, where he would then use his soft touch to finish. In the NBA, bigger, strong defenders won’t allow him to get opportunities like this, and could bully him in the paint. He also played in a system at Wisconsin where he had the ball fed to him at a very high rate, and when he has played in other systems (see his performance at Adidas Nations), he has struggle and looked very uncomfortable. His post prowess could potentially be negated by these other factors, reducing him to merely a tall stretch 4 or 5, and not a guy worthy of a top ten pick. Coupled with the fact that his defense could potentially be a flaw at the next level, as well, and you have some red flags to consider if you’re thinking about taking Kaminsky in the early goings. But Kaminsky is a heady player who shows good technique in defending and rebounding, which helps make up for his average athleticism and his extra-short wingspan (6’11”). He certainly has his fair share of positive assets, and his combination of size and shooting ability is indeed a rare one. But taking him in the top 8 of what is a pretty solid draft class could be folly, especially if other big men such as Trey Lyles, Myles Turner, or even Willie Cauley-Stein are available.
Tyus Jones, Duke
It amazes me how closely NCAA tournament success is linked to draft status. One good series of 4-6 games can take a prospect from a second round selection to the lottery. Even if a player didn’t perform particularly well in the tournament, the success of his team can still help his resume in the eyes of NBA front offices. One such example would be Tyus Jones, one of several talented freshmen from Duke’s championship squad. Jones, a point guard, had an underwhelming run to the title game, averaging 11 PPG on 39% shooting. Only in the final did he finally break out, scoring 23 points and leading Duke to the title.
We anticipate that Jones may struggle because his lack of ideal size (6’1”) and underwhelming quickness. He’s a natural point guard, and he’s done a great job to this point of setting up his teammates, who have generally been superior to the competition. Though he’s a crafty scorer, he’ll have trouble finishing “amongst the trees” at the next level, and could get roasted on d by bigger, quicker point guards. He has all the tools of a great distributing point guard, but he could be severely hampered by his physical shortcomings. His freshman year was good but not great, and I think he’s given us little reason to believe that he’s even worthy of a first round pick, though he will likely go in the mid-to-late first.
RJ Hunter, Georgia State
As mentioned above, tournament success can really boost a player’s draft stock, and sometimes, even a single game can really help out a player’s draft outlook. R.J. Hunter provided us with my personal favorite moment in this past year’s tournament when he led Georgia State on a huge comeback to stun #3 seed Baylor as a #14 seed, capped off by the game-winning three by Hunter. This game probably shifted Hunter from a borderline-first round selection more likely to be taken in the second to a pretty solid late-first round selection. After averaging 19.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.6 APG, and 2.1 SPG all year, his tournament performance was simply the icing on the cake.
The thing about Hunter is that he is essentially a shooting specialist who struggles to create looks. As his shooting volume increased this year, his percentages dropped to all-time lows. He shot a tick under 40% from the field and just over 30% from behind the arc. Granted, he’s an NBA prospect playing on a Sun Belt roster, so a lot of defensive attention was focused on him, but those numbers really aren’t pretty, especially when he had the help of Ryan Harrow and Kevin Ware, two guys who will likely continue playing basketball somewhere after college. Beyond his shooting, he’s not much of a shot creator, as he lacks the quick first step and dribble moves to create space for a shot. At the pro level, it would appear that he might be little more than a spot-up shooter with decent size. Hunter has a long way to go in developing a viable offensive skillset; as of right now, he’s a one-dimensional player who is coming off a year full of struggles with the one dimension, and that’s not a recipe for a successful first round selection.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
This was the hardest addition to this list for me because I’m actually a big fan of Hollis-Jefferson and what he brings to the table. But really comes down to a case of perception of Hollis-Jefferson’s draft stock vs. reality of what many NBA scouts actually think of him. He’s a one-sided player, a strong, smart, physical, athletic defensive stopper…who absolutely cannot shoot. His jumper is horribly broke and ineffective from beyond 12 feet. And yet, because of his upside as a defender, he has a green room invite, and some teams are considering taking him in the top 20. But on the flip side of the coin, plenty of teams wouldn’t consider taking him because of his complete lack of shooting ability, something that can really destroy a player’s value in today’s stretch-the-floor-focused NBA. He’s a pretty good slasher who can finish through contact and get to the line, but for a guy who has been invited to the green room on draft day, there’s a remarkable number of teams who wouldn’t even touch him, a very rare situation for a hard-working, high character guy like him.