Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Projecting Willie Cauley-Stein's NBA Future

Mike LeeContributor IIIFebruary 12, 2013

Willie Cauley-Stein possess size, length and athleticism that at times is unmatched.
Willie Cauley-Stein possess size, length and athleticism that at times is unmatched.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Kentucky Wildcats center, Willie Cauley-Stein recently returned to the lineup after missing four games with a knee injury.

Cauley-Stein has seen significant action in the Wildcats last two games against South Carolina and Auburn. In those two wins, he has combined for a total of 25 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks.  He has also made 10 of his 12 shot attempts in those two games and has been a key reserve player for the Wildcats.

So, looking forward, how does he project at the NBA level?

Predicting NBA futures of Kentucky players has become seemingly commonplace due to head coach John Calipari’s ability to prepare his players for the next level. Calipari and the University of Kentucky had a record six players drafted in the 2012 NBA Draft. In many respects, “looking forward’ could possibly be attributed to many of Kentucky’s issues this year. It appears that some players are playing to improve their draft status instead of playing in the best interest of their team's success.

However, in projecting the NBA future of Cauley-Stein, the first positive step that he will need to make is to not enter this year’s NBA Draft and to stay at Kentucky for at least one more season. Fellow Kentucky freshman, Nerlens Noel is widely regarded as a top prospect in the 2013 draft, and his departure would open the door for Cauley-Stein to become the feature big man for Kentucky next year.

Cauley-Stein has to improve his game to be successful at the NBA level, but he has the one thing that many NBA GMs seem to love the most – potential. Cauley-Stein is a long, athletic big man who seems to fit the prototypical type in today’s NBA. A former wide receiver in high school, Cauley-Stein is more athletic than most players at his size and relies heavily on his athleticism when he is on the floor. He will need to improve his post play in order to reach his true potential at the NBA level.

Cauley-Stein’s best attribute at this point is his ability to have an impact on the defensive end. In limited minutes, Cauley-Stein averages 1.7 blocks per game for Kentucky this year. If he decides to remain for another year, his impact on the defensive end could resemble that of Anthony Davis last year and Noel this year.

As many analysts make their NBA draft projections, they love to compare incoming prospects to current NBA players. Along that same vein, in many ways, Cauley-Stein reminds me of Denver Nuggets center, JaVale McGee. The Kentucky freshman possesses the same type of size, length, athleticism and developing offensive game that McGee does.

Entering this season, Cauley-Stein was the 40th-ranked prospect in the 2012 ESPN 100. At this time, according to DraftExpress, Cauley-Stein is ranked as the 12th best freshman in the country. Interestingly enough, Cauley-Stein is not included in the DraftExpress 2013 Mock Draft. We can only hope that Cauley-Stein receives sound advice and returns to Kentucky before trying to make the jump to the NBA.