Draft Comparison: Willie Cauley-Stein vs. Myles Turner

Dec 1, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Willie Cauley-Stein (15) reacts after a dunk against the Providence Friars in the second half at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 1, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Willie Cauley-Stein (15) reacts after a dunk against the Providence Friars in the second half at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s not hard to envision a scenario in which Roy Hibbert once again becomes a useful and important player for the Indiana Pacers. In fact, Hibbert had a much better 2014-15 season than many Pacers fans realize, despite the revolving door of teammates he had to play with due to injuries. Hibbert remains one of the best rim defenders in the league, and while his offensive game is plodding and boring, he provides decent floor spacing at times, doesn’t kill his team at the free throw line, and has occasionally been a pretty good offensive rebounder in his career.

But, he’s just so 2013. Fans want to see a new player man the middle. Larry Bird fears that the league is going in a completely different direction. Roy, himself, doesn’t seem all that happy in Indiana.

It’s simply more likely than not that the Big Fella will leave Indiana within the next two years.

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For two months, mock drafts and experts have predicted that the Pacers would be drafting Hibbert’s replacement on Thursday. For most of that time, Myles Turner has been the consensus pick. In recent days though, another more unique player has suddenly started to fall into Indiana’s lap.

The Pacers don’t have to draft a big man this week, but if they do, it’s likely that it will be either Myles Turner or Willie Cauley-Stein. Who are these players? How would each fit in Indiana? Who is the better option for the Pacers going forward? Who will sell more jerseys? Let’s look at these questions and more as we compare the two prospects.

Myles Turner

Turner is the less sexy option for Pacers fans, but it’s hard to understand why until you watch the tape. Turner has legit NBA size, standing 6’11” and weighing 242 pounds. He sports a 7’4″ wingspan and has the second highest standing reach of anyone in the draft. When Jay Bilas looks at Turner, the word “length” just naturally oozes out.

Mar 7, 2015; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns forward Myles Turner (52) shoots against Kansas State Wildcats forward Thomas Gipson (42) during the first half at the Frank Erwin Special Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 7, 2015; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns forward Myles Turner (52) shoots against Kansas State Wildcats forward Thomas Gipson (42) during the first half at the Frank Erwin Special Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports /

But Turner isn’t just a big body, he’s also a skilled player. As a senior, he was the consensus #2 player in the entire country behind Jahlil Okafor. Turner has real NBA range already, complete with a beautiful stroke that should fit perfectly in today’s “pace and space” NBA. The Longhorn shot 28% from 3-point range last season as a freshman and 83% from the foul line. It’s easy to see a little LaMarcus Aldridge in his offensive game at times, especially in his Texas uniform.

Defensively, he was excellent in college, averaging almost 3 blocks per game in less than 23 minutes of action. He’s also a solid rebounder who uses both his size and good fundamentals to fill the stat sheet.

So he’s big, he can shoot, and he can protect the rim, what’s not to like?

Well, it starts with the concerns of many scouts about how Turner moves on the floor. Turner is actually much more mobile than Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez, Al Jefferson, and many other current bigs in the NBA, but he just kind of looks awkward on the floor. A quick perusing of his DraftExpress profile page reveals an almost-2,000-word article, complete with videos and pictures, of his running stride. Apparently, Turner is a bit of an over-pronator and he has a very weak gluteus medius on each side.

Doctors have agreed that there are no physical problems in Turner, and that he simply has poor running mechanics, but Pacers fans in unison can only think of one thing: “This guy is Roy Hibbert 2.0.” Hibbert, quite famously, had to completely re-learn how to run when he got to Georgetown, and while it’s unfair to compare Turner’s mechanics to Hibbert’s, many Pacers fans would rather get a real athlete to man the position — someone like Willie Cauley-Stein.

Willie Cauley-Stein

Jalen Rose often likes to keep things simple when looking at prospects by asking a basic question: “Can the player pass, shoot, and dribble?” If the answer to any of these criteria isn’t a clear, “yes,” then Rose would typically avoid that player as a GM. In general, I am a fan of Rose’s logic, as many uber-athletic players have failed to ever develop real NBA skills or become useful NBA players.

It is possible for big men like Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan to thrive without those basic skills, but they aren’t just good athletes with decent defensive instincts, they are great athletes with elite defensive awareness. It’s unclear whether Willie Cauley-Stein can do any of Jalen Rose’s aforementioned skills, but his off-the-charts athleticism makes Tyson Chandler look slow and grounded by comparison.

Larry Bird has been in love with Cauley-Stein for some time now, telling him that he was a $100 million player at a workout in May. For starters, the former Wildcat has only played basketball full-time for three years now. In high school, Cauley-Stein was a two-sport star, excelling in both football and basketball. When he was a senior, he switched from QB to WR and immediately set state records in Kansas. According to Grantland, he played alongside a slot receiver who ran a 4.4 40, and the 6’10” Cauley-Stein was faster than him.

Cauley-Stein is not just a freak among big men, he’s a freak among all NBA players. According to SB Nation, only seven players in Draft Combine history have tested better in the lane agility test than Cauley-Stein, and all seven of them were under 6’4.” In fact, Willie tested better than Nate Robinson, Russell Westbrook, and Derrick Rose in the same drill.

People often joke that “LeBron James can defend every single position on the floor if necessary,” but the Kentucky Wildcats actually had Cauley-Stein do that for them last season en route to going undefeated all the way through to the Final Four. Watch as he smothers  another possible lottery pick, Jerian Grant, near the end of Kentucky’s Elite Eight matchup against Notre Dame. Grant is an NBA-level point guard with good quickness and athleticism, and Cauley-Stein first forces him to pick up his dribble before impossibly blocking a step-back 3.

Even if Cauley-Stein never learns how to pass, shoot, or dribble, he projects to be a terrific and versatile defender who can protect the rim and smother pick and rolls while also being able to attack the rim on dives to the basket and put back dunks. He’s quite possibly a more athletic Tyson Chandler who could also defend Kyrie Irving in a pinch at the end of the shot clock.

Cauley-Stein is a defensive machine who enjoys destroying offensive players all over the floor. Plus, when a reporter asked him where his swag was on a scale from 1-10, he answered, “There’s no 10. My swag’s above 10.”

What’s not to like?

Fit in Indiana

Both Turner and Cauley-Stein would drastically change the way Indiana plays. Turner would bring a more refined and consistent post-up game while also adding some shooting to the table. Offensively, teams would have to respect his jump shot with a big body that would be able to bang with him down low. Cauley-Stein would more fundamentally change the team’s makeup, probably transforming their rigid defensive scheme into more of a free-flowing style similar to Golden State’s.

If past tendencies are to be followed, it would seem that Larry Bird would prefer the older Cauley-Stein to the younger Myles Young. But would those same biases towards experience really manifest themselves towards a player who has only played full time for three years? Neither guy is a finished product yet, and while each guy’s future holds a lot of promise, Pacers fans should probably pump the breaks a little bit as neither would likely be an immediate upgrade on Roy Hibbert.

Likelihood of Seeing Either in a Pacer Uniform

One has to assume that Myles Turner will be available when the Pacers go on the clock tomorrow evening, but will Willie? That’s the million-dollar question right now. In the past week or so, Cauley-Stein’s stock has started to drop a little due to a possible foot problem dating back to his sophomore year at Kentucky. If Cauley-Stein does slip past the Magic at #5, the Kings (Cousins .. for now), Nuggets (Nurkic), Pistons (Drummond), Hornets (Al Jefferson and need shooting badly), and Heat (Bosh, Whiteside) would all seemingly have reason to pass on the player that goes by “Trill.”

However, it’s also possible that someone behind Indiana would trade up into that area of the first round. Would any teams be targeting Cauley-Stein? It is unclear. If Cauley-Stein does get snatched up before the Pacers pick, how much do they really like Turner? Will they draft for need, or will they draft the best player available?

If Cameron Payne, Kelly Oubre Jr., or one of the premier wings unexpectedly suddenly slides, don’t expect Larry Bird to ignore it. After all, the Pacers’ quickest way back to being a contender most likely lies in keeping Hibbert and their defensive foundation and simply hoping that Paul George returns to his previous heights.

Still, there remains a little piece inside of every Pacers fan that likes to think about the possibility of the unknown. “What if we drafted Willie Cauley-Stein, and then traded Hibbert for another starter, and then Paul George came back better than ever, and George Hill continued playing the way he did in 2015, and …”

And that’s the beauty of the draft.

For one week, every team’s future is limitless.

Next: The 5 Best Pacers Games of the Year

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