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LB NBA Mock Draft: Nuggets Select Willie Trill Cauley-Stein 7th Overall

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May not necessarily be a popular pick, but WTCS will shore up Denver's defense in the middle.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets face a draft board with no obvious picks, as their franchise lacks direction. The Nuggets don't have a star, have an eclectic mix of players young and old, and still haven't hired a full-time head coach. Thus it's difficult to make a guess as to where the team is leaning, so I'm just making the pick based on what I think. And I think they should take Willie Cauley-Stein out of Kentucky.

Denver's biggest weakness in 2014-15 was on defense - finishing 26th in defensive rating per Basketball-Reference, primarily playing then-rookie Jusuf Nurkic and decided not-rookie J.J. Hickson as their primary centers after the midseason Timofey Mozgov trade (a nice trade for them, if I may add). But combining those two non-entities, along with the team's devil-may-care approach to defense under Brian Shaw, the Nuggets were porous.

Nurkic could get better, but he doesn't make an ideal fit in an up-tempo system that Denver - a team that plays 41 games at the league's highest altitude arena. He's 6'11", 280 pounds, and uses his bulk to tear through people, but he's not exactly a leaper or floor-runner, the ideal center for high-paced games. Willie Cauley-Stein is the kind of player who does fit the mold of an up-tempo center, one who can run with guards and make plays on both ends of the court in transition.

Being an NBA-only guy, the few college games I did watch this past season involved Kentucky, and Cauley-Stein was usually their best player. He's 7-foot tall, and you can't teach that (Enzo Amore voice). At that height, he combines mobility and a defensive mentality, and during this season he diversified his offensive skill set, like Merrill Lynch does with a retirement account, and he can now do more than dive at the rim for buckets.

WTCS expanded his range, flashing a useful midrange jumper that he didn't rely on but could reliably use, and also improved his free throw shooting. You can run multiple variations of a pick and roll with him now, whereas before he was just a guy who could dunk. Now he can dunk, or hit a 15-footer, or have a decent shot at hitting free throws when fouled.

Cauley-Stein does have his downsides. Even with his improvement, he'll probably be the team's worst offensive player on the court unless he improves even more this summer. Unlike a Jahlil Okafor type, a team will not build an offense around him. And for someone as big as WTCS, he hasn't been a dominant college rebounder. Denver can supplement him well with either Faried or Nurkic, though spacing becomes an issue with either lineup.

Those issues come second to the defense Cauley-Stein leverages. Cauley-Stein could be their Nerlens Noel: a defensive disruptor and game-changer in the middle of the court. He's taller, and bigger, though not quite as good of a prospect overall. Anything else that Cauley-Stein gives you is a cherry on the proverbial top. I'll take him over Kristaps Porzingis, who I also considered and might be a better fit, but is lower on my personal big board.

Next up? The Detroit Pistons - a team the Sixers defeated three times this season, Stan Van Gundy - and GM Jake Fischer.

  1. Minnesota TimberwolvesKarl-Anthony Towns
  2. Los Angeles Lakers - Jahlil Okafor
  3. Philadelphia 76ers - D'Angelo Russell
  4. New York Knicks - Emmanuel Mudiay
  5. Orlando Magic - Mario Hezonja
  6. Sacramento Kings - Justise Winslow
  7. Denver Nuggets - Willie Cauley-Stein
  8. Detroit Pistons - ???