Not much was expected of Willie Cauley-Stein when he walked onto the court for Monday's pre-NBA Draft workout in Los Angeles.
It was the format of the workout — not the formidability of the player — that led to the lowered expectations.
Those in attendance knew that the former University of Kentucky standout would not be able to show off the defensive skills that will make him an early pick in the June 25 draft.
This workout, which also included likely top-five picks Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell, would be all about offense.
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Shooting, passing, ball handling and post moves were in. An opportunity for Cauley-Stein — possibly the best defender in this draft, but perceived to be offensively challenged — to prove his defensive mettle against former teammate Towns was out.
Cauley-Stein had a good day anyway.
"I thought he was really impressive," said DraftExpress.com's Jonathan Givony, one of the few analysts invited to the workout. "I came away pleasantly surprised."
A DraftExpress scouting breakdown earlier this year mentioned the former Wildcat's shooting stroke as a "strength" to his game, even if UK fans rarely got to see it outside of pregame warm-ups.
So Givony knew Cauley-Stein could shoot. He just didn't know he could shoot like he did Monday, when he was draining jumpers from all over the floor in a variety of ways. ( See Cauley-Stein's shooting workout or dunks. Combo video shows Cauley-Stein working out with analyst commentary)
"Just to see him knocking down three-pointer after three-pointer — that I wasn't really prepared for," he said.
It will be a comforting thought for whichever team selects Cauley-Stein in the NBA Draft. His showing in Monday's workout won't change the immediate expectations, which are almost entirely on the defensive end. But it did prove there could be more to Cauley-Stein's game down the road.
"There's a difference between hitting that shot by yourself in a gym and doing it in a game with a defender on you and all that pressure," Givony said. "But that's how guys become shooters. They work on it by themselves, and they get more comfortable with it in the game setting. I think what this means to me is that he has the potential to develop into that."
Another attribute on full display Monday was Cauley-Stein's elite athleticism, a major part of what makes him such a great defender.
He has often been compared to one-time NBA defensive player of the year Tyson Chandler, though former UCLA star big man Don MacLean — who was responsible for running Monday's workout — said Cauley-Stein is much more athletic than Chandler has ever been.
MacLean compared him to Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, a first-team all-NBA defender this season and a player whose uber-athletic dunks and blocked shots have left fans shaking their heads in disbelief over the past few years.
"Willie is an unbelievable athlete," Givony said. "So you can compare him to all of the best athletes in the NBA, and it really doesn't matter. The guy is an amazing athlete. Just the way he covers ground. I mean, I don't know if there's a guy in the NBA who can do that."
The concerns from NBA teams have largely been of the off-the-court variety.
Much has been made of Cauley-Stein's interest in art and the continued questions about how much he ultimately cares about basketball.
He says he's completely serious about the game — something that those who have been around him are quick to confirm. His "I don't really like art" declaration from last month's NBA Combine came across as more of a PR overshoot, and it was met with skepticism.
Givony said it's not the art talk that NBA teams care about.
"I think some of that stuff is a little bit overblown," he said. "He's going to be a top-six pick, you know? So they're not that concerned."
The concern, Givony says, is the inconsistency that Cauley-Stein showed during his three seasons at UK.
"There were certain games where he just didn't look like he was operating at full intensity," he said. "I just think it's teams doing their due diligence on that, because so much of his game is going to revolve around playing hard, so they just want to make sure that he's going to do that on every single night."
Given his continued rise in NBA mock drafts, whatever concerns there are seem to be fading.
DraftExpress.com projects Cauley-Stein as the No. 5 overall pick to the Orlando Magic, though Givony said Wednesday that he could "totally see" the former UK center going to the New York Knicks at No. 4.
No matter where he ends up, he'll be expected to make an immediate impact.
"I think whatever team he's going to go to is going to really need him," Givony said. "I don't see him coming in and being like a project guy, playing 10 minutes a game."