Willie Cauley-Stein Scouting Report

Willie Cauley-Stein would have surely been a lottery pick on this year’s draft and last one’s too. Yet he’s returning for his junior season at Kentucky. This is as uncommon as it gets these days. According to rumors, Cauley-Stein comes from a family with financial stability and doesn’t need to hurry to start receiving NBA paychecks. And if he really likes the environment at Kentucky and wants to stick around a little while longer, there is nothing wrong with it.

Cauley-Stein is prepared to play in the NBA right now, though. He is a prototypical Tyson Chandler prospect; a rim protector who can catch-and-score out of the pick-and-roll on the other end.

The 21-year-old has great mobility for someone his size (seven-feet, 244 pounds), which makes him a great asset defending the pick-and-roll. John Calipari had Kentucky showing-and-recovering and at times switching against the ball-screen and Cauley-Stein was very good, particularly impressive when forced to guard smaller players in space. He can’t bend his knees much but got in as much of a stance as he could and displayed lateral quickness to stay in front and contain dribble penetration through contact. He played with active hands and his three percent steal rate ranked 10th in the SEC.

His biggest impact on defense came out of his shot blocking, though. Cauley-Stein showed excellent instincts rotating off the weak side and great timing elevating to contest shots. His 12.3 percent block rate led the conference and he averaged only 4.5 personal fouls per 40 minutes.

His toughness is what concerns most regarding his transition to the next level. A strong but smaller opponent like Cory Jefferson was able to push him around in the post, but his rebounding is the most head-scratching aspect of his game. Cauley-Stein collected just 13.4 percent of opponents’ misses last season. It’s important to put those numbers in context; he shared all of his minutes with either Julius Randle or Dakari Johnson, two great rebounders on their own. But Cauley-Stein too often wanted to rely on his athleticism to control the glass rather than boxing out opponents and keep them from getting position below the rim.

Kentucky played far better defense with him rather than without him on the floor, though. The Wildcats gave up only 91.5 points per 100 possessions in 880 minutes with Cauley-Stein in the lineup and 100.1 overall, the difference between the ninth- and the 78th-best defenses in college basketball, according to Ken Pomeroy.

When Kentucky forced misses, Cauley-Stein flashed his athleticism as an option in transition. He sprints down the court far faster than most players his size at this level of competition due to his long strides. On the break, Cauley-Stein can go from the top of the key to the rim in two steps.

Kentucky didn’t run many pick-and-rolls in the half-court but when it did, Cauley-Stein either preferred or was coached to slip screen, prioritizing diving down the lane quickly rather than drawing full contact. He showed great hands to catch the ball on the move, was a target for lobs the few times Kentucky’s guards managed to get him the ball there and flashed decent touch to finish at rim level. 74 percent of his shots were within five feet of the rim and he finished them at a 73 percent clip.


His athleticism also translated in the offensive glass, where Cauley-Stein is able to rebound outside of area due to the combination of his leaping ability, timing chasing the ball off the rim and seven-foot-two wingspan. He grabbed 11.5 percent of Kentucky’s misses, which ranked seventh in the conference. Second chance opportunities are gold and as a result, Kentucky averaged 122.8 points per possessions with Cauley-Stein on the floor and just 112.4 overall.

Away from the basket area, Cauley-Stein is a far less positive presence. His frame helps him set good position in the post but his moves are all unpolished at this point and his hooks are low percentage attempts, as he made just 37.7 percent of his 77 shots away from the rim. He struggles when double-teamed or crowded and turned it over on 14.3 percent of Kentucky’s possessions when he was on the floor, which is not necessarily low in the context of his 14.7 percent usage rate. Cauley-Stein is not an option to short his rolls and find shooters in the perimeter at this point and also missed over half of his free throws last season.

Editor’s Note: Statistical data for this post was researched at Upside & Motor, kenpom.com, basketball-reference and hoop-math

Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.


Domantas Sabonis Scouting Report

(Originally posted at Upside & Motor)

It was always a possibility Domantas Sabonis would go to college in the United States, since he declined to earn a salary in Spain specifically in order to maintain his eligibility. But it was nonetheless surprising when the son of the great Lithuanian legend confirmed he would be joining the Gonzaga Bulldogs for next season, after he was just given 521 minutes of quality pro level experience with Unicaja Malaga in the Spanish league and the Euroleague at age 17. In an interview with FIBA’s YouTube channel, he revealed the option to play for Mark Few’s coaching staff was made with the intention to work on his individual skill-set.

But before moving to Spokane, Sabonis led the Lithuanian national team to a seventh-place finish in the FIBA European championships U18, which ended on Sunday. And he was dominant in the aspects you would expect someone who already played against grown men to be against teenagers. Listed at six-foot-eight and 215 pounds, Sabonis was an elite athlete for this level of competition, which translated best in transition, in the post and on the glass.

He was able to establish deep position on the block due his quickness navigating the baseline in order to set up on the opposite side of where he was when the play began and also due to his core strength on straight post ups with his back to the basket. Sabonis displayed very good footwork and decent touch to score at rim level but struggled against Croatia and Serbia, two teams with elite size, which lowered his efficiency at the rim to an underwhelming 61.4% on 57 attempts. He strongly favored finishing with his left hand; hooking over his left shoulder or laying it in when he turned left and throwing a little push-up shot when he opted to go right.

Sabonis drew fouls at a very high rate, averaging 5.4 per 28 minutes, but didn’t materialize it into a real significant plus for Lithuania’s scoring as he made just 23 of his 40 free throws. Though left-handed, he shoots his free throws with his right hand. He impressed with his passing, especially out of the low post to the weak side, and averaged 3.6 assists per 28 minutes, which was well above average among positional peers. He was a really impactful force on the glass thanks to his general activity and edge in athleticism against the average competition, averaging three offensive rebounds per 28 minutes, which ranked sixth in the tournament.

Sabonis looked great in the open court, sprinting very fluidly, and even flashed the ability to lead the break. On the pick-and-roll, he was a good screener who looked to draw contact and showed good hands to catch the ball on the move but didn’t really play above the rim. Sabonis proved himself a good face-up driver at this level, with long strides attacking from the perimeter and looking to dribble the ball low in traffic. But he struggled with his handle and passing on the move, turning it over 3.2 times per 28 minutes, with those two aspects accounting for 16 of his 29 giveaways in the play-by-play data.

His jump-shot was a legit weapon against the soft defense played at this level. Sabonis gets very little elevation and has a slow release but hit a high rate when left open. Like most left handed shooters, he doesn’t angle his body straight towards the basket but rather on a 45 degree angle. He hit 47% of his 49 jump-shots, including four of 10 from three-point range.
His core strength translated into tough post defense, even against players with bigger frames such as Marko Arapovic. And he dominated the glass on that end as well, leading the tournament with nine rebounds per 28 minutes. But Sabonis wasn’t a particularly impactful player on defense. He flashed his athleticism on a few blocks and playing the passing lanes to manufacture turnovers but was unable to anchor the talent around him into an above average unit, as Lithuania allowed the sixth most points in the 16-nation tournament.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.

Li Muhao Scouting Report

Li Muhao seems to have taken a step forward in his development last season. He logged a career high 763 minutes for Dongguan and led the Chinese league in scoring per shot, averaging 1.78 on 176 attempts. Dongguan was swept by Xianjing in the semifinals but Li dropped a 17-point outing on eight-of-nine shooting in the elimination game.

But that growing curve stalled a bit in the 2014 Stankovic Cup held in Luoyang, which ended on Monday. With Wang Zhelin available (which wasn’t the case in the Sino-Australia challenge) and Qi Zhou getting a surprising 34 minutes, Li was held to just 24 in three appearances. He was specially limited in the final game against Angola, used for this evaluation.

Li is no longer that skinny kid we saw when Duke visited China a few years ago. He is currently listed at 238 pounds, with noticeable upper body strength, and was even rumored to be out of shape in a pre-draft workout for NBA teams a couple of months ago. With that weight distributed in his seven-foot-two of height, Li now possesses a large frame.

That frame helps him set deep position on the block, where he looked mechanical with his moves and favored finishing with his left hand but flashed rather nice footwork with his back to the basket and touch to score at rim level when he got separation. Li played with some power in the soft environment of the Chinese league, with over a quarter of his field goals coming off dunks, but struggled to finish through contact in this setting. And he is not much of a passer.

His propensity to draw shooting fouls held, though. After averaging 4.6 free throws per 28 minutes last season, he took a foul shot every three minutes last weekend. Li is an OK foul shooter considering his size. He looked capable of bending his knees and flexing his elbows enough, hitting six of his eight attempts in Luoyang and 82 of his 127 in the Chinese league.

Li showed himself an effective screener due to his frame, as defenders struggled to navigate around his wide body. He set numerous illegal picks, though, and was called for them enough times for it to be a problem. Li didn’t prove himself able to cut hard to the basket off the ball-screen and put pressure on the defense but has looked able to catch the ball on the move off a diagonal pass in the past.

He flashed a catch-and-shoot jump-shot from mid-range, which he probably worked harder to develop when he was skinny and limited within close range. Li actually gets off the ground (most players of his size don’t) but gets little elevation and has a slow trigger. He’s capable of hitting it if left completely open, though. Li’s not as effective on the glass as his size would suggest because he simply doesn’t play with enough activity and is therefore unable to rebound outside of his area at this point.

The Chinese head coach had his big men defending the pick-and-roll by hedging way high on the perimeter and Li was absolutely not suited for this strategy. He possesses limited lateral mobility and looked completely exposed in space in several occasions. It’s very difficult to understand the rationale behind intentionally sending a seven-foot-two, 238-pound center away from the rim.

When positioned on the weak side, he was adequate rotating to provide help defense and actively got off the ground to contest shots, which is something you don’t always see from players his size. Li ranked sixth in the Chinese league among centers in block rate last season. He played tough post defense but was very slow running back up the court.

Though a difficult body to rebound around due to his frame and able to get off the ground to grab the ball at a higher point than most of his opponents, Li was still also a poor rebounder on this end. He looked to box out but lacked the quickness reacting off the rim, controlling just four defensive rebounds in his 24 minutes and fewer than 15% of opponents’ misses in the Chinese league, which was below average among position peers.

Editor’s Note: Statistical data for this post was researched at basketball.realgm.com and sina.com

Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.

Tibor Pleiss Scouting Report

Tibor Pleiss has always been an interesting player due to his physical profile. Standing at seven-foot-two and currently listed at 269 pounds, the German center has very decent mobility for his size.

By age 24, that has translated best on his ability to finish out of the pick-and-roll, where he excels at an elite level. Pleiss is a good screener who looks to draw contact and whose large frame makes it difficult for defenders to navigate around his picks. He dives to the basket very fluidly, has soft hands to catch the ball on the move, is able to score through contact and can play above the rim as a target for lobs (25% of his points from the field in the Spanish league were off dunks). Pleiss ranked second in the Euroleague in scoring at the rim, finishing his 125 attempts at a 66.4% clip but while averaging 9.2 points at the basket per 28 minutes played.

His post game is merely average at this point. Pleiss can establish deep position with his back to the basket due to his wide body, move most defenders with the stength in his core and draw fouls at a high rate but is mechanical with his go-to move (a hook over his left shoulder after two dribbles), hasn’t developed passing instincts and has decent but not great touch to finish when forced to do so outside of three feet from the basket. Pleiss shot just 35.2% on 71 attempts away from the rim in 23 Euroleague appearances, though he did hit his 204 free throw attempts in 1,284 total minutes at a very satisfying 83.3% clip.

Pleiss finished 26% of Laboral Kutxa’s possessions with a shot, free throw or turnover – a very high usage rate among centers. That helps explain why he wasn’t a really strong factor on the glass, posting average offensive rebounding rates and ranking outside the top 10 in both leagues. Pleiss is no menace generating second chances but had been more of a presence in previous years. He is a difficult body to box out when he engages to fight for position, can get off the ground despite his size and reach the ball at a higher point than the average center in the European game. Baskonia scored at a higher per possession rate with him on the floor in both leagues.

Because of his mobility, Sergio Scariolo attempted using Pleiss to hedge-and-recover on the pick-and-roll. That didn’t lead to good results against the highest level of competition. Baskonia allowed over 107 points per possessions with him in the game in both leagues. Though he moves more fluidly than expected for his size, Pleiss isn’t particularly comfortable guarding in space, as few big men really are. He is probably best suited for a scheme that has him defending the pick-and-roll flat, limiting the range he is forced to cover and leveraging his size to protect the lane. As a result of being asked to go way high into the perimeter, his defensive rebounding rate also dropped under Scariolo.

Editor’s Note: Statistical data for this post was researched at in-the-game.org, basketball.realgm.com , ACB.com and baloncestostatsacb.es

Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.

Sasha Kaun Scouting Report

Nenad Krstic earned one of the highest salaries in the continent and Kyle Hines is a fan favorite because he overcomes his short height in order to make a true impact as a big man. Yet Sasha Kaun was the best center CSKA Moscow had last season. A long time removed from his serious knee injury years ago, Kaun looked like the type of athlete suited for the NBA.

His purpose on offense is to catch-and-score out of the pick-and-roll and he is quite good at that. Kaun finished 106 attempts at the rim in 499 Euroleague minutes at a 75.5% clip and his 169 shots in the lane in 470 VTB United league minutes at a 66.8% clip. He is a good screener who looks to draw contact, dives to the basket naturally and has soft hands to catch the ball on the move. Kaun is a great target for lobs as he can play above the rim, leaping off the ground in a pinch.

He can set good post position due to the strength in his six-foot-11, 265-pound frame and has a decent but not money turnaround baby hook, as he is comfortable finishing over either shoulder. His athleticism and seven-foot-six wingspan didn’t translate much in the glass, though. Kaun posted average offensive rebounding rates among position peers in both leagues. And he hit just two thirds of his 233 free throws. Kaun doesn’t have a natural shooting motion as he mostly pushes the ball towards the basket with his right arm.

Kaun might have been average on most areas of his offense but his one elite skill significantly impacted CSKA’s production. It averaged 117.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and 110.9 without him in the Euroleague; 115.3 overall in the VTB United league but 128.2 with Kaun in the lineup.

The pick-and-roll is also where he excelled on defense. CSKA guarded the two-man action flat, with the big man hanging back to contain dribble penetration. It allowed the fourth fewest shots at the rim per game in the Euroleague and also the second lowest shooting percentage at the basket. Kaun was great, sliding his feet quite comfortably with above average lateral quickness for his height and making his presence felt in the lane, also playing above the rim on this end. He ranked third in the VTB United league in block rate.

Kaun was a bad rebounder, though, controlling just 14% of opponents’ misses in the VTB United league and 15.4% in the Euroleague; below average defensive rebounding rates among position peers. Considering his physical profile, Kaun should be significantly better than that. But just like on offense, what he did well offset what he did poorly and CSKA allowed just 98 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor in the Euroleague, a rating that would have bested their league-leading mark in defensive efficiency by a couple of points.

Editor’s Note: Statistical data for this post was researched at in-the-game.org, vtb-league.com and basketball.realgm.com.

Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.

Zhou Qi Scouting Report

(Originally posted at Upside & Motor)

Zhou Qi first became a prospect of interest in the 2012 FIBA World Championships U17 in Kaunas, when he led China to a seventh-place finish by posting averages of 1.38 points per shot on 81 attempts and 10.1 rebounds per game. Zhou followed that up in the subsequent summer by helping China to another seventh-place finish in the 2013 FIBA World Championships U19 in Prague, posting averages of 1.51 points per shot on 52 attempts and nine rebounds per game against players two years older than him.

It is rumored Zhou briefly considered going to college in the United States after his impressive performances in international events. However, he gave up that idea due to a couple of complications, including the language barrier and eligibility concerns due to his Li Ning sponsorship. The ‘Big Devil’ (his nickname according to the Chinese version of Wikipedia) led Liaoning’s junior squad to the national title last September but didn’t play any more competitive ball until last month because players under the age of 18 are not allowed to play in the Chinese league (with a few exceptions) and Zhou only turned 18 in January of 2014.

Zhou returned to competitive play with the senior national squad in the Sino-Australia challenge in June, with Wang Zhelin unavailable, and got good minutes in the four-game series, including a 30-minute outing in game two, when he finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds. He then participated in the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup, played last week in the Philippines, as China opted to send a team built of players younger than 24 years of age. Zhou was the youngest prospect on the team but started every game and logged 133 minutes of quality work against grown men, averaging 1.44 points per shot on 43 attempts and 6.1 rebounds per game.

Listed at 7’1 and 210 pounds, Zhou has a very thin frame and struggles to set deep post position. He is unable to back opponents down due to his weak base but has shown good footwork on a very slick up-and-under move that fooled Hamed Haddadi. Zhou has also flashed quality passing skills with his back to the basket as his high vantage point permits him to see over the double team. He has proven himself a capable jump-shooter from the mid-range area – on turnarounds from the baseline or catch-and-shoots from 16 feet away – but isn’t particularly consistent at this point as he sometimes releases more of a push shot. He travelled quite a bit on face up drives in the Asia Cup, posting 12 turnovers in seven games. Zhou can get off the ground fine for someone his height and contributes on the offensive glass — he ranked ninth in the Asia Cup in offensive rebounds — with the combination of his leaping ability and rumored 7’9 wingspan, but is not a dominant force extending possessions.

Where Zhou makes a difference on offense is in transition and in the pick-and-roll. He looks very comfortable sprinting down the court and even proved himself capable of leading fast-breaks in the Sino-Australia challenge, which was quite a sight to see. Zhou is a poor screener, who doesn’t look to make contact and whose opponents can easily go around due to his thin frame, but dives to the basket very naturally and has soft hands to catch the ball in traffic. He can play above the rim when uncontested but unfortunately China’s guards didn’t lob him the ball enough. Due to his lack of strength, Zhou struggled to finish through contact but shot his 25 free throws at a 72% clip in the Asia Cup. Despite the size of his hands, he has a natural shooting motion from the foul line and displayed a lot of calmness.

Zhou mostly makes an impact on defense by blocking shots, not only showing good instincts and strong foot speed rotating off the weakside to protect the basket, but also the consistent contesting of jump-shots, thanks to his length. He ranked second in the Asia Cup in blocks per game. Zhou also demonstrated the ability to keep pace with smaller players from the top of the key all the way to the rim in isolation. It is important to put that into context considering the low level of competition, but it was impressive nonetheless. He is an average defensive rebounder who often opted to rely on his physical edge rather than consistently box out opponents.

Zhou just signed a three-year deal with Xianjing, who finished second in the Chinese league last season. Next year will be his first season of full-time professional basketball, so it will be worth tracking how his body reacts to those stresses.

It’s unclear when he will declare for the draft. He will still only be 19 by this time next year. Zhou obviously needs to add strength to his thin frame, but his height, soft hands and foot speed make him a prospect whose development is worth continually being tracked.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.

Wang Zhelin Scouting Report

(Originally posted at Upside & Motor)

Wang Zhelin had a breakout performance at the 2012 Nike Hoop Summit, when he posted 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting and eight rebounds in 21 minutes against a rotation of Kaleb Tarczewski, Tony Parker and Nerlens Noel for Team USA. In his first two seasons as a pro, Wang has developed into a very efficient scorer, ranking eighth in the Chinese league in points per shot last season, displaying fairly impressive skills as a post player.

Wang is listed at 243 pounds but has that weight well distributed on his lean frame. He’s, nonetheless, able to set deep position in the low block and below the rim to grab offensive rebounds because of his strong base. He has proven himself able to move opponents off their spot with his back to the basket at that level of competition and possesses really good footwork. Despite his age (2013-2014 was his age-20 season), Wang has tremendous patience to finish at the rim. He is able to go strong if uncontested but often opted for a variety of up-and-unders and head-fakes in order to get opponents in the air, so he could go around them and lay it in.

That patience was also in display out of the pick-and-roll in that Hoop Summit game against Team USA, when he neutralized Noel’s shot blocking and scored on him three times in the fourth-quarter. Wang was solely a pick-and-roll player in that game, showing soft hands to catch the ball on the move. He displayed good instincts as the screener, always looking to draw contact, and is a huge target with when receiving the basketball from guards.

But in China, it seems as if the majority of his scoring came on postups. He showed a preference for face-up drives from the high post area. Wang has very decent mobility for his size, loves spin moves and uses his large body to protect the ball well, posting a low 12.4% turnover rate last season. He strongly favors his left hand, both when driving and finishing. Also, he flashed a solid catch-and-shoot jump-shot from the mid-range area, with decent mechanics and average release speed (which is a plus considering his size). There were some impressive passes here and there but Wang ranked below average in assist rate among centers.

Wang is also a tremendous transition player. Fujian led the Chinese league in pace and he looked like a really great fit for that style of play, showing himself capable of rebounding and leading the break. He looked very fluid running the floor, with impressive speed when you consider his height and weight. He’s not a high leaper and has a below average six-foot-11 wingspan, but did very well on the glass due to his positioning and general activity, ranking fourth in the league in offensive rebounding rate among position peers. In total, Fujian scored an average of 114.3 points per 100 possessions. However, their offensive rating was 124.8 in Wang’s 1,358 minutes on the floor, a metric that would have led the Chinese league by a wide margin.

Evaluating his defense is a lot more difficult due to the lack of recent full games available. At the Hoop Summit, his mere presence was impactful because of his size. Tarczewski and Parker struggled to move him off his spot and finish over him in the post. He had an incredible block on Gary Harris in transition and erased an off-balance attempt by Rasheed Sulaimon seconds later. In highlights, he looks like a good shot blocker off the weakside at the pro level. Wang ranked eighth in the Chinese League in block rate among centers. He was an average rebounder, grabbing 20.2% of opponents misses when he was on the floor. His team allowed an average of 114.3 points per 100 possessions, but that number dropped to 111.8 with him on the floor. That was the second best individual defensive rating on the team behind Delonte West, but below average among position peers.

It’s unclear at this point when Wang is planning to declare for the draft. Upon declaring, my guess is that he would be a first round pick due simply to his size and skill level. The short wingspan makes for some questions on the defensive end though, and how high he is drafted will probably depend on team-specific workouts.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.