NBA Draft: Love of the game pushes Willie Cauley-Stein


NBA Draft: Love of the game pushes Willie Cauley-Stein

Willie Cauley-Stein received pre-draft questions he expected he would from NBA front offices. Except one.

The 7-foot center was asked about the tattoos sprawled across his arms, chest and neck. He was asked why, as a sophomore, he dyed his hair bleach blonde. Teams inquired as to the type of person he would be in an NBA locker room, or if he had problems with certain people in an attempt to reveal the type of person they'd be investing millions of dollars in should they select him in next week's NBA Draft.

Cauley-Stein answered those questions, admitting some of his earlier life choices - like the hair - were made because he was "young and dumb."

But one question caught the Kentucky center, expected to be drafted in the top-10, by surprise: What would you be doing if you weren't playing basketball?

"I don't know," Cauley-Stein deadpanned, recalling his answer to NBA teams. "I would never think about not hooping. I'm always thinking about doing something with hoops or what I can work on today that's going to make me better for tomorrow."

Cauley-Stein spoke from experience, not just giving a cliched answer to prove his love of the game. As a sophomore he had suffered a broken foot in late March, forcing him to watch from the sidelines as his Wildcats completed an NCAA Tournament run to reach the National Championship, ultimately falling to Shabazz Napier and Connecticut. That time on the sideline - 21 weeks, to be exact - was all he needed to prove he needed basketball in his life.

"I got to feel what it would be like if I didn't play," he said at last month's NBA Draft Combine. "And I can't imagine not playing."

[2015 NBA Draft: Analyzing the top 5 power forwards]

The good news for "WCS" is that he won't have to worry about not playing for quite some time. The 2015 consensus first team All-American was a rare breed for John Calipari, staying three seasons in Lexington after an inconsistent freshman campaign and the ankle injury in 2014. But that additional year - in Kentucky's case, two years - allowed him to sculpt his game, become a leader for a freshman-laden roster and, without knowing it, improving his draft stock.

He averaged 8.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 25.9 minutes per game, anchoring the country's best defense alongside expected No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns and expected lottery pick Trey Lyles in the frontcourt. He was named both the SEC and National Defensive Player of the Year despite not leading his team in either blocks or rebounds, a statement to his worth on team defense. Cauley-Stein forced passes due to his length and quickness on pick-and-rolls - he averaged 1.2 steals per game - kept teams from paint touches with his interior defense and complemented the rest of the Wildcats. Those were lessons he learned staying three years.

Whereas some of his younger teammates are considered more of unknowns due to their one year of collegiate experience, Cauley-Stein has 105 games, nearly 2,600 minutes and eight NCAA Tournament games to his highlight reel.

"To show that maturity level I didn't have last year if I was to enter the draft, now I'm one of the older dudes in the draft and I get it," he said. "I understand everything. I understand the game, I understand the process, I understand what it takes to be an elite player."

It's what he's hoping to prove at the next level. Already proven as arguably the best defensive player in his class, playing at Kentucky forced him into a niche where he wasn't asked to do as much because of the talent surrounding him. And though that may be the case on whichever team selects him, Cauley-Stein believes his game can and will expand.

[NBA DRAFT: Check out all our player profiles]

He's drawn plenty of comparisons to Tyson Chandler, a former Defensive Player of the Year and NBA champion in 2011. Chandler has made a career of anchoring defenses in New Orleans, New York and Dallas and playing around the rim on offense. Cauley-Stein may even have more lateral quickness than Chandler, playing a lot like the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan. Even if Cauley-Stein never develops an offensive game - he shot 59 percent in three seasons, yet on just 5.6 field goal attempts per game - his defensive worth will be enough to justify his selection, potentially as early as Orlando at No. 5.

It's something he understands, too. Though he'd like to show off a midrange game he says he's working on and an expanded post game, he's more focused on continuing to sculpt his dominant defensive presence that is going to carry him next season and beyond.

"Get really good at the stuff I'm actually good at already. Get better on defense, be a dominant defensive force" he said, "and then over time, over the next three to four years, be a player that you can throw the ball to and make some magic happen."

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games


Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East


Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.