Willie Cauley-Stein is having a tremendous year. He is becoming the face of this Kentucky team and has improved his draft stock significantly, all the way to #4 in some mock drafts. He could have easily left for the NBA last season, but decided to stick it out and return for his Junior year. How much has Willie improved during his time at Kentucky? Let’s take a look back to see just how much he has improved.
Willie had a solid freshman year playing behind Nerlens Noel; averaging 8 points and 6 rebounds a game. He also blocked 2 shots per game and shot 62% from the field. He was thrown into the spotlight and the #1 center option when Noel went down against Florida. While Kentucky didn’t finish the season like we wanted too, Willie played fairly well, scoring a season high 20 points against Vanderbilt. He was playing well, but was limited to only shot blocking and dunks. His free throw numbers were extremely low, shooting only 37%. While he could have entered the draft, it was in his best interest to come back for a sophomore campaign.
Willie took a step down in scoring during his sophomore year; down to 6.8 points per game. Despite his drop in scoring, he improved in just about every statistical category; most notably his block and steal numbers. While not great, his free throw numbers did improve to 48%. In his sophomore year, Willie showed how much upside he had on both the offensive and defensive end. If he hadn’t got hurt against Louisville in the NCAA tournament, I firmly believe he would have led us to banner #9.
While the season is still fairly young, Willie has shown what coming back for a 3rd year can do. He has risen his scoring to 10 points per game and up to 7 rebounds per game in only 24 minutes. While his block numbers are down, his assist, steal, and free throw numbers are significantly up. Another area that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet would be the mid range jump shot he has added during the off season. While we haven’t seen it much, Willie has taken that shot in games this season, much like Anthony Davis started taking during the end of his freshman season. If he can hit that shot consistently, it opens so many more doors for Kentucky, hopefully one that leads to another NCAA championship.