When Breitbart Sports was the first major outlet to announce the All-American team, the most controversial pick was Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein as the 3rd team All-American center. One of the top 15 offensive players at www.valueaddbasketball.com (No. 1 Seed Wichita State’s Fred Van Vleet) had a chance to end Kentucky’s season with a final shot this weekend, only to have the 7-foot Cauley-Stein (one of the best 15 defensive players) move laterally to disrupt the shot beautifully without fouling. The highlight reels always show the game winners that go in, never the game-winning stops, but that play was one sample of why a marginal offensive player like Cauley-Stein can be more valuable than almost any other center in the land and why our pick to win the title (Louisville) must overcome him in a game so big it may have already hurt the campaign of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Even Kentucky fans complained about the selection of Cauley-Stein, and in fairness his pick is indicative of how irrelevant true centers are this year with the new “freedom of movement” rules. While Cauley-Stein was picked as the third best center, in fact he is only the 57th best overall player in the country. Big men were more valuable until this year because guards could hand check to stop drives of guards, leaving the only option of dumping the ball into a big man for a close shot. Even once at the rim, defenders have to back away from a driving guard because if the guard even starts to jump it is too late for the defender to get in position for a charge. With these new rules, the only player over 6-foot-9 in the www.valueaddbasketball.com Top 50 is Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin, but he hits and drives from the perimeter like a guard in addition to going underneath.
What Value Add calculates is how many points each player adds with his offense and takes away with his defense, and Cauley-Stein is one of the few players in the country who takes away more than 2 points a game over what even a GOOD bench player in a power conference would do. Most players in the country allow additional players. Cauley-Stein blocks 3 shots a game even just playing 25 minutes–no one else on Kentucky blocks even one a game. Despite being the center, Cauley-Stein is also tops in steals at 1.2 per game in just 25 minutes. In other words, he is by far the best blocks/steals guy on a team that is allowing 95.9 points per 100 trips down the court in a season in which a ridiculous 104.3 are being allowed due to new rules (typically the average allowed has been very close to 100.0).
Almost as important, he does not give the points back with turnovers or missed shots. According to www.kenpom.com, he is the most efficient offensive player on the team and in the top 4% of all players with a 118.8 offensive rating. The reason I developed www.valueaddbasketball.com was that the one step I believe you have to take beyond guru Ken Pomeroy’s offensive rating is measure it against minutes played and percent of possessions a player has, since a player who hardly handles the ball will only shoot open dunks and thus have a higher shooting percentage. However, Cauley-Stein has that rating because he rarely gives points back by missing shots (60 percent from floor one of top marks in country), not grabbing an offensive rebound (just misses being in the top 2% of all players).
Fans want to label a player an All-American if he scores 20 points a game even if he really hurts hit team by missing 20 shots, turning the ball over six times and playing poor defense to let opponents score. That player HURTS his team–and costs them close games that could be won with a strong replacement player. Casey-Stein adds more than two points a game of offense over a good replacement player because he scores and grabs some offensive rebounds and doesn’t make mistakes. That makes him one of only nine players in the Value Add database to both add more than two points a game on offense and take more than two points a game off the opponents score with his defense.
Four or five points swing a lot of big games.
Russ Smith has gone from out of the Top 100 player in the country to the top 10 down the stretch for the second straight season in www.valueaddbasketball.com. If he makes ridiculous offensive moves to beat Kentucky Friday night he will be on highlight reels all night. If Cauley-Stein manages to contain Louisville enough to pull the upset, the highlights will go to someone else. The clash is set for state supremacy once again, and the seven-footer who glides side-to-side is one of the reasons Kentucky has a chance to pull the upset.