Cason Wallace offers potentially vital piece for OKC Thunder’s title aspirations

Cason Wallace #22 of the Kentucky Wildcats (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Cason Wallace #22 of the Kentucky Wildcats (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

High-floor prospects are sometimes hit-or-miss. But when it hits, it hits pretty crucially, especially for a team looking to break the glass ceiling and take steps to contending. If Cason Wallace hits, it can really change the OKC Thunder.

That is what Cason Wallace offers — a great feel of the game, the potentiality of being a complementary piece, and a versatility that playoff teams may swing hard to obtain.

Cason Wallace is a six-foot-four guard adept on defensive pursuits and displays a promising upside on the offensive end. Wallace averaged about 12 points, four rebounds, and four assists, alongside two steals, and nearly one block.

Cason Wallace’s fit with the OKC Thunder is intriguing with the 12th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

Playing for Kentucky in his one-and-done season, Wallace has shown an elite-level floor — possibly the highest outside of the top seven projected players in the class. It is particularly apparent on the defensive end where he was an excellent navigator on both on-ball and off, signaling great awareness and innate instincts.

He is a capable reader of offensive actions. With his quick feet, and aforementioned naturalizes, Wallace can stifle opposing teams’ plays by rotating effectively, denying the point-of-attack, and creating a sense of formidable resistance on passing lanes, which could be pivotal in a team’s defensive schemes.

He is a seamless defender and his tenacity boosts that into higher gear. Wallace has proven his relentlessness in navigating through screens and his superb hands not only stop plays dead on its tracks, but also wear out offensive players in the process. On occasions he plays as a help defender, he has exhibited great timing and athleticism to provide some rim protection, which is still on par with his remarkable perimeter D.

His exceptional decision-making, too, was incredibly evident as Wallace showed that he could be one pass ahead of offenses on the college level, allowing him to disrupt potential sets and recover even when he gets beaten by his initial man.

These are potentially consequential for the OKC Thunder as the team imposed an unorthodox yet functional defensive system predicated on reads, rotations, and sheer activity. The Thunder is 13th on defense on 113.2 defensive rating in the past regular season, but was, on some stretches of the season, hovered inside the top 10 league-wide.

In terms of on-ball defense, he has proven his ability to overwhelm players with his strength. He absorbs contact insanely well and his rapid feet equips him to slash driving angles and prevent scoring opportunities to those who dared play isolation on him.

Plus, his active hands — as what was mentioned above — were instrumental in garnering those steal numbers alongside numerous deflections. He is not perfect all the time defensively and there is still some room for improvement, but the screen navigation on pick-and-roll ball handlers was on-point and on a level most NBA role players are already in.

Wallace resembles Bruce Brown, whose role as a backup guard for the championship-contending Denver Nuggets highlights his knack on defensive coverages, impactful rotations, and his sheer will to create winning plays. For the Thunder, his addition could provide a dimension that shall be vital in playoff competition.

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Offensively, he is far from a game-changer, particularly on on-ball creation and pick-and-roll navigation but his playmaking serves as a beam of light, being more suitable to play as a backup guard. Similar to his defensive chops, he reads the floor ably and plays the pick-and-roll game on solid spurts with his crosscourt passes off shake actions and proficiency to find the crevices of defenses standing out.

While the Thunder does not currently have any low-post threat in the roster, Wallace nails solid entry passes on a good volume and his positional awareness often creates scoring chances. He also has an eye for transition opportunities and fast break openings.

Coupled with his above-mentioned pace-pushing strengths, he is more than capable of finishing at the rim and has a great bag of finishes, including some extended same leg, one-handers similar to those of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams’.

Wallace converted about 64 percent of his at-the-rim looks on a barrage of creative finishes. However, he has been inconsistent in touching the paint — an important offensive principle for the Thunder — as his driving ability and lack of fluidity on his dribble remains a cause of concern and may hold him back from being a primary creator.

The same way he cuts off drives of opposing matchups, Wallace is limited in his attack game, seemingly incapable of breaking down solid point-of-attack defenses. He seemed to also lose balance on drives, making him prone to turnovers. This concern also was a driving force in him not taking many free throws in college as he averaged only two attempts.

Wallace is also a streaky shooter, which is a pretty common archetype in the context of the Thunder. He shot 35 percent from three throughout the season but his last nine games raised questions on his shooting, only making four of his 29 attempts (11 percent), after shooting 41 percent (40/98) in his first 23 games.

On catch-and-shoot looks, he dialed in about 35 percent of his shots — a reputable mark for a player with decent shooting mechanics.

In a nutshell, he is a defensive stalwart with questions on his offensive game. However, when he puts on a role where he can contribute meaningful minutes, Wallace can thrive. In the end of the day, his fit with any team will come down to where he could maximize the strengths he possesses.

For now, Cason Williams flaunts a floor higher than most prospects, but his ceiling should determine what type of an offensive contributor he could be for the rest of his NBA tenure.

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