April 22, 2018, 7:32 pm
2017-18 averages: 73 G | 58 GS | 28.0 MP | 12.8 PTS | 7.0 REB | 2.4 AST | 1.1 STL | 0.9 BLK | 1.5 TOV | 50.2 FG% | 25.0 3P% | 61.9 FT% |
Willie Cauley-Stein came into the 2017-18 campaign full of confidence, touting his improved offensive game through interviews and videos on social media. At one point during the season he went as far as comparing his game to that of Knicks All-Star Kristaps Porzingis.
“Offensively, I gotta get to the point that I’m just going at dudes like him. Guarding him, and then watching his game, you take away, oh, this is what he’s doing. I have the same body size, the same skill-level, just transfer it over to a game now. But being behind in the race, he’s been doing it for a while,” Cauley-Stein told Howie Kussoy of the New York Post.
Throughout the season Cauley-Stein remained motivated in his quest to become the top option on offense, telling Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee he needed to be more of a “dog.”
“I think I definitely want to be in that role,” Cauley-Stein said. “I’m trying to work for that role, I work every day for that role. I manifest that role and eventually that’s going to be my role.”
Having confidence is essential for a player to be successful in the NBA and Cauley-Stein didn’t shy away whenever he was asked about his offensive game. It’s an area of his game that he was criticized for coming out of Kentucky, and many draft experts and analysts pegged him as a defensive player with limited upside offensively.
It makes sense why he’s motivated to become a more complete player on offense, and he certainly made strides to becoming that this season.
Cauley-Stein’s gone from averaging 7.0 points per game in his rookie season to 12.8 points per game in his third year with the Kings; a significant and impressive improvement considering that seemingly limited offensive upside.
The speed and agility he possess for a 7-footer enables him to maneuver around bigger centers with ease. He’s developed a nifty spin move that proved incredibly effective when rolling to the rim – a move that other big men around the league would struggle to pull off – and a respectable mid-range jumper.
One of Willie’s most impressive games of the season came against the San Antonio Spurs. He showcased the strides he’s made on offense and a level of confidence that you wouldn’t have seen from him through his first two seasons in the NBA.
Cauley-Stein probably doesn’t possess the tools to be the No. 1 offensive option for an NBA team, but there’s no reason why he can’t be a reliable second or third guy. The Kings are still trying to establish a hierarchy on offense and they’ve got a number of players who are in the mix to be contributors on a nightly basis.
Developing his game on offense will be crucial, but it can’t be at the expense of his defense. He has the upside to effectively guard four positions if he’s locked in and motivated to do so. This season he took a back seat in that department, and was often burned by opposing big men on the block. This wasn’t happening every night, but it happened more often that it has in previous years.
Cauley-Stein’s primary focus on a nightly basis needs to be defense. That’s what he was drafted for and what he has more upside in. He needs to continue to work hard at increasing his lateral quickness to stay in front of more agile forwards, while also adding muscle to contain bigger centers.
Inconsistency was a common theme for Cauley-Stein throughout the season, and it’s a big reason why fans are hesitant to commit to him long-term. It’s hard to gauge exactly where the Kings front office are in regards to their third-year center, but they’ll likely weigh up prospects in the draft and pending free agents and then see where they stand with Cauley-Stein.
He’s got one more year left on his deal before he’s due to become a restricted free agent in 2019. With the way the market is trending, Cauley-Stein could be looking at around $14 million per season come 2019 and it’ll be interesting to see whether the Kings commit that kind of money to the former Kentucky product.
The Kings have time to make a call on him, and it would be foolish to jump the gun before fully unpacking the potential Cauley-Stein has. He turned in a career-year and that’s impressive in itself, but it seemingly wasn’t enough to shake the questions surrounding his future.
Cauley-Stein showed promise, though. He showed that he can be a valuable player in the league and that he can help the Kings moving forward. Fans should be happy with his overall performance this season, and they should be happy with him as the team’s starting center for the foreseeable future.
April 22, 2019, 12:42 amRussell Westbrook - G - Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook went 5-for-21 from the field to finish with 14 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two treys in Sunday's 98-111 Game 4 loss to the Blazers.
Time and again in this series, it's been evident that Damian Lillard has been playing at a higher level than Westbrook and tonight was a fine example. Lillard was able to shake off his early shooting struggles and come up big in the second half, but Westbrook was still forcing shots and appeared to be on the back foot for most of the game. He's best when he's the one taking it to his opponents. A reactive Westbrook is simply not the star the Thunder need right now, if they want to salvage any hopes of coming back in this first-round series.
April 22, 2019, 12:36 amDennis Schroder - G - Oklahoma City Thunder
Dennis Schroder mirrored his 17-point performance from Friday with another 17-point game in Sunday's loss to the Blazers.
Schroder shot 6-of-12 from the field and added three rebounds, three assists, two 3s and one steal to the box score tonight. Aside from him though, the Thunder's bench was deafeningly quiet. He cannot carry the load of the second unit's scoring output by his lonesome, especially when they're faced up against a team with multiple weapons like the Blazers. For now, the Thunder can only hope he keeps this up and that the other reserves will follow suit.
April 22, 2019, 12:32 amJerami Grant - F - Oklahoma City Thunder
Jerami Grant made just 4-of-10 shots from the field on Sunday to finish with 11 points, nine rebounds, two assists, three triples and two steals in 34 minutes.
Grant's impact on the defensive end has been invaluable to the Thunder in this series and it was nice to see him active on the glass tonight, especially with Steven Adams being relatively quiet on that front with seven boards while adding six points, one assist, one steal and one block. Unfortunately for the Thunder, Portland's forwards, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu outplayed and out-hustled them on both ends of the floor.
April 22, 2019, 12:27 amPaul George - F - Oklahoma City Thunder
Despite being slowed down by turnovers and foul trouble, Paul George still managed to light up the box score in Sunday's loss to the Blazers with 32 points on 8-of-21 shooting, 10 rebounds, six assists, four 3s, one steal and one block.
George has been banged up as early as March and he's been such a trooper, powering through a bothersome shoulder to lead the Thunder in this first-round playoff series. Unfortunately, Damian Lillard and company have been far too much for OKC to handle and George's big nights have come and gone with a lack of ample support to properly contest for the win.
April 22, 2019, 12:23 amMaurice Harkless - F - Trail Blazers
Maurice Harkless had a swell two-way performance in the Blazers' 111-98 Game 4 win over the Thunder on Sunday, posting 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting, adding 10 rebounds, one triple, two steals and three blocks in 34 minutes.
Harkless was mostly a non-factor in fantasy during the regular season due to injuries. He's clearly feeling much better now and is delivering for the Blazers at the right time. If he can keep up posting performances like this, the Blazers could emerge as a dark horse to upset favorites in the west.
April 22, 2019, 12:18 amAl-Farouq Aminu - F - Trail Blazers
Al-Farouq Aminu was feeling it on Sunday, hitting 4-of-9 shots from downtown to help secure a Game 4 win over the Thunder via his 19 points (7-of-16 shooting), nine rebounds, one steal and one block.
The Blazers found an extra kick from Aminu tonight thanks to his hot hand. He's capable of explosions like this from time to time but they're not very consistent, making him a tough player to bank on in playoff DFS. Enes Kanter was relatively quiet as he put up eight points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block.
April 22, 2019, 12:15 amCJ McCollum - G - Trail Blazers
CJ McCollum kept his foot on the gas pedal on Sunday, raining down five 3s on the Thunder en route to his team-high 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting, while adding four rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks.
McCollum is heating up at just the right time for the Blazers and he picked up some of the slack while Damian Lillard was struggling early in the first half. When he and multiple Blazers are able to put up full lines like this, Portland becomes a devastating opponent, even if the opposing team has name-brand superstars in the form of Russell Westbrook and Paul George.
April 22, 2019, 12:09 amDamian Lillard - G - Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard overcame a rough start in Sunday's game vs. the Thunder, found his game in the second half and was able to wind up finishing with 24 points on 7-of-19 shooting from the field and 6-of-6 shooting from the line.
Lillard has proven to be a true superstar in this series, managing to shake off a slow start to be able to deliver when his team needed the jolt on offense. He added four 3s, three rebounds, eight dimes and one steal to round out his line for the night. Despite Oklahoma City's best efforts, Lillard would not be denied. His ability to turn on a switch and take over a game makes him one of the Western Conference's most dangerous players.
April 21, 2019, 10:15 pmTerrence Ross - G/F - Orlando Magic
Terrence Ross could not get it going offensively in Sunday's 85-107 Game 4 loss to the Raptors on Sunday, recording just five points on 1-of-5 shooting (1-of-4 from deep) with two rebounds, three assists and one steal in 31 minutes.
This was a big blow for both the Magic and Ross' owners in DFS. He was coming off a solid 24-point gem on Friday, so this dud came as a bit of a surprise. In the end, costly turnovers and ill-timed fouls helped keep Ross from exploding like he's done in the past. Evan Fournier helped pick up the slack with 19 points (8-of-16 shooting), four rebounds, two 3s, two dimes and one steal in 35 minutes, but it still was not enough to go toe-to-toe with Kawhi Leonard and company in this crucial Game 4.
April 21, 2019, 10:10 pmAaron Gordon - F - Orlando Magic
Aaron Gordon shot 10-of-17 from the field to finish with 25 points, seven rebounds, five dimes, two 3s and one steal in Sunday's Game 4 loss to the Raptors.
Gordon was limited in the first half but turned up the heat in the third quarter where he scored 16 of his team-high 25 points. Unfortunately, his spirited play was not enough to mount a serious enough rally to challenge the Raptor's control over the game. The 23-year-old Gordon has displayed a fresh level of maturity in this series and finally looks prepared to make a significant leap forward in 2019-20.