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.