• After playing three seasons at Kentucky, Willie Cauley-Stein was thought to be one of the more NBA-ready prospects in the 2015 draft.  His ability to defend was expected to translate early on, and he was never expected to develop an offensive game beyond easy baskets in transition and the occasional alley-oop.

    Despite that, he seemed to enter his third season in the league with more questions than answers: he hadn’t had the impact that many expected on defense, but he had begun to show some potential as both a scorer and passer.

    Cauley-Stein’s development continued this season, with him eventually becoming one of the team’s primary options offensively.  He was showing court vision that very few had expected him to develop, and he had also started to use his athleticism to his advantage on offense.  Sacramento struggled tremendously in January and December, but Cauley-Stein had been one of the few bright spots over that stretch.

    His growth on offense allowed the Kings to remain competitive on his best nights, but the team still struggled to remain competitive because of their inability to stop their opponents.  Cauley-Stein couldn’t shoulder the blame for that, but it was fair to wonder if a better performance from him on that end would have contributed to a few more wins for a team stuck at the bottom of the Western Conference.

    Sacramento has been able to turn things around a bit in recent games – strong defense on the road against Orlando and Miami led to two-straight wins after more than a month full of tough losses, and flashes of strong play on the defensive end of the floor had shown up in a few of the games before that.  A renewed commitment on defense could be seen in plenty of players on the roster, but no player contributed more to the team’s defensive improvement in recent games than Cauley-Stein.

    In the team’s last two games, the Kings have had a defensive rating of 83.2 with Cauley-Stein on the floor – that number shoots up to 116.4 with him on the bench.  The sample size is small, but with three steals and seven blocks combined against the Magic and the Heat, it’s not hard to see how that impact was made.

    Cauley-Stein had shown the tools to be a great defender in the past.  According to NBA.com, Cauley-Stein ranked in the 99.5-percentile as an isolation defender, allowing just .32 points per possession.  His ranked dipped a bit this season, but he still only gives up .75 points per possession in those situations.

    The difference over the last couple of weeks has been his ability to contribute as a help defender.  In the video below, you can see Cauley-Stein focus on stopping James Johnson in transition before blocking a dunk attempt from Josh Richardson:

    Cauley-Stein made an even bigger impact against Orlando, a team that gave him plenty of opportunities to show what he could do as a rim protector:

    In the past Cauley-Stein was just a bit too hesitant on defense, and that stopped him from making the quick decisions needed to be a high-level rebounder and shot blocker.  Now that he has more confidence and experience he’s starting to make a real difference on that end of the floor.

    A shift in recent years has made wing players more valuable than ever, and while many feel that the center position has been devalued pick-and-roll defense and rim protection are more important than ever.  Few seven-footers have both the size and athleticism to excel in both areas, but players like Clint Capela, DeAndre Jordan and Rudy Gobert show just how valuable that can be for a team.  Cauley-Stein might not reach their level as a shot blocker, but his versatility as a defender could make him just as impactful.

    It’s tough to know exactly what his ceiling is on offense, but he still has the potential to be one of the top defenders in the league with his unique combination of size, length and athleticism.  Cauley-Stein’s development on offense has been exciting, but his development as a two-way player is what could make him truly special.

Fantasy News

  • Deandre Ayton
    C, Phoenix Suns

    The Suns have a plan to "ease back" Deandre Ayton into game action upon his return from a 25-game suspension.

    No explicit mention of a minutes restriction was made, but that's the implication here despite the fact that Ayton has been allowed to practice with the team to keep up his conditioning during the suspension. The expectation, given how well they've played without him, is that Aron Baynes will retain a large role when Ayton returns, and the possibility of playing them together was also floated. Of course, that would be disastrous and it's unlikely that the Suns pursue extended runs with two-center lineups given how well they've played with small lineups. Still, this is a reminder for those of you who have been staring at Ayton at the top of the player rankings for over a month that his ceiling may be hard-capped by the presence of Baynes.

    Source: AZ Central

  • Nikola Vucevic
    C, Orlando Magic

    Nikola Vucevic (right ankle sprain) has progressed to on-court shooting drills, but his timetable remains unclear.

    Vucevic initially suffered the injury on November 20, so he's nearing the three-week mark in his rehab. He given an official timetable of at least four weeks but some contradicting information popped up that he could return sooner. The Magic will likely announce a re-evaluation soon, so stay tuned. Those reports that came out a few days after his injury about his return coming "sooner rather than later" turned out to be a bunch of malarkey and this injury figures to keep Vuc out of action for the foreseeable future. Mo Bamba and Khem Birch will hold down the C spot in the mean time, but they won't do it well enough to be considered as anything more than block and rebound streamers.

    Source: Joshua Robbins on Twitter

  • Mike Conley
    PG, Utah Jazz

    Mike Conley (left hamstring strain) will miss a 3rd straight game Monday night against the Thunder.

    Kudos to the Jazz for treating a lower-body soft tissue injury with the seriousness that it deserves. The odds of reinjury for hamstring strains are high, so while this may be frustrating if you have Conley on your team, this is how you'd prefer a team manage his injury and it bodes well for long-term availability this season. At this rate, Conley's slump may bleed into the new year, but he's a useful fantasy player once you get over the diminished early-season returns. Patience is warranted.

    Source: Erik Walden on Twitter

  • Marcus Smart
    PG, Boston Celtics

    Marcus Smart (eye infection) may be out for Monday night's game against the Cavs.

    Smart has dealt with a bruised abdomen, the flu, an ankle sprain, a jammed finger and now an eye infection within the last 2.5 weeks. He's earned a day off against the lowly Cavs, but stay tuned to our news feed to confirm his absence before making any lineup decisions. Smart will be fine.

    Source: Celtics on Twitter

  • Malik Beasley
    SG, Denver Nuggets

    The Athletic's Shams Charania reports that the Nuggets have been taking calls from other teams doing "due diligence" on SG Malik Beasley.

    Beasley has been a frequent subject of the rumor mill this season, in part due to a rocky offseason in which he was punched by a former NFL player, his impending free agency and his unclear role in the Nuggets' rotation. That said, Beasley proved that he could be a valuable piece for a winning team last year, putting up 50/50/90 shooting splits as a starter last year and generally outplaying every other wing in Denver. This season, he's been relegated to a bench role. It's hard to say what Beasley would fetch on the market and the Nuggets' priority would be to try to shed some depth, so Beasley might find himself in another minutes logjam no matter where he goes, but he's a player to monitor as one of the most efficient scorers in the league last year.

    Source: https://theathletic.com/1445263/2019/12/09/inside-pass-a-look-at-the-developing-trade-market-set-to-begin-this-week-plus-more-notes-from-around-the-nba/?source=rss

  • Gordon Hayward
    SF, Boston Celtics

    Gordon Hayward (fractured left hand) went through practice to day and intends to play on Monday against the Cavs.

    Hayward makes a sudden return, but don't rely on him for fantasy just yet. He recently said that his extended participation in games will depend on his ability to tolerate pain in is hand and that he expects his injury to bother him for the rest of the season. Since this was an upper body injury, the presumption is that Hayward was able to stay in shape and that no minutes restrictions will be placed on him upon his return, but given the C's depth and play of late, we may not see the early-season top 40 version of Hayward right out of the gate.

    Source: Celtics on Twitter

  • Kawhi Leonard
    SF, Los Angeles Clippers

    Coach Doc Rivers said that one of his two stars, either Kawhi Leonard or Paul George, would rest against the Pacers on Monday, but the expectation is that the former will be taking the day off.

    It makes sense, since Paul George would likely appreciate a chance to play against his up-and-coming former team. As for Leonard, you get what you bargained for and you should expect more maintenance throughout the season. That said, Kawhi has been incredible this season and could get even better when he actually starts hitting his two-pointers at his career rate.

    Source: Jovan Buha on Twitter

  • Josh Okogie
    SG, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Josh Okogie played well against the Lakers on Sunday as he put up 18 points and four rebounds on 4-of-8 shooting.

    Okogie knocked down three triples and made all seven of his attempts from the stripe. Jarrett Culver chipped in 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and Keita Bates-Diop scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting with two blocks. All three should not be on standard league radars, but Bates-Diop offers the highest upside.

  • Shabazz Napier
    PG, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Shabazz Napier put up 13 points with six dimes in a loss to the Lakers on Sunday.

    Napier shot 5-of-9 from the field and put up solid numbers in just 15 minutes of action. Jeff Teague contributed with 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting in 24 minutes. Teague is a late-round value, while Napier is a deep-league assists and steals specialist.

  • Robert Covington
    SF, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Robert Covington put up 16 points with seven cash counters in a 142-125 loss to the Lakers on Sunday.

    Covington hit three triples and added three steals and one block to the stat sheet. Covington is trotting along with his typical top-50 value and consistent defensive stats. He is one of the most consistent players in the league when it comes to fantasy.