November 8, 2017, 7:48 pm
With the first six picks in the 2015 NBA Draft, four teams selected big men. The Kings were one of those teams as they chose Willie Cauley-Stein out of Kentucky. Of the four choices, Cauley-Stein was the least offensive-minded player, but with Sacramento already having DeMarcus Cousins on the team it was a needed pairing. But Cauley-Stein hasn’t always lived up to being the defensive presence the team drafted him to be.
This season, though, Cauley-Stein has started all 10 of the Kings’ games and has the highest offensive rating of any King that has played more than 100 minutes at 112, and the second-best defensive rating of 105, per 100 possessions.
Cauley-Stein has improved range on offense, but shouldn’t be seen as much of a scorer. More importantly this year he’s shown some signs of his defensive capabilities, using his reach to alter shots and coming over to help from the weak side.
That’s something that the Kings will consistently need — and expect — out of their starting center this season and next, after picking up his fourth-year option at the end of October.
Of the four teams from that 2015 draft, the Kings are least likely to reach the playoffs, so this is a season for developing young talent and it could be a pivotal season for Cauley-Stein, especially.. The Timberwolves selected Karl-Anthony Towns, the Knicks chose Kristaps Porzingis and the 76ers picked Jahlil Okafor ahead of Sacramento’s pick.
Of those three, two are more than likely going to be first-time All-Stars this season if they keep up the way they’re playing.
The more notable of the three this season, however, may be Okafor in Philadelphia, who has been benched and has requested a buyout, according to sources.
The reason Okafor is more notable than the other two is due to the comparisons of Okafor and Cauley-Stein leading up to the draft. Some outlets, including Grantland, spoke on the two being juxtapositions, with one being the epitome of “polished” and the other being a bit of a wild card. If you’ve seen the seven-foot Cauley-Stein run the floor, you can probably guess which is which.
Okafor was what some would say NBA-ready and Cauley-Stein on the other hand had to learn to play the game the right way. After three years with John Calipari at Kentucky, his former coach spoke incredibly highly of the center, but mentioned the fact that Willie wasn’t the typical center.
“… you mold him into what you want him to be.” – Calipari during a 2015 teleconference
Now, three years into his career, there are still plenty of questions surrounding Cauley-Stein. Can he lead a defense? Can he improve on his rebounding? What kind of offense does he really have?
But there are glimpses of what Cauley-Stein can become. From his 29-point explosion the game he started after Cousins was traded last year to his back-to-back double-doubles to start this year, he’s shown a ton of upside.
It’s the games that follow where the problems lie, though. After his huge career game against the Nuggets, he followed up with a dud as he scored just two points against the Hornets. And after his first couple games this season, he failed to grab double-digit boards in all eight games since. Not only that, he only collected two rebounds in 30 minutes in a game against the Pelicans.
Cauley-Stein has really walked a thin line when it comes to consistency, but what we do know is he’s the longest tenured King, along with Kosta Koufos. At 24 years old, he’s the fifth oldest on the team, not including two-way contracts, and he’ll have to step up and become a leader if he wants to remain with the Kings after his fourth season. As of right now, he’s in prime position to be one of the cogs of the future in Sacramento.