Willie Cauley-Stein spent much of his rookie season insisting he had more to offer than advertised.
The Kings center said he was not just a defensive player and if given the chance would produce on offense.
Under new coach Dave Joerger, Cauley-Stein will get a chance to show the diversity of his game with the Kings’ summer league team, which opens Friday against the Toronto Raptors in Las Vegas. The Kings began two-a-day minicamp practices for summer league Monday at their practice facility.
Cauley-Stein is adjusting to the freedom Joerger has given him on offense this summer.
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“I’m able to be a playmaker,” he said. “I’m being able to shoot the ball, where last year it was, ‘Go to the baseline and don’t even worry about touching the ball.’ Now it’s so different having the ball in your hands and you’re getting to make a play.”
Cauley-Stein also will have an opportunity to expand his game against elite competition. He’s on the Team USA Select squad that will practice against the U.S. Olympic team in Las Vegas.
We want to see Willie’s confidence rise. We want to see him not just be a rim-runner, dunk guy. We get the chance to see some other things, work on his game a little bit, handle the basketball a little bit, not as a point guard but within the offense.
Kings coach Dave Joerger, on Willie Cauley-Stein
“We want to see Willie’s confidence rise,” Joerger said. “We want to see him not just be a rim-runner, dunk guy. We get the chance to see some other things, work on his game a little bit, handle the basketball a little bit, not as a point guard but within the offense.”
Last season, Cauley-Stein averaged 7.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 0.6 assists and earned NBA All-Rookie second-team honors. His offense picked up later in the season; he averaged 6.2 points before the All-Star break and 8.1 points afterward.
Cauley-Stein said he has worked on his ballhandling and improved his decision making as to when to attack the basket, pass or take a 15-foot jumper, which he has been practicing. He said he believes Joerger and his staff will help him develop.
“Just being involved, that’s big,” Cauley-Stein said. “And that’s kind of what you want to be as a player, to be able to play every position, all the floor spots. And that’s a lot of what I’ve been working on, too, being able to space the floor, find people. I’m a good passer, so that’s one of the things I pride myself on is looking for other people’s shots.”
Summer league is the ideal situation for Cauley-Stein to hone those aspects of his game. Joerger doesn’t want Cauley-Stein to abandon some of the skills that made him a first-round draft pick last year.
Most big men lack Cauley-Stein’s speed, so he should have plenty of chances for easy points in transition. And his knack for making plays on lobs is special. Now, Joerger wants him to blossom on offense.
I’m able to be a playmaker. I’m being able to shoot the ball, where last year it was, ‘Go to the baseline and don’t even worry about touching the ball.’ Now it’s so different having the ball in your hands and you’re getting to make a play.
“I’ll put the ball in his hands a little bit more to make plays,” Joerger said, “and that’s kind of the league right now, too. Bigs are being able to quarterback in the middle of the floor, pitch and play in the pick-and-rolls. Once he springs free, I think that’s when he becomes super athletic and you can throw lobs, offensive rebound, those types of things.”
Cauley-Stein still is adjusting his mindset from his rookie season, when he was forbidden to contribute on offense unless he had the ball off a rebound or a lob.
“As soon as, mentally, you realize the coach is on your side and has the confidence you can make that play, that’s when it shuts off and you just get to hoop,” Cauley-Stein said. “But you’ve been beaten all year that, ‘No, you can’t make that play; you’re not supposed to make that play.’ Now it’s, ‘You’re supposed to make that play; we need you to make that play.’ So you’re re-learning how to hoop, honestly.”
Note – The Kings waived forwards Caron Butler and Duje Dukan. Sacramento tried to trade Butler last season, when he played in only 17 games and averaged 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 rebounds. Butler recently picked up his $1.5 million player option for the 2016-17 season. Dukan spent most of last season with the Reno Bighorns of the NBA Development League and played in one game with the Kings, scoring six points in the season finale against the Houston Rockets. Although he no longer is under contract, Dukan will be on the Kings’ summer league team. The roster still was being finalized.