Whether he’s playing or sitting on the bench, Willie Cauley-Stein remains confident.
The Kings’ second-year center never has doubted his offensive abilities, even when he has limited opportunities to showcase them.
“It is where it’s been,” he said of his self-assurance. “I think now I’m getting my teammates’ confidence. That helps you for sure.”
You know if they throw you the ball in there, they believe you can score. Everything else kind of takes care of itself. All the work you put in on the court and your teammates believing you can do stuff. That’s big.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kings center
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Cauley-Stein scored in double figures in three of the first seven games of the Kings’ eight-game trip, establishing a season high each time, and capped his surge with 17 points in Monday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. He had 10 points Tuesday as the Kings ended the trip with a 105-83 loss to the Houston Rockets.
On the trip, Cauley-Stein demonstrated his ability to run the floor to generate offense early in a possession as well as his improved ability to catch and finish around the rim. Before the trip, he played sparingly.
Cauley-Stein believes he has earned his teammates’ trust when he has the ball.
“You know if they throw you the ball in there, they believe you can score. Everything else kind of takes care of itself,” Cauley-Stein said. “All the work you put in on the court and your teammates believing you can do stuff. That’s big.”
Cauley-Stein is becoming a fixture with the second unit. He’s not a key offensive option, so Cauley-Stein is figuring out how to make the most of his scoring chances.
“He’s doing a good job of catching and finishing, and that’s why I try to play him with Ty (Lawson) a lot,” coach Dave Joerger said. “... Ty gets in the paint, creates problems and gets a lot of guys shots.”
Cauley-Stein’s teammates have praised him for his role on offense. The Kings drafted him sixth overall in 2015 because of his defense, but he has spent this season refining his offensive skills.
“He’s been working hard, does his work every day and guys have confidence in him,” Joerger said.
Center DeMarcus Cousins said Cauley-Stein’s upward trend has enhanced the Kings’ offense. Besides working with the second unit, Cauley-Stein has played alongside Cousins.
“It helps us a lot,” Cousins said. “He’s a (pick and) roll threat at all times, and once he masters that and understands the impact he can have on a team doing that, we’re going to be a scary team.”
Cauley-Stein said he’s eager to show more facets of his game.
“I’m getting the ball and my teammates are seeing I can shoot the ball,” he said. “Eventually, I’ll start getting more jumpers and then the whole package, where I can drive and kick, that’s the ultimate goal. Just keep working on it.”
He’s doing a good job of catching and finishing, and that’s why I try to play him with Ty (Lawson) a lot. ... Ty gets in the paint, creates problems and gets a lot of guys shots.
Dave Joerger, Kings coach, on Willie Cauley-Stein
Temple injured – Kings guard Garrett Temple left Tuesday’s game in the third quarter because of a strained left hamstring and did not return.
Temple fell clutching his leg near midcourt, then limped off.
With forward Rudy Gay (Achilles’ tendon) done for the season and forward Omri Casspi (calf) likely out for the rest of the week, the Kings’ options on the perimeter will shrink further if Temple is sidelined.
Rookie guard Malachi Richardson has been playing more, but without Temple, Ben McLemore could be called upon. McLemore has played little since losing his starting job. He played Tuesday after not seeing action in the previous six games.
January force – Entering Tuesday, Cousins was shooting 46.1 percent and averaging 11.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists in January, all above his season averages. He was named Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday.
Joerger said there’s a simple reason for Cousins’ upswing.
“I think he’s a winner,” the coach said. “I think he puts his team on his back and he knows every game is important. And from our position, we try to get a win wherever we can and he’s doing every single thing he can to get us there.”