Saturday was the kind of night the Kings could have used a lead dog on offense to carry them through the “mental fatigue” coach Dave Joerger said ailed his team, as the Kings lost 106-99 to the Dallas Mavericks at Golden 1 Center.
Willie Cauley-Stein began the season admitting he didn’t necessarily want to embrace the pressure that came with being the sixth overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, but as the season has progressed, he wants more responsibility.
That includes a desire to become the Kings’ top option for consistent offense. As the Kings continue to evaluate their collection of young players, they have to figure out which players have not only the talent, but the intangibles to be a part of the team’s future.
Cauley-Stein wants to be a player who can carry his team offensively.
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“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.”
The 7-footer finished Saturday’s contest with 14 points, eight rebounds and an assist.
After Friday night’s loss to Golden State, Cauley-Stein said he needed to be more of a “dog,” or more aggressive on offense.
Cauley-Stein came out plenty aggressive in the first quarter, taking four of Sacramento’s first six shots.
“Just try to stay in attack mode,” Cauley-Stein said. “Just try to get better.”
That aggression was halted in the first quarter when Joerger called a timeout with 14 seconds left on the shot clock as Cauley-Stein was in the midst of posting up Dirk Nowitzki and shooting over him.
Cauley-Stein had rebounded a Nowitzki miss and walked the ball up the court to set up the possession.
Joerger called the timeout with 1:28 left in the first quarter, and Cauley-Stein did not play again in the first half.
He was just as aggressive to start the third quarter, making all three of his shots in the period. That helped the Kings (16-36) as they took an 85-81 lead into the fourth quarter. The spark didn’t last, as Dallas (17-36) scored the first 16 points of the fourth to take control of the game.
Earning the right to lead the Kings offense is no simple task. And Cauley-Stein was drafted with the reputation of a defender with limited offensive ability, a label he’s worked to shake.
Coaches have praised Cauley-Stein’s efforts to improve in that area, but the third-year center out of Kentucky knows he has to battle to show he’s worthy of being the top dog in Sacramento.
“That’s what I’m trying get to (the coaches), that’s why I’m trying to expand my game,” Cauley-Stein said. “I have to have (the coaches) believe that’s me, I have to have (the front office) believe that’s me. It’s starting to show, they’re starting to believe that I’ve got some juice.”
Now at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, the Kings certainly could have used some juice against the Mavericks. The Kings were too slow on defense most of the night and lacked the overall energy needed to pull out a win.
As for Joerger’s “mental fatigue” assessment, Cauley-Stein said it’s up to the players to figure out how to fight through it.
“This many games and nights, you get mentally tired,” Cauley-Stein said. “That’s just when that extra focus comes in, extra basketball IQ. You’ve got to start outthinking people instead of trying to outplay them.”
Or perhaps, the Kings can eventually turn to Cauley-Stein to carry them on those nights where mental exhaustion is a factor.
That’s what lead dogs tend to do.