Kings' Willie Cauley-Stein rides roller coaster of rookie life
In the modern NBA, the label can be downright offensive.
A defensive player? Or do you mean a player with limited offense?
NBA players make big money for offense. Those who specialize in getting stops can find max dollars hard to come by.
Kings rookie Willie Cauley-Stein wore the defensive label throughout the draft process last year. But he will find it offensive if you assume all he can do is play defense and simply get out of the way on offense.
Cauley-Stein rejects the idea that all he is, or ever will be, is a defender. And he’s ready to show you.
“I’m a hooper. I do everything – I do it all,” Cauley-Stein said. “So when that stipulation leaves, it’s going to be cool where you’re just not (a defender), but I don’t think it ever will. People don’t want to see that. People ain’t ready for that. They want it to be, ‘You’re a defensive stopper.’ Well, I’m a defensive stopper, and I’ll go get 20 on you if I get the chance.”
Those chances rarely come for the 7-footer from the University of Kentucky.
I’m a hooper. I do everything – I do it all.
Kings rookie center Willie Cauley-Stein
When the Kings chose him sixth overall in the 2015 NBA draft, it was to improve their defense. His offense was secondary.
All along, Kings coach George Karl has said Cauley-Stein would evolve into a player who would average double figures in points and rebounds, but there haven’t been a lot of views of the rookie’s offense.
Cauley-Stein is averaging 6.3 points and 5.1 rebounds this season, but Karl sees Cauley-Stein’s offensive game as emerging.
“I think he’s OK with the 15-footer, 17-footer and also putting the ball on the floor,” Karl said. “Putting the ball down on the floor and trying to make something for himself when he’s 10, 15 feet or one dribble away. I think we’ve worked on that and running the court, trying to get him to finish better, maybe finish with more strength rather than finesse.”
Cauley-Stein has never lacked confidence in his offense. For him, it’s about getting chances to show he’s more than energy and defense.
Still, it’s defense that made Cauley-Stein stand out to the Kings, and those who know him say his offense will surprise.
“He has skill, soft touch around the rim and stuff like that,” said Lakers forward Julius Randle, a teammate of Cauley-Stein’s at Kentucky. “As he continues to do that, I think he’ll be a really good player.”
For now, most of Cauley-Stein’s offense consists of fast-break opportunities, putbacks and dunks.
Cauley-Stein has taken 182 shots from 5 feet and in, making 116 (63.7 percent). Only 49 shots of his shots have come outside of that range.
He’s 16 of 33 (48.5 percent) from 5 to 9 feet. He’s taken nine shots from 10 to 14 feet and seven shots beyond that.
Cauley-Stein will be a higher priority on offense for the Kings only if he proves he can score consistently.
The halfcourt offense starts with DeMarcus Cousins. Rudy Gay needs his touches, and point guard Rajon Rondo must distribute the ball to the likes of Darren Collison, Marco Belinelli and Omri Casspi.
He has skill, soft touch around the rim and stuff like that. As he continues to do that, I think he’ll be a really good player.
Lakers forward Julius Randle, a teammate of Cauley-Stein’s at Kentucky
That leaves Cauley-Stein waiting for offensive scraps when he does get on the court.
He said it’s a matter of when, not if, he can score.
Coaches have him brushing up on all areas of his offense, he added.
“Just a little bit of everything,” Cauley-Stein said. “Jumpers, driving, free throws, little touch shots, little reverses, stuff in the paint.”
If you haven’t seen all that, it makes sense. Cauley-Stein is averaging just 4.4 shots in 19.8 minutes.
“I haven’t got the chance thus far in my career, but I’ve got it in me,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of different things. Just waiting on the time to do them or having the green light to just hoop. But that comes; I’m a rookie. I kind of have to just wait and perfect it in practice.”