Willie Cauley-Stein joined Jason Ross and Nate Goodyear for an interview back on media day, and he had said a few things that immediately caught my attention. While considering whether Cauley-Stein’s comments were worth their own full-blown analysis, a few other notes regarding Trill have surfaced, so this seemed like as good a time as any to check in on the Kings rookie.
I suppose we’ll start with that interview I mentioned.
Willie Cauley-Stein, via Halftime with Jason and Nate -
On not feeling like a rookie due to his three years at Kentucky -
"You’ve got to think like you’re a vet, if you’re thinking like you’re a vet, you’re on your toes, cause the vets be cheating. They be cheating in practice, I’m calling you out right now. If you’re cheating in practice, if you’re holding on to me, I’m going to start doing the same things. I’m starting to pick up on the little things."
On John Calipari's influence -
"The thing I learned about coach Cal is that he’s going to say what he wants to say, he’s going to do what he wants to do, and if he has a goal he’s going to complete it, and that’s the way I’m looking at life. If I’ve got a goal, there is nothing that is going to stop me from getting it. "
On his mindset heading into training camp -
"I’ve been on a lot of winning teams, I’ve been on a losing team one time, and the only reason why we were losing was because we weren’t together, so, if that’s my one thing that I have to do on this team, I’m going to do it. I’ll bring everybody else together, because that’s going to be important for us. Especially playing in the conference that we are in, it’s harder, so we’ve got to stay close together. We’ve got to be together, we’re going to go through a lot of battles, so we better not be battling each other, we’ve got to battle somebody else. "
You could have probably come to this conclusion before reading Cauley-Stein’s comments above, but this is not your average rookie. For Sacramento contexts’ sake, he’s certainly not like some of the confidence-lacking rookies of recent memory (I’m talking about you, Nik Stauskas and Ben McLemore). This isn’t meant as a knock on those guys, really. Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, and rookies of that ilk are the norm. Confidence is gained through experience, and if you don’t have experience it’s hard to manufacture confidence.
Cauley-Stein is a special case. He is an older rookie, for one. That has to help. He also spent three years at Kentucky, a college team that played under more pressure than a lot of NBA teams last season, Sacramento included, but those circumstances can only take so much responsibility for who Cauley-Stein is today. The rest is just Willie being Willie.
I would argue that Cauley-Stein, or any rookie for that matter, wouldn’t have the locker room influence needed to be the ‘bring everybody together’ guy that WCS suggests he can be, but the fact that he would even suggest something like that is unheard of.
Rookies shouldn’t even consider locker room cohesion as part of their role. If a team manages to draft a player with supreme confidence in himself as a rookie, that confidence usually manifests itself on the basketball court, but the kind of confidence it takes to imply that you can unify the locker room in year one is something completely unique.
I already questioned his ability to actually pull that off, but you have to love where his head is at.
On the court, reports out of training camp have been somewhat mixed.
We've had the luxury of watching two extremely short scrimmage clips (1 and 2), and he didn't look out of place, for whatever thats worth. He's blocking shots, we know that.
George Karl put him in the same conversation with Kosta Koufos and Rudy Gay as a potential starter next to DeMarcus Cousins. That's clearly a good sign.
On the other hand, CSN California's James Ham mentioned that Cauley-Stein's conditioning isn't quite where it needs to be in a Q and A with Kings fans last night. Ham has been with the team in San Diego all week, so his opinion is certainly more valid than a couple of scrimmage clips.
It's worth mentioning that Cauley-Stein had similar issues in Vegas throughout summer league. The Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones documented his struggles back in July.
Jason Jones, Via the Sacramento Bee -
Through two summer league games, Cauley-Stein has been trying to play the role of sprinter as much as possible, and he's needed to take plenty of breaks.
Cauley-Stein, however, would not say conditioning is a concern of his. But it is something he's aware of after the Kings fell to 0-2 in summer league with a 98-76 loss to the Denver Nuggets at Cox Pavilion.
Cauley-Stein's focus is to "play had and come out when you can't play hard anymore" to not hurt the team.
"I have the option," Cauley-Stein said. "I take myself out. I’m going to play as hard as a can and once I get a little bit winded or a little bit tired I’m not going to try stay out there and make a mistake or give up points. So when I get tired I’m going to bring myself out for like a minute or two and then tell them I’m ready to go back in. That’s just the way I play."
To bring this conditioning issue full circle, Hudson Sangree of the Sacramento Bee wrote a column in June about Cauley-Stein and his past struggles with sickle-cell trait, a blood disorder that can have an adverse effect on endurance. Vlade Divac and the Kings knew about this before drafting Cauley-Stein, and they didn't seem to think it would be a real long-term issue. No one has suggested that this is having an effect on Cauley-Stein's conditioning in camp, but hey, we already dug way too deep into this non-issue issue, so we might as well be thorough.
My take? He is a rookie and the NBA is difficult. It'll take time for him to adjust to the speed of the NBA game.