The Sacramento Kings are 6-3 in 2016, and that record and date also coincides with when Willie Cauley-Stein returned to the lineup. While I wouldn’t give the rookie total credit for the Kings’ limited, messy, but apparent improved play, I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that things started heading in a more promising direction once Cauley-Stein came back from his multiple backboard-related finger injuries. He’s been a plus player for the Kings all season, and anecdotally speaking, the team just looks better when he’s out there. I can’t say there has been one point all season where Cauley-Stein looked like he didn’t belong, or that he was the reason why a particular lineup was failing. His poise and feel for the game as a rookie is something we haven’t seen since DeMarcus Cousins. If you didn’t know he was a rookie, you wouldn’t know he was a rookie. That is about as good a complement as I can give him.
While I thought he was good prior to his finger injuries, it does feel like his role in the Kings’ offense has gone from ‘non-existent’ to ‘threatening’, and he credited Caron Butler and studying film while he was out for this improvement after last nights win in Los Angeles.
Willie Cauley-Stein, via CSN Post Game -
What he did while he was out -
The time away just gave me a chance to step away from the game and actually study it. Sitting on the bench, being around Caron and them, they just told me ‘you’ve got to find spots where they are going to find you’. So that’s all I’ve been working on. I worked on that for the whole month. Watching film and looking at spots where oh, shoot, I can be there and just score that.
On first career double-double -
I think my teammates are starting to trust me a little bit as a rookie, that I’m able to score the ball, that I'm able to play defense on anybody, now they are starting to feel like ‘yeah, he’s the real deal, he can do this stuff that we can do’. It’s good for me. I feel good that I’m starting to see that trust. That’s all it is, if we trust each other it’s going to take us a long way.
On three-straight road wins -
We’re starting to become a team. We’re starting to figure it out collectively. I think we’ve got so much talent; it’s not all on Boogie no more.
The excitement and enthusiasm Cauley-Stein displayed after last nights win made that video worth sharing, but the content was even more important.
We’ve been hearing about a Caron Butler trade that never seemed to materialize for over a month now, but this is why you want veterans like Butler on the roster, and it’s why I hope he and the Kings reconsider whatever sort of trade they were trying to make in order to find Butler some playing time elsewhere. Finding a team that's willing to give Butler substantial playing time has to be a near-impossible task for Vlade Divac, anyway, and I still want Caron Butler on the Kings' bench and in the ear of the Kings' young players. That is why the Kings signed him this summer, and it's nice to see some of that paying off.
Willie Cauley-Stein has certainly earned the trust of Rajon Rondo. You could even convince me Rondo trust’s Willie a little too much considering the frequency and difficulty of some of the passes Rondo tries to sneak into Cauley-Stein on a nightly basis. Whether passes are coming through heavy traffic in half court sets, or Hail Mary-esque lobs in transition, Rondo’s decision making could be better in those situations, but that’s another topic for another time. The point being, Rondo and Cauley-Stein have some good on-court chemistry going right now, and that has been an intriguing development.
We also saw Cauley-Stein knock down a short jumper last night. I’m not advocating for more Cauley-Stein jump shots, but it shows trust, development, and confidence. All things you want to see progress throughout a rookie season.
I couldn’t be more pleased with what Cauley-Stein is giving the Kings right now. I still want more of it, as in more playing time (he did play 29 minutes last night!) but for all the things the Sacramento Kings have been doing wrong this season, early returns suggest they’ve done something right in regards to his development.
He’s gaining trust with his teammates, his coaches, he’s saying everything you want to hear when he’s talking to the media, he getting developmental help from veterans like Caron Butler, etc. This is how you develop players.