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What are the Kings doing with Willie Cauley-Stein?

Kimani Okearah

One of the more frustrating-yet-underreported elements of the second half of the Kings' season has been the diminished role for Willie Cauley-Stein. While his minutes are only down by about a minute from pre All-Star break to post All-Star break, he lost his starting position next to DeMarcus Cousins, and has been relegated to a somewhat awkward bench pairing with Kosta Koufos, and the Kings' underwhelming bench unit as a whole.

Cauley-Stein continues to impress despite the 'demotion' averaging 8.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks per game on 68% shooting in 19 post All-Star break minutes per game. He's passing the eye test, too, showing frequent flashes of defensive brilliance and an increased confidence offensively. He's taking more jumpers, which is a good sign when they are going in (and they are!), he's even handling the ball more, which isn't necessarily what you want, but it speaks to his confidence level right now.

To be fair, Quincy Acy has played well as the post All-Star break starting power forward. He's started every game since the break, averaging 6.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks on 63% shooting in 20 post All-Star break minutes per game. Acy isn't a numbers guy, though, (I'd argue the same for Cauley-Stein) and I don't want to downplay the importance of his hustle, energy, enthusiasm, etc. It's all there, it's all very real, and he clearly deserved a bigger, more consistent role on this team than he had pre All-Star break. The 'Free Willie' idea has nothing to do with Acy. Everyone loves Q.

The Kings have been horrendous across the board since the All-Star break. Of course, the schedule has been noticeably brutal aside from two games against Denver, but the only players with a positive or neutral net rating since the All-Star break are Ben McLemore and Rajon Rondo. Everyone else is in the negative, and a lot of players are in the deep negative.

Willie Cauley-Stein, for instance, has the best offensive rating on the team post All-Star break, but he's still a -10.9 on net rating because of his 119.2 defensive rating. Willie Cauley-Stein isn't the problem defensively, the numbers are skewed, and the sample size is too small, but that just speaks to the larger point that the Kings' defense has been just as bad, if not worse, post All-Star break than it was pre All-Star break.

Where is that defensive assistant coach George Karl was supposed to hire? Anyway.

I've called for this before, and I'm certainly not the only one, but the Kings need to free Willie Cauley-Stein. Again. The fact that he's playing behind Quincy Acy right now is ludicrous. Acy has probably supplanted Kosta Koufos as the third 'big', I'll give him that, but the Kings are free-falling out of playoff contention right now. I'm not suggesting that starting Cauley-Stein is going to propel the Kings to the eighth seed, but I am suggesting that it's time to find out what Willie Cauley-Stein can do for 30 minutes per game next to DeMarcus Cousins. It's time to gain some intel for next season. Can the Kings rely on Willie for a major role in 2016-17? My gut says yes, my eyes say yes, but I'd sure like to see it now so the Kings can go into the offseason a little more informed.

This speaks to the long-term dangers of employing a short-term coach. I think Willie Cauley-Stein is a better player than Quincy Acy right now, but a coach with a little more job security might be willing to put more faith in a rookie with the season on the line, realizing it will be better for the organization long-term.

I think the Kings will get there. By Karl's own actions, or by decree from the front office - Willie Cauley-Stein is going to return to the starting lineup soon. The problem is, he should have never left that spot in the first place.