In the wake of the DeMarcus Cousins trade last season, Willie Cauley-Stein emerged as a breakout player. In the final 25 games, WCS averaged 12.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, with roughly 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block per game thrown in for good measure. He was one of the bright spots, and one of the players many people expected to continue on an upward trajectory this season. But Willie’s preseason was concerning, to say the least.
In 5 preseason games, Willie averaged just over 8 points per game on 42% shooting. He averaged 6.2 rebounds, and had a total of 4 assists, 2 steals and 1 block in the five games. Beyond just the numbers, some of which could easily be attributed to a slightly smaller minutes total per game, Willie just didn’t look good on the floor.
Since he entered the league, Cauley-Stein has tried to prove himself a capable offensive threat. He views himself as more than just a cutter, or just a defensive player. The problem is that in attempting to prove himself as more than those things, Willie often fails to focus on being good at those core skills.
More than they need an offensive star, the Kings need a player who can play solid defense, rebound, get put backs, and move off ball for easy buckets. Willie wants to be more, ignoring how just being good at those skills could make him insanely successful and wealthy in the modern NBA.
We may be able to chalk some of this up to how the Kings chose to use WCS in the preseason. Willie was often operating out of the high post, which certainly isn’t where I would choose to start possessions for him. It could be that the coaching staff was allowing Willie to try new things, or trying to see if he could be used in different ways. We know Dave Joerger values getting guys minutes in different scenarios.
I’d be willing to write it off as nothing more than that, but the concerns go far deeper. Willie still ball-watches on defense, and will lose his man and be forced into unsuccessful close-outs. He seems apathetic at rebounding and getting position down low. It just doesn’t look like he’s interested in doing the little bits of hard work.
I’m not in a full scale panic. It’s just a five game sample size, it’s just preseason, and it could all be a lot of worry over nothing. But I’m going to be watching Willie closely as the season begins, and I’ll be hoping to see something better than what he’s showed us the past few weeks.