Willie Cauley-Stein knows this is a big summer for him. The second-year big man has stepped up his game since the All-Star Break as head coach Dave Joerger has loosened the reins on his minutes.
Since Feb. 23, Cauley-Stein is averaging 12.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.1 steals and nearly 1 block in 30 minutes per game. The freedom Joerger has granted Cauley-Stein with his game has made these last couple of months the most fun he has ever had in his basketball career (including his time at Kentucky), he said. When he meets with Vlade Divac for his exit interview he said he wants to know what the team wants him to do moving forward, but also what they don’t think he can do so he can prove that he can. That is how he operates, admitting that he’s been rebounding at a higher clip in recent games because he got tired of people getting on him about it.
The growth Cauley-Stein has shown since the Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans wasn’t about working harder - he’s worked hard all season - it was about getting more of an opportunity, he said. And the Kentucky product sees this summer as a big opportunity. When asked if he thinks he can take a big jump in his game going into next season, he had this to say:
“Oh yeah, it’s over. All this is just mental for me. There’s a lot of sh** in my game that this summer is going to be like the time to craft it – throw this out, keep this, let’s perfect this, let’s work on this a little bit more, things like that,” Cauley Stein said. “My mentality is just so different now – there’s not anybody that I feel like I can’t score on or nobody I can’t stop so having that mentality at this point is key to take that next level where I don’t feel like anybody can hold me or nobody can score on me type of mentality.”
Cauley-Stein, who has always emphasized that he thinks he can be a good offensive player and not just a high-level defender, said one of the things he learned this season from his coaches was how to drive to the basket against players who he can’t take off the dribble.
“Before, I was so athletic I could just dribble around people and still get my shot off, but it’s harder. And now they’re teaching me to cut your space in half so I’m putting my shoulder by them, and then once the shoulder is behind you, you get yourself around them and it makes the shot easier. Definitely for driving, when I drive now, you can tell that I’m trying to get the bump first before. As if last year, I might have like shot away from the bump, and had to shoot a fadeaway and now I’m not shooting fadeaways like that anymore, I’m trying to go get fouled, honestly,” Cauley-Stein said.
If Cauley-Stein can continue to develop at the pace he has, along with continued development from Skal Labissiere, Georgios Papagiannis, Buddy Hield and Malachi Richardson, then things are certainly looking up for this Kings franchise.
More of the media interview with Cauley-Stein after Tuesday’s win over the Phoenix Suns can be found here.