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30Q: Which Willie Will We See This Year?

His dichotomous performance last season leaves some lingering questions for the coming campaign.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Last year saw two different versions of Willie Cauley-Stein on the floor: the timid, unenthused role player who couldn’t regularly crack the rotation pitted against the aggressive, confident starter who revealed himself in the latter part of the season.

Inconsistency Defined

Qualifiers First 57 Last 25
Qualifiers First 57 Last 25
Games w/ < 10 Mins of Play 15 0
Double-Digit Points 8 17
Double-Digit Rebounds 2 9
% w/ < 10 Mins of Play 26% 0%
% Double-Digit Points 14% 68%
% Double-Digit Rebounds 3% 36%

While he managed to partially redeem himself after the Cousins trade, his play and focus were so poor to start that many, myself included, were beginning to evaluate his trade value (okay, I do that reflexively with every single player and pick we have) in order to avoid getting nothing in return for a potential lottery bust.

It’s also never been determined what could have cause those struggles: was it fighting for playing time between DeMarcus Cousins and Kosta Koufos, or a different playbook and style with his new coach, or simply a sophomore slump?

No matter what the issue was, the Cauley-Stein that showed up for the majority was unacceptably irrelevant.

To further demonstrate his ineffectiveness, try to choose which player you would rather spend a lottery pick on from the below options:

Statistical Comparision

Player MP FG FGA FG% FT FTA FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Player MP FG FGA FG% FT FTA FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
A 13 2.5 4.5 0.561 0.8 1.3 0.603 2.7 0.5 0.5 0.4 0.6 1.8 5.8
B 16.1 2.5 4.5 0.56 0.5 0.6 0.857 3.9 0.9 0.1 0.8 1.1 2 5.6

Can we choose neither? Those are the numbers of a fringe NBA player, or possibly a late first rounder’s contributions. Sadly, the first player listed is Willie Cauley-Stein and those are his contributions from the first game of the season through the All-Star break, or 57 total performances. Player B is our favorite, sassy seven-footer, Georgios Papagiannis’ contributions in total from last season. Neither center was able to make a positive impact in either of those stints.

Thankfully, just before the DeMarcus Cousins trade, Willie’s contributions started to uptick, and he was a fringe starting center in the NBA in the post All-Star period:

Post All-Star

G GS MP FG FGA FG% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
G GS MP FG FGA FG% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
25 21 30.9 5.2 10.3 0.504 2.5 3.5 0.716 1.5 6.6 8.2 2.2 1.1 0.9 1.6 2.3 12.9

Looking at the above numbers side-by-side, a person would assume it was two different players, one struggling to find a few minutes in garbage time and the other a solid contributor on any franchise. Instead, it’s a demonstration of the inconsistency of our big man of the future.

The question becomes: which Willie will we see in 2017?

He no longer has to struggle to find minutes behind DeMarcus Cousins, and while Kosta Koufos is a fine player, the lack of talent at the center position should open all kinds of opportunities for our unique big man.

He’s also playing for the same coach in back-to-back years, so his knowledge of both the playbook and style of play shouldn’t prevent him from succeeding.

Lastly, he’ll be playing with the best point guard in his professional career. A pick-and-roll attack with Willie diving towards the rim, Hill attacking the lane, and shooters on the perimeter will open up a plethora of easy offensive opportunities for Cauley-Stein.

The vast majority of external obstacles have been removed from Willie’s path to success this coming year. The starting job is his to own, but if he continues to be an unreliable force for Dave Joerger, his status of our center of the future will certainly be brought into focus.

Which Willie do you think we will see this year?