If Willie Cauley-Stein fails, it won’t be the fault of the Sacramento Kings. Sure, Willie was drafted to play alongside the mercurial DeMarcus Cousins, and endured a rotating door of coaches in his time as a King, and the front office has surrounded him with a logjam of other big men, but Willie is still in a position to succeed despite it all. He’s still going to open the season as a starter, and he’s still in a position to earn himself a hefty pay day next summer. The key is simply if Willie Cauley-Stein can become the player he was always supposed to be.
In a profile for The Athletic, Jason Jones quotes both Willie and Kings GM Vlade Divac on the expectations for Willie this season.
“By all means it’s not out of it,” Cauley-Stein said. “I have a complete goal of what I want to get and how to get there and they’re giving me the tools to get there and that’s dominating both sides of the floor. They’ve made it clear, dominate both sides of the floor and what you think is going to happen is going to happen. So that’s what I came in to do.”
We’ve heard this before from Willie, that he’s being told what to do and that he’s finally going to listen and do it. But now we also have, straight from Vlade’s mouth, what those expectations are that the Kings have laid out for Willie.
“I told him you don’t need to be a 30-point guy,” Divac said. “You can be a 12-point guy, but you can also be a 10-rebound guy, a four blocks guy with three or four assists. That’s your strength so go for it. Don’t try to be something that you’re not, you’re an all-around player.”
For all the grief Vlade gets, this is excellent advice. Willie doesn’t need to be Kristaps Porzingis, he needs to simply be the best version of Willie Cauley-Stein. Play defense like he did at Kentucky. Get rebounds. Protect the rim. Throw down some monster dunks off pick and rolls and in transition.
That’s been the most frustrating part of rooting for Cauley-Stein. He has all the talent to be a very good player and make an obscene amount of money during his NBA career, but he’s fought against expectations because he thinks he should be a different kind of star. The problem is that his play has never supported his opinion of his game.
Vlade gave Willie good advice. Let’s hope he listens.