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Waiting for Willie Cauley-Stein

The development of WCS has been anything but linear

Kimani Okearah

Willie Cauley-Stein is the most frustrating player on the Sacramento Kings. He possesses immense talent, but is haunted by inconsistency. When Willie shows up to a game focused, he looks like one of the Kings’ best players. But too often he disappears. The Sacramento Bee’s Jason Jones has a good piece on Willie’s development specifically in context of Thursday’s loss to the Indiana Pacers.

So the Kings’ center was disappointed for how he defended Indiana All-Star Victor Oladipo’s 3-pointer with 17.9 seconds to play, backing off and giving up a clean look at the rim.

”It hurts me because I should have been up, that should have been my stunt,” Cauley-Stein said. “He should have never got that 3 off.”

It hurts Kings fans because this isn’t a new issue for Cauley-Stein. He’s struggled with closeouts for his entire career. The problem that has plagued Willie’s career isn’t just inconsistency in his play, but in what kind of player he wants to be.

WCS was drafted 6th overall by the Kings because he was a versatile defensive big with offensive potential. He looked capable of guarding four positions. He stands 7’ tall and has an impressive wing span and quick feet. But throughout his time in the NBA Willie is still trying to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up.

He doesn’t want to be just a defensive player, which has translated to him not being a very good defensive player. He doesn’t want to be a great rebounder because he hurt his hand on the rim one time. He wants to be like Kristaps Porzingis, and he’ll have games where he explodes and makes you believe it could be possible, but then he disappears again.

Now it seems he’s going to be a facilitator?

The Kings have allowed Cauley-Stein to be more of a facilitator this season. Including Thursday, Cauley-Stein has led the Kings in assists nine times.

As he grows into that role, Cauley-Stein expects to become a better decision maker.

”And that’s me learning that point forward role,” he said. “Learning when to be aggressive, when to go get a bucket and when to get everybody else involved.”

Why is Willie trying to become a point forward on a team overrun with guards? The Kings have De’Aaron Fox and Frank Mason as primary ball handlers. Bogdan Bogdanovic is the team’s best facilitator right now. Buddy Hield is demonstrating improved ball handling and passing. Why in god’s name does Willie think he needs to be a point forward?

And I could look past a comment like this if Willie has demonstrating some sort of knack for passing, but he’s not. He’s averaging the fewest assists of his career on both a per game and per minute basis*.

*[Editor’s Note: I misread the stats. His numbers are up, but remain pretty underwhelming. 2.3 per game, 3.0 per 36. My mistake. -G]

As Willie Cauley-Stein winds down his third season he’s a bigger conundrum than ever. He needs to figure out what he is going to excel at and focus on it. No more talking about what he’s going to become. No more talking about what he’s going to do in the offseason. To borrow a phrase from Mike Singletary, “don’t tell me, show me.”

Waiting for Willie to figure it out is getting old.