Willie Cauley-Stein may turn out to be the complete opposite of what everyone was thinking of him. Read the whole article to find out who he was compared to, to who he should be compared to. Leave a comment stating what you think Cauley-Stein’s future in the NBA looks like.
“In terms of what they each bring to the table, there isn’t much of a difference at all between Willie Cauley-Stein and Tyson Chandler.” (Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report).
These were very common words to hear prior to the 2015 NBA draft. Willie Cauley-Stein was being scouted as a tall, athletic, rim-protecting rebounder who could make an immediate impact with his defense and energy. The most common comparison was Tyson Chandler, one of the best defensive rebounders in the NBA who played a huge part in the Mavericks’ 2011 NBA Championship.
After being selected sixth by the Sacramento Kings before Emmanual Mudiay, Stanley Johnson, Justise Winslow, and a range of other perimeter players, Kings’ fans were confused on where the “next Tyson Chandler” was going to fit in next to Demarcus Cousins. Nonetheless, I was young and excited to see our young rookie in action.
Willie Cauley-Stein was nothing as advertised, however. I was very surprised to see Cauley-Stein struggle to grab defensive rebounds, and barely put up a fight in the post. That wasn’t his game. At that age, he was there to catch lobs from Rajon Rondo and protect the rim from perimeter players. While he may have done that well, he never consistently provided a positive impact while on the court.
Myself included, people were quick to label Cauley-Stein a bust. Especially considering Demarcus Cousins had the best season of his career and he seemed happy in Sacramento, Cauley-Stein didn’t have much of a role with the Kings.
Prior to the surprising Demarcus Cousins trade, it was much of the same from Cauley-Stein. He seemed to be a little heavier, stronger, and just bigger in general, but he played a similar style.
It wasn’t until after the all-star break till we actually got to see what makes Willie Cauley-Stein a potential NBA superstar. In the Kings’ first game sans Demarcus Cousins, Cauley-Stein went off for 29 points and ten rebounds in a win against Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. While he still caught his fair share of alley-oops, he scored in a multitude of different ways that night: drives to the rim, mid-range jump shots, and post hooks. He also held Nikola Jokic who was one of the NBA’s rising stars at the time to only four points in 26 minutes.
For the rest of the season, Cauley-Stein continued to improve other parts of his game. The scrawny seven-footer was no longer a project; he was one of the Kings’ best players.
Following the selection of De’Aaron Fox and allowing Rudy Gay, Darren Collison, Anthony Tolliver, and other veterans to walk in free agency, It was apparent that Vlade Divac and the Kings’ front office was embracing the young future in Sacramento, including Willie Cauley-Stein.
He began shooting more mid-range shots, along with more drives to the rim. Both of which are essential for the modern big man. While also not letting his defense (which was his calling card to get into the NBA) fall behind, Cauley-Stein looked like the best player on the floor in a decent amount of games this season.
This may come as a surprise to most, but I think Willie Cauley-Stein could be compared to Kristaps Porzingis. While the Zinger came into the NBA as a tall, skinny, three-point shooter who needed to learn how to move and defend, Cauley-Stein came into the league as a tall, skinny, mobile defender who needed to learn how to shoot. If they each reach their goals in the NBA, they could be seen as similar players.
Especially this season, Cauley-Stein has been stretching out his shooting range more and more. He is shooting over 17% of his shots from 16 feet or further from the basket, a huge upgrade over the 10% he shot last season. If Cauley-Stein continues to stretch out his range to three-point land, he could be a serious offensive threat with his improved ball handling and athleticism.
This is all a best-case scenario for Cauley-Stein, but if he continues to work on his game and improve like he had in his past two offseasons, this is a very attainable goal for the 24-year-old.