One of the most hackneyed cliches you’ll hear echoing in any athletic environment is the idea that “performance is 10 percent physical, 90 percent mental.” It’s as ridiculous a concept as the widespread myth claiming humans only use 10 percent of our brains. If that were true, Sacramento Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein would be a stud. He’s an agile 7-footer who runs the floor, routinely rises into the heavens to throw down lobs and nearly flushed on Rudy Gobert earlier this year like he was lowly Shawn Bradley.
After Kristaps Porzingis singlehandedly outscored the Kings’ starters through three quarters on Sunday, Cauley-Stein was effusive in his praise of the 7-foot-3 unicorn affectionately known as Porzingod. In 27 minutes, Porzingis melted the Kings defense by scoring 34 points on 4-of-6 shooting from deep, made eight out of his nine freebies and fly-swatted two shots in a blowout win. Conversely, Cauley-Stein finished with five points, three rebounds and three assists.
However, Cauley-Stein envisions an alternate universe in which situation and opportunity would have allowed him to take on a heavier-usage role on the offensive end and rival Porzingis as a scoring threat. Via the New York Post:
“I thought I had a pretty good chance of coming here, but they ended up picking the right guy,” Cauley-Stein told The Post following the loss.
Well, that deserves a big fat, “duh.” Cauley-Stein, who was drafted two slots behind Porzingis in 2015, clearly has a reasonable head on his shoulders. What’s inside his noggin when he gets introspective?
“I think I just gotta get more selfish,” said Cauley-Stein, who hit 2-of-6 shots, and is averaging 8.9 points this season. “Offensively, I gotta get to the point that I’m just going at dudes like him. Guarding him, and then watching his game, you take away, oh, this is what he’s doing. I have the same body size, the same skill-level, just transfer it over to a game now. But being behind in the race, he’s been doing it for a while.”
“This league’s all about situations,” Cauley-Stein said. “I went to a situation where I’m playing behind the best center in the league [DeMarcus Cousins], or I could’ve gone to somewhere where they don’t have a guy, and now you’re the guy, and you’re getting all the touches. That helps a lot.
To say Cauley-Stein has a long way to go is an understatement. You’ve got to respect his Lavar Ball level of overconfidence, but there are some things you can’t just speak into existence. Cauley-Stein is flowing with mental and physical gifts, but is comparatively lacking in skill. He’s correct about being underutilized behind Cousins, who folded him up and threw him into a suitcase when he returned to Sacramento last month.
The problem with Cauley-Stein’s view is that it ignores his present situation. Nothing is stopping Kings coach Dave Joerger from operating his offense through Cauley-Stein, except for his starting pivot’s undercooked offensive skill set. Stretch-fives are proliferating throughout the league, but Cauley-Stein, who is already 24, has never made a 3-pointer in his pro career.
Cauley-Stein should be modeling his game after DeAndre Jordan. Not the cocksure Jordan who thought he should be the best center in the NBA if given the opportunity, but the deft screener and pick-and-roll man who thrives converting above the rim as well as defending the rim on defense.
Hopefully this was just Cauley-Stein’s id coming up for a breather and not his inner-DeAndre beginning to emerge. Cauley-Stein hasn’t improved as much as Sacramento would have hoped, churning out a mediocre output of 8.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and barely one block in 24.2 minutes per game this year.
There was hope he could at least be an automatic double-double for the Kings when he flashed a more versatile scoring arsenal in the second half of last season, but that flash of potential hasn’t yet carried over.
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