The Sacramento Kings shouldn’t rush to sign Willie Cauley-Stein to a big, long-term deal, as his recent comments and play should give them pause.
Well, we’ve come a long way since I wrote this piece last month, detailing how Willie Cauley-Stein’s early season play could put him in line for a big contract with the Sacramento Kings.
At the time, Cauley-Stein was just starting to fall back into his old, inconsistent play, but had performed well to start the season. His play, unfortunately, has gotten more inconsistent while also trending down.
As Sactown Royalty’s Tim Maxwell notes, in his first 12 games this season WCS averaged 17.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 59 percent shooting and was attempting over four free throws per game. Fast forward the last 19 games and his scoring and efficiency drops to just 11.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and just 50 percent shooting from the field while taking 1.2 less free throws per game.
While eye-popping isn’t their own regard, this doesn’t take into account Cauley-Stein’s most troubling issue — he’s getting slaughtered on the boards and on defense. Coming off back to back games (both double-digit losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder) in which the opposing team’s center grabbed 23 rebounds, Willie Cauley-Stein deflected blame to his current contract status.
"“They get paid $100 mill to do that, so if they’re not doing that, you’re looking at them differently,” Cauley-Stein told reporters after the Kings 132-113. “Y’all get paid $100 mill to rebound and block shots. Me looking in on that, that’s big time. You know, Steven’s a helluva player, me playing against him, and he’s doing that, he gets paid $100 mill to do that."
When reading those comments alone, it’s hard to not compare them to those of the Chicago Bulls’ Jabari Parker. When the Chicago Bulls singed Jabari Parker to a two-year $40 million contract, Parker said that “they don’t pay players to play defense” and has subsequently found himself out of the Bulls rotation and on the trade block after only two months of play. While the comments don’t exactly have a causal relationship with Parker’s situation, they are concerning.
But the comments, while troubling from a front office point of view and don’t represent the first time Cauley-Stein has said something off-putting this season, are not the big-issue here. In fact, the comments themselves aren’t really problematic at all and if you listen to the full exchange between Willie and Sacramento media, he also says he is trying hard to rebound and defend. The problem is, however, that he’s not doing that.
On the season, WCS has a 108.1 defensive rating, which is good enough for 39th among all center’s with at least 20 games played. With those same parameters he is: 16th in defensive rebounds, 27th in defensive rebounds percentage, 51st in block percentage, 42nd in blocks and 25th in defensive win shares. Keep in mind that’s just among NBA centers and not the entire league.
The most frustrating part about all of this, is that we know from his days at the Kentucky that Cauley-Stein can be an above-average defender, but he just doesn’t seem to put effort into that end of the floor.
This isn’t to say WCS will get paid and be a bust on whichever team signs him (whether that’s Sacramento or someone else), but rather when a player flat-out refuses to play defense, it caps their ceiling exponentially. Especially when said player can, play defense at a high-level.
Couple that, with his incredible inconsistency on offense and you’ve got millions of reasons to be wary if you’re the Sacramento Kings. With that said, Cauley-Stein started the year phenomenally. He was performing at a high-level offensive, playing with efficiency and solid defense, as he was more than able to hold his own against Marc Gasol, Rudy Gobert and even Steven Adams earlier in the season.
If Willie Cauley-Stein can get back to the level he played with in the early stages of the season, the Sacramento Kings should have no issues re-signing him to a worthwhile extension. That version of Willie would be a key piece in making the Kings a playoff team again, this Cauley-Stein, however, makes you question whether he’s worth that investment.
A big-man playing adequate defense while chipping in 17 points, 10 rebounds and three assists a night would command a major contract in free agency. That’s WCS’s peak, but far too often he plays like a below-average rebounder and defender who goes for 12 points and eight rebounds while having good games every so often. Is that worth $15 million a season?