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Grade the season: Willie Cauley-Stein

SB Nation logo SB Nation 5/23/2019 Greg
Willie Cauley-Stein in a baseball uniform throwing a ball © Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Oh boy.

With the season officially behind us, this is about the time we would normally begin looking forward to the draft. Actually, we normally would have been looking forward to the draft starting around February. But with the Sacramento Kings lacking a first round pick this year, we can spend a little more time than normal reflecting on the past season. We’re going to do this by grading every player on the roster, one at a time. The Sactown Royalty staff will provide their grades and thoughts, and we’ll have a poll and can discuss and debate.

Today we’re grading Willie Cauley-Stein. Willie finished the season averaging 11.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.2 steals per game.

Grades

Greg: C

On paper Willie Cauley-Stein should be the perfect center for the Sacramento Kings. A 7-footer who can run fast, roll hard to the rim, block shots, and even hit an occasional jumper to keep defenses honest. The problem is that Willie just does those things so inconsistently. There were times he would take over stretches of games and look like the best player on the floor. But there were even more stretches where he would disappear completely. Despite career-high rebounding numbers, it still feels like Willie left so many opportunities on the table. For a guy who wanted to get paid, he still couldn’t maintain focus and effort on both ends of the floor for a full season (we’ll always have October, the author wrote wistfully), and that inconsistency was maddening.

Despite all that, Willie was about what I was expecting him to be this year. I wanted him to be more, and at the very beginning of the year I thought he was going to be more, but in the end he was the same Willie we’ve seen before.

Brad: C-

When I first went to community college after high school I thought I was a bad student, so I didn’t try in any of my classes and failed at ones I could have passed if I put like... seven-percent effort into them. Because of this, I dropped out three years later with a whole lot of C’s and the occasional accidental A and B. A few years later, I came back to school and quickly realized that I wasn’t trying hard enough unless it was something that I wanted to do, so I became a decent student and graduated.

Moral of the story. Know your strengths, know your weaknesses, figure out how to work between the two, and in Willie’s case, hopefully figure out the faults in the way you go about things before you’re 30 and unemployed.

Rob: C

Ah, and we come to the C student that has never submitted a C paper. Everything is either an A or an F/incomplete with this student, depending on their level of interest in the subject matter, and the average of these two extremes equates to a C grade. And when you see how good this student is when he is engaged, it is all the more frustrating to view his work when he is not. And that is the story of Willie Cauley-Stein.

On balance, WCS more or less met expectations for the season statistically. But it was the usual WCS show, both tantalizing and wildly inconsistent. And as an added “bonus” he had the body language of a player that was at times disengaged. No matter how poorly Fox, Hield, Bagley or Giles played, you could never really question their effort or desire. Such was not the case with WCS. And all of this in a contract year.

Cauley-Stein will probably become a pretty decent bench big for another NBA team, but I have major doubts that he would accept such a role (and the pay associated with it) here. Thanks for the memories, if I have my wish. I will miss him half the time.

Sanjesh: D

What’s within Willie Cauley-Stein is everything the Kings need at center. He runs the floor with the guards, can block shots when engaged, defends the perimeter well but everything he does well is done inconsistently and everything he can’t do hasn’t improved.

Early season Willie who averaged 17.4 points, nine rebounds and 2.6 assists in October definitely gets paid, but his production declined throughout the season and left many believers disappointed. I could see the idea of Willie coming off the bench for the Kings be intriguing as he would be with Bogdan Bogdanovic and these two had a special connection two seasons ago. However, I don’t know if that’s what Willie wants.

The Kings need a center who can ideally run the floor, set good screens, actively rebound and be a presence in the paint on defense. They have one on the roster who will be entering his second year who can do those things but still has improvements to make, but as for Willie, I hope he can become the player he should be wherever that is.

Tony: C

Willie Cauley-Stein talked a big game about his new training methods and mindset change last summer, and after watching him perform at the highest level of his career through 8 games in October, I was starting to buy the talk. He wanted to get paid, and he was earning it, but that early season success just didn’t last. Every passing month felt like a nudge back to the old Willie, and after the All-Star break he was essentially the same player he’s always been: flashes of brilliance, but too inconsistent to rely on in any meaningful way.

Rich: F

It may seem harsh, but I feel Willie deserves the worst grade possible for this season. We have to remember that these grades are not about the level of skill the player may have, but the effect they had on their team. There are worse players out there, but none of them got the number of minutes that Willie did. And almost all of those minutes dragged this team down.

Yes, he had some nice dunks. Yes, he is athletically gifted. And yes, he is physically large enough that he can’t help but block a shot occasionally. But relative to his talents, the results were incredibly grim. The level of defensive effort is completely unacceptable. His 0.6 blocks per game for a starting center is completely unacceptable. The number of times Willie watched a rebound bounce right past him is completely unacceptable.

I feel bad giving Willie an F. I really do. If he were less gifted, I would actually grade him higher. But seeing the tools there, night in and night out, and watching them be squandered was too much. He always did just enough to keep his starting job — just enough to get another chance to let us down. I pray that he didn’t do just enough to earn a second contract with the Kings.

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