A ton has been made about the Sacramento Kings’ strong 8-6 start, and much of the credit has been attributed to their talented young backcourt in De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, and deservedly so. But what’s gone under the radar is the impact of center Willie Cauley-Stein.
Cauley-Stein, only in his fourth NBA season but still the current longest-tenured King, came out before the season stating that he is “ready to get paid” and will do what it takes to get him there. And though many Kings fans were skeptical of this boldness as such quotes aren’t exactly anything new from him, the 25 year old big man has delivered.
WCS is posting career highs in points (16.8), rebounds (8.2), fg% and efg% (both 58%) in only a small uptick in minutes compared to last year.
But much more important is how he’s getting those high percentage shots that’s enabling the Kings’ offense to thrive.
When you hear “spacing,” most people automatically think of shooters in the corners or on the wings. But what’s equally important is having a player on the interior pulling defenders inside with him. It’s why Capela is so vital to the Rockets’ gameplan, because as much as you don’t want to give up an open 3 to Eric Gordon, you also simply cannot give Capela a wide open 2 at the rim.
The same concept applies to Willie. Paired with Fox, they are one of the most athletic PNR pairings we’ve ever seen, and it makes sense to have him in that rim-running role. Thing is, it hadn’t always seemed so obvious—last year in particular he seemed intent on expanding his range and becoming a stretch big.
But this year he’s seemed to change his game.
He’s shooting 84% of his shots inside 10 ft (up from 76% last year) and is providing the spacing for Fox & Co. to operate. His 67% fg clip inside of 4 feet is third in the league behind only Giannis and Capela. So yeah, pretty good company.
Check out his effect as a roll man for the Kings:
As WCS sets the high ball screen, the defense begins converging on Fox, who makes the read and flips it into his roll man in the paint. As a result, Cauley-Stein attracts 3 defenders in the paint and still scores.
But even when he’s not the one scoring, he’s still a magnet as he rolls to the rim. Here’s him doing a similar job of sucking in the D, this time for shooters on the wings:
As Willie rolls, he forces the defense to tag, first Dragic for Miami and then PG and Russ for OKC. They sink in to prevent the easy dunk and then Fox finds the shooters. Notice how each clip came in clutch moments in close 4th quarter games. Willie’s impact is real.
“Spacing” is such a buzzword in the NBA now, but it does have legitimate meaning and value and that’s shown on a nightly basis. And it isn’t just limited to the players that chuck threes and command respect from deep. It also applies to the high-flying rim-runners that throw down inside. And players like Willie Cauley-Stein are showing that.
stats per bballref and nba.com