• Jeremy Freed

2019 NBA Free Agents: Willie Cauley-Stein


NBC Sports

Overview:

Willie Cauley-Stein finally made good on the promise he showed when Sacramento selected him 6th overall in the 2015 draft. While he didn’t set new career highs across the board, for the first time in his career, Cauley-Stein made clear that he could be part of a winning team. Though the Kings ultimately slid below .500 on the season, they were in the running for a playoff spot all year long, and Cauley-Stein was a big part of that, providing strong defense, active rebounding, and consistent health, playing in and starting 81 of a possible 82 games.

Regular Season Stats: 11.9 PPG, 2.4 APG, 8.4 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 1.0 TOPG

Age: 25 (will turn 26 in August before 2019-2020 campaign)

Strengths:

Elite size and athleticism. Despite being a legit 7’0”, 240 lb center, Cauley-Stein has the lateral quickness and speed to switch out on perimeter players without becoming a liability. An active defender and rebounder, he plays within himself on the offensive end, not trying to do more than he’s capable of: a prototype center for the modern game. Legally changed his middle name to ‘Trill’ -- indisputably has the strongest middle-name-game in the NBA.

Weaknesses:

Lacks offensive perimeter element of his repertoire: is 4-18 from behind the arc lifetime. Shows little-to-no potential of converting his game to Brook Lopez-esque floor-spacer at this juncture in his career. Was perceived to lack basketball IQ and/or reliability early in career, but has worked hard to overcome that criticism. Legally changed his middle name to ‘Trill’ -- that’s awesome, but honestly, who does that?

Ideal Role:

Found it this year in Sacramento. As a rim-runner in a fast-paced offense with a past-first guard in De’Aaron Fox, Cauley-Stein is unlikely to find a better fit than he has in Sacramento. Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic provide spacing, and Harrison Barnes and Marvin Bagley III are modern power forwards who don’t clog up the inside, so Cauley-Stein is free to play his trade. A new team would need to offer similar attributes.

Possible Landing Spots:

Dallas would offer a compelling fit. Featuring an active distributor in Luka Doncic, and perimeter oriented offensive pieces in Tim Hardaway Jr. and Kristaps Porzingis, Cauley Stein could fill the hole left when DeAndre Jordan was traded to New York.

Golden State could be another, provided the Warriors fail to bring back DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant. Cauley-Stein provides versatility and size, and doesn’t need the basketball to be effective. He might provide a nice bridge from the Draymond Green era, should Golden State be hesitant about maxing out a 30-year-old Green.

The Los Angeles Clippers would be a third. With only a few young perimeter players under contract (and Danilo Gallinari) the Clippers have a gaping hole in the middle. The Clippers are going to be a very different-looking team next year, and Cauley-Stein is young enough to grow and improve with the Shai-Gilgeous Alexanders, Landry Shamets, and Jerome Robinsons of the world.

Next Contract:

There’s more money available in free agency than true big names to use it on, so Cauley-Stein is in line for a payday, but not quite the one he wants -- a ‘1’ with eight ‘0’s after it. Is a four-year, $60 million dollar contract feasible? Yes. Yes it is.

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