SACRAMENTO -- Anointing Willie Cauley-Stein as the savior of the Sacramento Kings is a mistake. One player cannot replace the incredible impact on the floor of the departed DeMarcus Cousins. Placing that type of pressure on a young player can do more damage than good.
The second-year big man came out hot in the team’s first game without Cousins, scoring a career-high 29 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He backed that up by struggling against the Charlotte Hornets, posting just two points and two rebounds as Steve Clifford had his club clog the middle and take away the pick-and-roll.
Cauley-Stein is neither the superstar that sunk the Denver Nuggets, nor the player that struggled against the Hornets. He is somewhere in between and the Kentucky product has plenty of time to carve out his own path.
It will take a team effort to replace Cousins and even then, Sacramento will have to add more pieces in the offseason. For now, Cauley-Stein will get an opportunity to earn his paycheck. There are plenty of minutes of the 23-year-old 7-footer who sat down with CSN California this week to discuss his increased role with the Kings.
JH: What has this experience been for you, not only getting 35 minutes, but getting 22 shots attempts, How big is this opportunity for you?
WCS: It’s brand new, but it’s what you want, you know. It’s a situation you want to come to. Now it’s just all about believing - believing it’s consistent. Staying in an assassin's mind frame of just, come in, do your dirt and get out and hopefully you can compete enough to get the win. I can’t stress enough about how I’ve just got to be locked in, because I want that, I want this, I want this opportunity, I want to capitalize on it. (I want to) start getting some clout in the league.
JH: You’ve been known as a defensive-minded player your entire college career. How do you change people's mind and make them see that you can be something different?
WCS: You know, you never will, you never will. People want to see you how they want you. And I went a few years now trying to change people’s perception of what they think you should be. It’s what you want to be. I no longer care about what my critics say. How are they going to tell me what my game is and what I work on and what I don’t work on? You’ve just got to believe in your work, believe in your path. At this point, I’m really in-tune to what I’m trying to do.
JH: Does it help you that you’re surrounded by young players, as well as veterans? With these young players, you’re on the same path and the veterans are there to support you.
WCS: It’s great because, you know, being a young guy and getting to play with guys that you’re in a platoon with and you grind with everyday - it’s special, because you see each others work get put on the big stage. It’s cool to see the success start to happen, because it’s bad when you’re grinding, you’re grinding, you’re grinding and nothing’s happening and you’re just grinding. And then you finally get that break and then it’s like those three months you were going through while you were grinding, it’s like they don’t even exist in your head anymore and it’s wild once you get just a lick of success.
JH: I’ve seen you in the past not aggressively attacking the glass. And now we see you hammering these putbacks. Everything at the rim is aggressive and forceful. When did the light switch get hit for you? Now you’re just attacking.
WCS: That’s just what they ask me to do. Before, I had a backburner role. So playing 15 minutes, you’ve got to really good to get double-digit boards, especially when your scouter is saying - “don’t let him get boards, the only thing in this game he is going to do is get boards.” That’s just the way it was set up for us to do and now the scouting report has just gotten so much bigger, it’s like, you can’t take away all my strengths and that’s where it becomes big.
JH: Again, you came into the league as a defensive player, but you’ve had some struggles there as well. Do you think that’s going to come to you now that the aggression is there, you’re in the mix, you’re getting longer stretches to read people and know their tendencies?
WCS: For sure, definitely by just being aggressive, it’s going to come. At this point, a lot of our success is going to depend on how I’m playing. So if I stay at least consistent on defense like that, then there’s no problems if you’re not giving up anything. I’m blessed, I can do that.
JH: Are you having a good time?
WCS: (smiling) Finally, yeah, yeah I am.
JH: Does that have to do with the opportunity or does it have to do with the change in culture and the change in atmosphere around here?
WCS: It’s the change in everything and getting to be a part of it - a big part of it. It’s cool just to feel that love and that support from our upper management and the rest of our team, so that’s special, which is also going to fuel me on the floor. It’s a double-win.