Sacramento Kings: All eyes on Willie Cauley-Stein

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images /

Entering what will be his third season with the Sacramento Kings, Willie Cauley-Stein will have all the opportunities to prove he’s the building block that the team sees him being.

Having as much turnover as they have experienced this offseason, the roster for the Sacramento Kings heading into the new season looks almost unrecognizable compared to years past.

As’s John Schuhmann wrote in his season preview on the Kings this week, the players returning to the team only account for 32 percent of the team’s total minutes played last season, which ranks the lowest of any team around the league.

So with all that, you may be wondering who stands as the longest-tenured player on the roster? The answer, albeit just by a few days, happens to be third-year big man Willie Cauley-Stein.

Through his first two seasons in the league, Cauley-Stein’s time in Sacramento has been mostly mired in uncertainty after he was taken with the sixth overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

If not for a late surge in his productivity after the DeMarcus Cousins trade last season, the feeling surrounding Cauley-Stein would certainly be much different among Kings fans and quite possibly the team itself.

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However, the many flashes Cauley-Stein showed in the second half of the season have provided a jumping off point for the Kansas native to build on heading into his third year.

Logging 30.9 minutes per game after the All-Star break last year, Cauley-Stein averaged 12.9 points on 50.4 percent shooting from the field as well as 8.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 25 appearances (21 of them being starts).

Through it all, Cauley-Stein played with an increased activity as well as displayed an eagerness to work on the glass and showed signs of breaking out of his shell after what had been a paltry and forgettable sophomore season up until that point.

Now with a new campaign just around the corner, Cauley-Stein will once again have plenty of opportunity to continue progressing into becoming a starting-caliber big man.

As there were in his improved play throughout the second half of the year, the increased playing time Cauley-Stein is sure to experience this season doesn’t mean he won’t continue to have growing pains. This was something Cauley-Stein touched on in a recent piece by Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee as he explained how his mentality has shifted from last season going into this year:

"“Cauley-Stein feels he is more capable of playing through mistakes. Last year, he said he felt pressured to ‘do the right stuff at all times.’“’This year I feel like I get to play a little bit more freely, more confident and have encouragement behind it,’ he said, ‘Encouraging me to, ‘Look at yourself; be more selfish.’ So that’s kind of the point of where I am now.’”"

With the Kings going further down that proverbial rabbit hole with all the pieces they added this summer, making mistakes comes with the territory as players continue to develop and start to get a better feel for the game, no matter if they are rookies or a third-year player in Cauley-Stein’s case.

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The question ultimately will be whether Cauley-Stein can maintain the momentum from last season and continue to blossom into a solid piece within the Kings’ foundation. Only time will tell if that’s the case, but it’s not like there will not be enough of a chance for him to do so.