What does it mean to be consistent?
You can find a definition in the dictionary that reads something like this, “marked by harmony, regularity, or steady continuity; free from variation or contradiction.”
It makes sense, but in NBA standards, what is it to be consistent and why do players try so hard to achieve this idea?
For Willie Cauley-Stein, it is the ingredient that will likely be the difference in tens of millions of dollars. If he can finally find some consistency in his fourth NBA season, the chances of him making more money in free agency increase substantially.
We took a deep dive into Cauley-Stein’s numbers after five regular season games because coming out of the gate, he was showing marked improvement over the previous three seasons.
After 23 games, he’s come back down to earth slightly, but still averaging career-highs in most major categories. Cauley-Stein has started all 23 games for Sacramento, posting 14.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.2 steals in 28.3 minutes per game.
These are all quality numbers for a modern-day center. He’s an efficient scorer, shooting 53.9 percent from the field and he’s developed a strong chemistry with the guard rotation in the two-man game.
In the circle area, Cauley-Stein is shooting 69.7 percent, with 80.8 percent of his shots coming off of assists. As he drifts away from the basket, the percentages drop dramatically, especially in the 3-10 foot range, where he’s shooting just 34.5 percent.
Cauley-Stein has hit 45.8 percent of his mid-range jumpers, which is not bad, but also not something you want him falling in love with.
As an offensive weapon, Cauley-Stein is holding his own, although he’s struggled over the last eight games, scoring in double-figures just three times over that stretch. During the eight games, the 7-footer has posted a three-point performance, three six-point performances and a nine-point game.
It should be also noted that a few of those games presented odd matchup problems and at least one contest was a blowout of Cauley-Stein’s making. He watched most of the game from the bench with his team up big on the Suns.
Games like the one in Phoenix present the biggest issue with evaluating a player like Cauley-Stein. He’s not a first or even a second option in the Kings’ offense. In fact, on most nights he’s a fourth option.
He’s also asked to defend a variety of players due to his size and athleticism. That means that some games he’ll be around the basket to clear the boards and other nights he’ll be 15 feet away when a shot goes up.
Cauley-Stein’s posted nine double-figure rebounding nights through 23 games and another six where he grabbed seven or more boards. In 73 games last season, he posted 10 or more rebounds just 13 times.
While some areas of his game have improved dramatically, he is also struggling with a few issues. On the season, Cauley-Stein is shooting just 47.4 percent from the free throw line, which is a huge deviation from the 61.9 percent he shot last season.
As a shot blocker, his numbers have tumbled as well. Cauley-Stein’s 10 blocks on the season rank him fourth on the team, just behind De’Aaron Fox’s 12 and just ahead of Buddy Hield’s nine. For a player with his size, length and athleticism, those numbers are completely unacceptable.
His block numbers have steadily declined since his rookie season and he is now a non-factor as a rim protector, which is an issue for Sacramento.
You have to take the good with the bad when it comes to any player. His free throw numbers appear to be an anomaly. His lack of shot blocking prowess is more of a trend. Both issues need improvement.
Through the first quarter of the season, it is clear that Cauley-Stein has become a more consistent player. We can continue to break his numbers down, but at the end of the day, we are looking at a player who is a cog in a 12-11 team, not a primary focal point player.
There are games when he doesn’t have it, but in year four, those nights are few and far between. He is learning that you can win a game by attacking the rim in the final seconds for a putback dunk and then come back the next game, grab four steals in the first quarter to disrupt the opponent’s flow and be the x-factor in a win.
Coming into the season, the Kings didn’t have a bigger question mark. The sample size is still small, but after 23 games, Cauley-Stein has become an integral part of what the Kings are doing on both ends of the floor. He is proving his worth and on pace to get that big pay day during the summer.