Willie Cauley-Stein proving his worth while working on consistency

Willie Cauley-Stein proving his worth while working on consistency

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.

NBA 2K20 ratings: Kings' Buddy Hield rated as fifth-best 3-point shooter

NBA 2K20 ratings: Kings' Buddy Hield rated as fifth-best 3-point shooter

Buddy Hield had a breakout 2018-19 season for the Sacramento Kings, and people are starting to take notice.

On the heels of his single-season franchise record of 278 3-pointers, Hield has been given a 90 rating for his 3-point shooting by the creators of NBA 2K20.

Hield ranks behind only Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Joe Harris. JJ Redick also has a 90 rating.

Hield's 278 3-pointers last season were the fourth-most in the NBA behind James Harden's 378, Curry's 354 and Paul George's 292.

The rest of the country got to see what Hield had been working on during the 2019 NBA 3-point Contest at All-Star Weekend. Hield made it to the final round, only to finish behind Harris (winner) and Curry (runner-up).

But Hield isn't settling for fifth-best. He wants to be better and let that be known on Monday.

[RELATED: Kings have 'couple of All-Stars']

If Hield can improve on his 278 3-pointers and 42 percent from deep next season, the NBA 2K creators are sure to move him up in the rankings.

Kings 'have a couple All-Stars,' fired assistant Larry Lewis believes

Kings 'have a couple All-Stars,' fired assistant Larry Lewis believes

Amidst all the reshuffling in the Western Conference over the last few weeks, it's easy to forget that the Sacramento Kings are one of the up-and-coming teams in the NBA.

Led by De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles, the Kings won 39 games last season and have a promising future.

But the group of coaches that helped get those players to where they are won't get to see the job through to the finish line. The Kings fired head coach Dave Joerger after the season and let all of his assistants go.

Two of those coaches, Elston Turner and Larry Lewis, recently spoke to the Sacramento Bee about their departure and what they are leaving behind.

“They have a couple All-Stars,” Lewis told The Bee. “I saw a lot of potential in that young, core group. These players have a learning curve, but they were adapting very, very quickly to what was going on. Do they have a lot to learn? Of course, but at the same time, these guys are for real. I would have loved to have been a part of that going forward, but their decision is their decision and I’m at peace with it."

Fox and Hield made the biggest jumps this past season. It's clear the work with Lewis, who was a player development coach, paid off.

“It was a great experience,” Lewis told The Bee. “The players really grew. They really matured a lot. We had a great season. The team got a lot better. The players got a lot better. That’s what it’s all about.”

From Year 1 to Year 2, Fox went from averaging 11.6 points per game to 17.3. His field goal percentage improved from 41.2 percent to 45.8 percent, and his 3-point shooting improved from 30.7 percent to 37.1 percent. Those numbers combined with the highlight-reel plays he made were good enough to help him finish third in the NBA's Most Improved Player voting.

As for Hield, he blossomed from a spot-starter to a guy that started all 82 games for the Kings this past season. He entered the year shrouded in questions, but answered every single one of them by averaging a career-high 20.7 points per game and sinking a Kings' single-season record 278 3-pointers.

Bagley and Giles, both rookies, showed that they have the potential to be difference-making bigs in the NBA.

[RELATED: Barkley: Kings won't make playoffs]

“You could see the improvement,” Turner told The Bee. “A lot of guys got better and Larry was head of the player development department, so he did a hell of a job.”

Now it will be up to new head coach Luke Walton and his staff to help the Kings' young core continue their development. If they do, Sacramento will be a force in the Western Conference for years to come.