Willie Cauley-Stein explains how Warriors' environment helps him thrive


Willie Cauley-Stein explains how Warriors' environment helps him thrive

SAN FRANCISCO – Willie Cauley-Stein is an asset. He is a lottery-pick bust. He is always getting better. He is an eternal underachiever.

What is Cauley-Stein’s ceiling as an NBA player?

To hear him tell it, even during this woeful season, there is a much better chance of discovering that as a member of the Warriors -- where the habitat is conducive to improvement -- than there ever was during his four years with the Sacramento Kings.

“If we didn’t have that chemistry off the court, or on the court – we all want to see each other do well – it would be miserable,” he said Thursday. “I’ve been on teams where they don’t like each other, and you’re losing and it’s a weird environment. It’s a bad work in environment.

“That’s one thing that I really have to say about this organization. The work environment is crazy. You have no choice but to get better if you come here.”

Before becoming a free agent in July and signing with the Warriors, Cauley-Stein spent his first four seasons with the Kings, who drafted him No. 6 overall in 2015. He played 295 games with the Kings, making 199 starts.

The Kings, disappointed in his production, let him walk. The Warriors wasted little time reaching out to the 7-foot center and offering a two-year contract worth $4.5 million. Year 2 is a player option, and Cauley-Stein sounds like a man eager to exercise it.

It’s not the big contract he had hoped for, but Cauley-Stein believes he is in the right place to raise his value should he go back on the open market.

Coach Steve Kerr raves about Cauley-Stein’s willingness to be coached, and sometimes that comes with criticism. The same could be said of the urgings of Warriors veteran Draymond Green, whose tongue spares no one.

“It just shows that they care,” Cauley-Stein said. “Some places, they don’t care. They’re going to let you bump your head, and then when you bump your head, they’re going to care and tell you what you did wrong. But before that, they’ve been watching you.”

To that end, Cauley-Stein, 26, spent an extra half hour after practice Thursday working on a variety of moves under the observation of veteran assistant Ron Adams.

"He’s a guru, man,” Cauley-Stein said of the 72-year-old coach. “He sees something in my touch, in my shot. I’ve been seeing something in it. It’s, ‘Hey, man, you can shoot the ball. Let’s work on getting your base right, so you can make it when you shoot it.’

“That just leaves something in you. They see something that I’ve been waiting for somebody to see.”

After missing all of training camp, the preseason and the first three games with a sprained left foot, Cauley-Stein is starting to show glimpses of the skills that attracted the Warriors. Averaging 22.7 minutes – about five fewer than in the last two seasons in Sacramento – he’s shooting 56.0 percent from the field, slightly above his 53.4-percent career mark. He’s averaging 6.4 rebounds, precisely his career mark.

What has been a bit of a surprise is his shot-blocking. Though he came to the Warriors with a well-deserved reputation as a subpar rim protector, averaging 0.77 blocks per game, his 1.27 blocks per game project to be his best season by far.

When I asked how he accounts for the rise in blocks, Cauley-Stein paused for a few seconds, said he didn’t know and then explained that he mostly plays in a defense that accentuates his paint presence.

“That’s the whole thing,” he said. “Is the 5-man in the paint? If he’s not, you’re probably not going to get a block.”

Blocks, however, do not provide the satisfaction as another statistic rarely associated with 7-foot centers.

“I get juiced off steals,” he said, not concealing his fondness of the subject, “because I’m not supposed to get steals.”

Cauley-Stein’s 32 steals rank second on the team, behind only Green’s 33. The big man has researched and evaluated the impact of steals vs. dunks and concluded steals are more valuable.

“Most of the time when I get a block, it will go right back into their hands and they’ll lay it up,” he said. “If I get a block, it goes right back into their hands and they dunk it. I got a block. I got a stat, I guess, but they got a bucket.

“But with steals, it normally translates into a 3 or a dunk. I be trying to scheme on them steals.”

[RELATED: Kerr changes tune, welcomes high school NBA draft prospects]

Having spent most of his career with the struggling Kings, it might be premature to assume Cauley-Stein is destined to be average at best – even though there are times when he looks the part. He definitely wants to be a player no one expect him to be.

If state of mind matters, he’s in the right place to summon the best of himself.

Steph Curry believes Sabrina Ionescu has basketball 'in great hands'

Steph Curry believes Sabrina Ionescu has basketball 'in great hands'

Two Bay Area legends were in attendance Friday night at Haas Pavilion when the University of Oregon women's basketball team played Cal. One was on the floor, and one was in the seats. 

Warriors star Steph Curry brought his two daughters, Riley and Ryan, to watch Oregon's Sabrina Ionescu. The Walnut Creek native recorded her 25th career triple-double as the Ducks downed the Bears, 93-61.

On Saturday, Curry paid his respects to Ionescu, who is a huge fan of the two-time NBA MVP.

"The game is in great hands," Steph wrote on Instagram, with a picture of him and Ionescu after the game.

View this post on Instagram

The game is in great hands 💪🏽

A post shared by Wardell Curry (@stephencurry30) on

Ionescu dropped 17 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in what was her seventh triple-double of her senior season. She is nine rebounds away from becoming college basketball’s first 2,000-point, 1,000-rebound, 1,000-assist player.

"The competitive nature that she has, you can't teach that," Curry told Pac-12 Network's Kate Scott. "She could be blessed with all the talent in the world, but if she didn't have that, she wouldn't be who she was."

Ionescu, who starred at Miramonte High School in Orinda before going to Oregon, is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft. She is averaging 17.1 points, 8.8 assists and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Ducks.

[RELATED: Curry says March 1 has 'always been' intended return]

While she's dominating on the floor, Ionescu certainly is excited for Curry's return to the court. Steph participated in his first live scrimmage at Warriors practice Saturday, after breaking his hand in the fourth game of the season, and he's eyeing a March 1 return to Golden State's lineup.

Basketball is in better hands when the two Bay Area legends are healthy and putting on a show in their sport. 

Watch Anthony Edwards, top NBA draft prospect, throw down poster dunk

Watch Anthony Edwards, top NBA draft prospect, throw down poster dunk

Anthony Edwards can get up and throw it down.

The Georgia shooting guard proved that Saturday, when he put Vanderbilt freshman Braelee Albert on an eye-popping poster with this ferocious slam.

Edwards scored 19 points to go along with his rim-rattling dunk, in an 80-78 comeback win over the Commodores. Georgia improved to 14-13 on the season with the victory, which came on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

Edwards, a freshman, again showed why he could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. He shot 7 of 16 from the field and also grabbed five rebounds. 

What really stood out, though, was Edwards' athleticism and vision on this play. 

Edwards, who doesn't turn 19 until August, has been questioned about his shot selection, but he's carrying the load on a Georgia team that isn't exactly full of NBA talent. It's just another reason why he could be an intriguing option for the Warriors in the June draft.

The majority of mock drafts currently have Golden State selecting Edwards with a top pick. He isn't a positional fit like Memphis center James Wiseman would be, but Edwards' athleticism and upside could be an instant boost. 

[RELATED: Should Warriors keep Wiggins if they win NBA Draft Lottery?]

Entering Saturday, Edwards was averaging 18.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. That's nearly what he dropped Saturday, as the 6-foot-5, 225-pound guard put his skills on display.

The Warriors surely have their eyes on every top draft prospect right now. Edwards' performance in a win over Vandy could vault him up their draft board, too.