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Best case/worst case: Willie Cauley-Stein

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What will the Warriors new and exciting young center bring this season?

2019-20 Golden State Warriors Media Day Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

With the NBA season starting this week, we’re running through mini previews of the Golden State Warriors’ 16 players, focusing on what their best and worst case scenario is for the upcoming year. Next up is center Willie Cauley-Stein. You can check out the other best case/worst case articles below:

Ky Bowman
Alec Burks

Preseason stats

Did not play

2018-19 stats (Kings)

81 games, 11.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.2 steals per game

55.6% FG, 55.1% FT, 56.6% true-shooting

Role on the 2019-20 Warriors

Willie Cauley-Stein was a surprising offseason signing, brought on to be the half-starter at the center position. Which is to say, he was signed with the goal of playing 24 minutes a night, with Kevon Looney taking the other 24. One will start, one will come off the bench, both will play mostly equal minutes. While the 26-year old lottery pick is far from a star, it was expected that he’d get a bit more money than the Warriors were able to offer him, so Golden State is certainly happy to have him.

Unfortunately, Cauley-Stein missed all of training camp with a mid-foot strain. He should be back pretty early in the season, but he may have some catching up to do. Once caught up, though, he’ll get heavy minutes at the center position, and be relied on to provide some scoring bursts on a team with limited options.

Best case scenario

Cauley-Stein is seven feet tall. He’s springy, lengthy, and very athletic. He sets big screens, rolls hard, and can fly to the rim.

Coach Steve Kerr has stated that, with Kevin Durant gone and Klay Thompson injured, the Warriors will turn to a heavier rotation of pick and rolls. The signing of Cauley-Stein certainly plays into that.

At his best, Cauley-Stein can be a dynamic rim-runner, especially with D’Angelo Russell, to provide a quality offensive option when Steph Curry is on the bench. If he’s excited about running that action with Russell and Curry - as well as being the beneficiary of all those Draymond Green led four-on-threes when Curry is trapped - then he could score a lot of points in a hurry.

The real best case scenario comes on the defensive side, where Cauley-Stein will hope to finally live up to his amateur play, which won him Defensive Player of the Year while at Kentucky. The Warriors don’t project to be a good defensive team this year, but if Green and Kerr - not to mention Looney, Ron Adams, and Jarron Collins - can tap into Cauley-Stein’s defensive potential, Golden State’s defense suddenly looks way better.

Worst case scenario

Our friends over at Sactown Royalty did a roundtable season review on Cauley-Stein after last season concluded. Don’t read it unless you’re in a happy space. Their team of writers gave Cauley-Stein the following grades: C+, C, C, C, C-, D, F.

Since we’re in this segment to discuss the worst case scenario, let me direct you to a paragraph from writer Richard Ivanowski:

Yes, he had some nice dunks. Yes, he is athletically gifted. And yes, he is physically large enough that he can’t help but block a shot occasionally. But relative to his talents, the results were incredibly grim. The level of defensive effort is completely unacceptable. His 0.6 blocks per game for a starting center is completely unacceptable. The number of times Willie watched a rebound bounce right past him is completely unacceptable.

That feels about right for the worst case scenario. A lack of defensive intensity and awareness, a lack of rebounding effort, and a lack of offensive output are all on the table. Let’s hope they don’t show up.