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Rockets 2022-2023 player previews: Willie Cauley-Stein

Can he provide defensive help?

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Houston Rockets
Can’t find a Rockets Uniform Yet
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not Willie Cauley-Stein’s fault he was drafted where he was back in 2015-16. It’s not his fault he got his introduction to the NBA on the longest running joke team in the NBA. At the time he was drafted, he was seen as a mobile defensive center with some offensive upside, potentially a player who could find greatness.

Like most players condemned to play for the Sacramento Kings, this has not happened for one reason on another. At 29 years old, an upside breakout seems unlikely. This is an unfortunate story, for the NBA hopes of Willie Cauley-Stein, but not one in which the Houston Rockets have played any real part.

So where is Cauley-Stein’s place on this team? He’s not on the official training camp roster, but reportedly has a one-year deal with the Rockets and is most likely heading to Rio Grande Valley.

He remains a mobile defender, and a legitimate seven-footer, and capable of defending the rim against the less bulky NBA bigs (which is most of them now) and also defending both in the midrange, and to some extent, all the way out to the three point line. He’s shot well from three-point range on essentially no volume.

His best year was 2018-19 when he averaged 12pts, 8.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals and about half a block per game, in 27 minutes played, with decent shooting. Those are decent numbers for a player not featured in an offense. Subsequent years have not produced the same, unfortunately, and WC-S’s minutes have dwindled to almost nothing.

If you’ve ever watched him play, there are moments when you can see the potential stardom that got him drafted number six. He’s legitimately rapid for a big, and fluid, with a good sense for passing, and an ability to blanket offensive players. You might also have seen him drift idly through his minutes as well.

He’s capable of running with a high speed Rockets team, and that’s something you can’t say of every center. In fact, he’s looked his best in that sort of attack.

The Rockets center job evidently belongs to Alperen Sengun, and while there are hopes of Jabari Smith playing some center, or even Tari Eason, or I suppose the charming Boban Marjanovich, a mobile defensive center like Willie Cauley-Stein isn’t a bad thought.

I’d prefer for Smith to be the power forward the Rockets have needed for years, rather than a player struggling to hold down the five.

In any case, we’ll see WC-S holds down a job. If he does, he could fill a useful role: backup center than can run with what it is to be hoped, a fast-attacking Rockets team.


Does Wille Cauley-Stein stick with the Rockets?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    (148 votes)
  • 37%
    (103 votes)
  • 9%
    We must keep him out of Dallas’ hands.
    (27 votes)
278 votes total Vote Now