I have been reborn. The prophecy has foretold this awakening. Life makes sense once again.
Let’s get to the details first: Dallas is sending a Utah second rounder they acquired during last summer’s draft when trading down for Isiah Roby and using the trade exception from the Harrison Barnes trade from a year ago to acquire Cauley-Stein. The Mavericks are also sending out Isiah Roby and his second-year-guaranteed contract to Oklahoma City for Justin Patton, who the Mavericks will waive since his contract is non-guaranteed. This clears the roster spot for Cauley-Stein to help the Mavericks try to fill the hole that was left with Dwight Powell’s season-ending Achilles injury from earlier this week.
Dallas had to make a move, since Boban Marjanovic isn’t the type of player to just spring up into more extended minutes, due to the limits of the human body. Truthfully, I’m thankful the Mavericks are going the low-key route and not dumping more resources into a bigger name. The Mavericks most pressing need isn’t a big — they just needed someone to sop up the minutes left by Powell’s injury. Cauley-Stein can, theoretically, do that.
OK, now to the fun part. I AM RISEN. If you’ve been following my work the past eight years, you’ll know that I fall deeply, madly in love with centers that could potentially fill the Tyson Chandler archetype — good defense and rim running in the pick and roll. The last time I fell in love was Nerlens Noel and well, uh, we all know how that turned out. What if I sold you on Nerlens Noel, but worse?
Unfortunately, for all my love of Cauley-Stein during the 2015 NBA Draft, that’s basically what he is. He disappointed in Sacramento so much that this past summer he signed a meek two-year deal with the Warriors, worth only $4.5 million total. That’s quite the drop for a former sixth-overall pick on his second NBA contract. Sounds familiar, huh? in four seasons with the Kings he averaged 10.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. With the Warriors, he’s at 7.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.2 blocks per game in just under 23 minutes a night. He’s a career 53.6 percent shooter from the field.
While trying to become Tyson Chandler 2.0 made the most sense for Cauley-Stein coming out of college, he seemed to play with some measure of disdain for the role. Almost as if it was beneath him. Instead of just being a rim runner on offense and a rim protector on defense, Cauley-Stein drifted from neither to just not be as effective as he should. Defensive lapses and lack of effort haunt Caluey-Stein since the moment he stepped on the court in Sacramento. It hasn’t really changed all that much with Golden State.
Like Noel, Cauley-Stein has always graded well in his advanced stats. In his final season in Sacramento, the Kings were a plus-1.2 points per 100 possessions with Cauley-Stein on the floor. The defense dipped from 108.7 points per 100 possession with Cauley-Stein on the floor to 110 with him on the bench. In Golden State, the numbers are similar, with the defense getting worse when Cauley-Stein hits the bench (although all the Warriors numbers are very bad). If you squint from a distance, you can see that ideal Mavericks center archetype with Cauley-Stein. In practice, it just isn’t there and whatever Cauley-Stein does on the floor does not translate to winning. The effort questions about him in particular make me think Rick Carlisle will send him to the Noel Phantom Zone within the next three weeks. Thankfully, Cauley-Stein is only owed a few million next season, although he has a player option. If he stinks and doesn’t sniff greener pastures next summer, the Mavs could be stuck with him for one more season.
Even in highlight packages of his best games, you can still see Cauley-Stein loaf on the defensive end.
Of course, there’s hope. The Mavericks typically get more out of these types of players than any other organization in the league. If you can finish lobs and set screens, Dallas will maximize you to the fullest. Again, the issue will be motivating Cauley-Stein to do those things consistently. This season with the Warriors he’s shooting 56.3 percent as the roll man in the pick and roll, scoring 1.13 points per possession. In his last season in Sacramento, he was shooting 59.5 percent and scoring 1.15 points per 100 possessions. This is a far cry from what Powell can do and it’s mind-boggling that a player with Cauley-Steins physical gifts can’t be more productive in the pick and roll. Maybe Luka Doncic will nudge Cauley-Stein into the light. Maybe the fact that two teams have given up on him in five years will be the wake up call he needs. This truly feels like his last chance to make good on his promise — if Cauley-Stein can’t work in Dallas, the ideal spot for his player type, then he’s cooked. That’s plenty motivation, let’s just see if he takes the bait.