Traditionally, NBA centers don’t hang around the perimeter looking to shoot the ball. They’re supposed to patrol the paint or set screens at the top of the key. At least that was how big men used to play.
Today, they need to guard multiple positions, step outside, and knock down shots. This is especially true of bigs playing under Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle. The latest player Carlisle is granting a green light is Willie Cauley-Stein and he’s relishing the latitude from his coach.
“I shoot probably 400 to 600 threes a day before and after practice,” Cauley-Stein says. “I’m getting the reps up. So, it’s just a matter of time getting the time and opportunity in the games to knock it down.”
He let a handful of threes fly during the preseason. He shot a four three-pointers during those three games, connecting on his two tries in the second game against the Milwaukee Bucks. During the regular-season, he has one attempt—matching his total from last season. It came during the Mavericks’ blowout win over the Lost Angeles Clippers.
If you follow Cauley-Stein on social media — specifically Instagram — you know that he spent his summer in the gym working on his outside shot. It’s something he takes pride in even though he hasn’t taken many threes during his career — 19 total before this season. It’s not a new wrinkle to his game either, he’s been developing his range for a while.
“I’ve been working on it for three, four years in the dark behind the Kings, behind the Warriors,” Cauley-Stein says. “They’re saying, ‘You’re not ready to shoot yet. You’re not ready to shoot it.’ It’s like, ‘What do you mean?’”
Besides other teams dissuading him from shooting threes, one of the biggest obstacles facing Cauley-Stein was his own confidence. That apprehension is gone now that he has the chance to take the shot if its there.
“You’ve just got to shoot it and get past that barrier,” Cauley-Stein says. “Rick allowed me to get past that in the games. It’s just let it go. Even if you’re nervous, just let it go because once you get past that first nervous block it’s like, ‘OK, this is what we do. This is what we do every day.’”
Cauley-Stein isn’t the first Mavericks center that Carlisle encouraged to extend his range. Current teammates Dwight Powell and Boban Marjanovic take threes when they’re open. Former Maverick Salah Mejri also got up a number of shots from behind the arc during his time with the team.
For Cauley-Stein, though, being able to take outside shots means more than just the potential of three points. He lights up when he talks about the support he gets from his coaches, teammates, and even Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson. He’s thankful for the support they give him in wanting to see him grow as a player.
“At the end of the day, it just helps your mentality,” Cauley-Stein says. “It’s like, ‘Man, I ain’t doing all this for nothing. They want me to do this.’”