Mavs fans are not really high on Willie Cauley-Stein right now and I can’t blame them. His flaws are very loud and his skills are subtle. He passes up open dunks like playoff Ben Simmons, blows layups, and he has the posture of a teenager being told to do his homework. However, just because it looks ugly, doesn’t mean it’s not effective. And if we are really blaming him for the bad start, what are we doing? This is why I am going to make the argument for WCS minutes. I’m not saying he should start or anything, I don’t know maybe this is more an attempt at explaining why he is on the team.
Honestly, I’m just tired of the Mavs organization pretending that Powell is a center just because he can’t shoot (and we all know he has to guard power forwards). The KP and Maxi back-to-back back problems will probably not be an isolated incident. Boban is Boban, which is awesome. The fact that all fans want Moses Brown to play is very cute but being tall and working out with Tyson Chandler is not enough to make you an NBA player. Last year, his unawareness in pick and roll defense was the key to the tank in OKC. He will get better, but the Mavs need solid minutes at center.
So why Willie Cauley-Stein? Let’s start with the numbers, which have liked him since he joined the Mavs. The defensive rating is always solid and the Mavs consistently outscore their opponents when he is on the floor. His net rating was a whopping +9.4 last year and it is still +4.6 this year, and as far as I know, outscoring other teams is kind of the point of the game, right? Last year (I know, weird year), there was a lineup with Luka, Brunson, Tim, DFS and WCS that absolutely destroyed teams. You can say everyone is good with Luka. Usually true, though not this season so far. You can say WCS is playing a lot against backups. True, but the results are still very good and point to the fact that things work when he is out there.
So what exactly does he do well? On offense, I have to confess, not that much. He runs the floor and he provides just barely enough vertical spacing that opponents don’t completely help off him in pick and roll. Other things that involve him having the basketball in his hands are awkward at best. However, the Mavs have enough offensive talent that they don’t need him on that end. Worst case, opponents force him to make a decision on the short roll, but that is still 4-on-3 basketball and it could even be solved by secondary pick and rolls with Brunson. In general, most scenarios on offense end up with Luka creating an advantage so I’m not that worried long term (and again, I’m not making an argument for WCS to start and play 30+ minutes).
But let’s talk about defense. His mobility and length allow him to rotate, closeout and contests. It often feels like he is the only player on this team who is contesting shots regularly and well. Opposing players often seem confused by his uncoordinated but fast-approaching, waving arms. He is also solid at defending the pick and roll (showing, recovering and so on) and has good positioning instincts. I could be wrong but it seems like he is not always terrible at defending isolations, and if smaller guards do get by him, he can at least turn back quickly to contest from behind. I know that strong centers can eat WCS alive - let’s be honest the Mavs have to double team those big guys anyways - but at least he can sometimes surprise them a bit with his length.
In summary, I still kind of like WCS. I’m not saying a media person should ask Kidd about his minutes, but personally, I prefer WCS over Powell because he is not a fake center and actually provides length and a theory on defense. Now go ahead and roast me, just remember that my opinion doesn’t really matter. I’m very interested in how the center situation in Dallas evolves and of course, it’s all up to the coach and the council to decide.