Sacramento - 700 made shots a day. That is the prescription handed to Willie Cauley-Stein from shot doctor Peja Stojakovic.
It’s a strange pairing. Who would have ever guessed that in year two for Cauley-Stein, it would be Stojakovic, the Kings’ vice president of player personnel and development, that would become his tutor.
“Peja’s kind of mentoring me right now,” the 7-footer told CSN California. “Especially in the summer time, I did a lot of work. Our goal everyday was to make 700 shots. So by the end of the week, we were making thousands of shots.”
Known for his defensive prowess, Cauley-Stein understands where the NBA game is heading and who he will play alongside on the Kings frontline. Adding a perimeter shot will only increase his value as a player and open the floor for DeMarcus Cousins to go to work inside.
“We started from the basic things, understanding what it takes to be a good shooter,” Stojakovic told CSN California on The Kings Insider Podcast. “We still talk about that and when he misses a shot, he walks by me and says, ‘legs’. It’s all about strength in your legs, it’s all about the rhythm and it’s all about repetition that eventually make you a better shooter.”
While it will take time to fully see the results of the work, the former Kentucky Wildcat is already liking the results.
“You can tell, my shooting, I’m way more comfortable with it,” Cauley-Stein said. “It was kind of building from there.”
Cauley-Stein said that Stojakovic still has the shooting stroke that allowed him to hit 1760 regular season 3-pointers over his NBA career. He doesn’t even need to warm up.
“It’s just work, 13-years of shootin’ and shootin’ and shootin’,” Cauley-Stein said of Stojakovic. “That’s what he’s trying to get me to be like.”
Stojakovic retired with the Dallas Mavericks following the 2011 NBA Finals where he took home his only championship ring as a player. When he walked away, he ranked fourth all-time in made 3-point shots behind only Ray Allen, Reggie Miller and Jason Kidd. He has since slid to no. 13 on that list as the NBA has continued to evolve into a shooters league.
Cauley-Stein is a quick study. He came into the league a blank slate and in year one he instantly gravitated towards veteran point guard Rajon Rondo. The rookie would sit on the team plane watching video clips with Rondo, not only learning how to make adjustments on the court, but how to actually study film.
You could see the two working on specific nuances of the game with the Kings coaching staff after practice. Then you could see the results in games when opportunities were presented.
“He’s eager to learn, he’s also anxious to get there, which is normal, he’s young,” Stojakovic said. “I kept telling him, ‘It’s a process. It’s days, weeks, months, years of hard work. Put it in and it will pay off.’”
The 23-year-old 7-footer is putting in the work. Shooting might have been a focus, but it wasn’t the only item he had on his to-do list. He spent the summer improving his body, adding plenty of mass to his slight frame. He came into camp in great shape, ready to compete for minutes in Dave Joerger’s new system in Sacramento.
The Kings added plenty of new faces in the offseason. Cauley-Stein is ready to prove that he is more than a defender. He is eager to run the high-post offense and he’s looking forward to an increased role on the offensive end, be it as a shooter or distributor in the high-post offense.
“Basically at that position, you have the green light to do whatever,” the second-year big said following practice on Wednesday. “They just want you to make plays and make the right plays. So that could be anything - shoot, drive, kick, post up. You’ve really got free reign to do whatever.”
The Kings will count on Cauley-Stein to play both the power forward and center position this season. There is no word on whether he will start or come off the bench, but he’s viewed as a major piece to the team’s puzzle moving forward.
“Willie is one of those players that come very rare(ly),” Stojakovic said. “He can play multiple positions, especially on the defensive end. He can guard 3’s, he can guard, 4’s and he can guard 5’s. He can play also the 4 and 5 on the offensive end. Very skilled. His athletic ability and size are just amazing. Also, great approach to the game, willing to learn.”
Cauley-Stein is a breath of fresh air. He is open to learning and he has no qualms about asking for help. He is far from a finished product, but he has the work ethic to match his ambition to improve.
“I think he’s a natural talent,” Stojakovic said. “Just the feel for the game, his physical ability, his size. But it’s also very raw. He needs to spend some time working on fundamentals. Just to start from there. And I think he’s got a really really bright future.”
Stojakovic is one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. He’s more than willing to impart some of his vast knowledge to the next generation of Kings, even if the player asking is not who you would expect. Hopefully some of the other young players on the roster will follow suit and search out every avenue available to them in their journey to become NBA regulars.