Golden State Warriors: Analyzing the impact of Willie Cauley-Stein’s injury

Golden State Warriors center Willie Cauley-Stein has suffered a mid-foot sprain and will miss all of training camp. We examine the impact of such an injury on the Warriors and Cauley-Stein.

The Golden State Warriors were hoping to see a new and improved Willie Cauley-Stein at center this season after signing him away from the Sacramento Kings in the offseason. Unfortunately, a foot injury suffered in practice means that they might have to wait.

Cauley-Stein had played with the Warriors’ NorCal foes for the past four seasons but never truly lived up to his lofty expectations. The Kings selected Cauley-Stein with the sixth overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft expecting him to be a cornerstone of the franchise moving forward.

Unfortunately, the Kentucky product was never able to fulfill the pre-draft hype as inconsistencies plagued his tenure in Sacramento. At times, Cauley-Stein was everything the Kings wanted in a big man.

He was a superbly athletic rim-runner who could run the floor in the team’s up-tempo offense. But ultimately, his inability to improve on defense combined with his offensive inconsistencies prompted the Kings to move on this summer.

The Warriors took a chance on the talented but inconsistent Cauley-Stein and he was expected to begin the season as their starting center. However, the 26-year-old suffered a mid-foot sprain in a recent team workout and will miss around a month of action.

That injury will keep him out for all of training camp and likely bleed into the early portion of the season as the Warriors kick off their season on October 25th when they take on the Los Angeles Clippers in the brand new Chase Center.

Cauley-Stein’s absence will force the Warriors to make some changes with their big-man rotation, at least early on. Kevon Looney — who was expected to come off the bench — will likely be thrust into a staring role to start the season.

This isn’t necessarily a problem for the starting unit as Looney has more than proven himself capable of playing with the starters and even finished many games for the team down the stretch last year.

Rather, this is a major blow to the second unit.

Looney was kept coming off the bench due mostly to his impact playing with the second unit. Without Looney, the Warriors will be forced to rely on the inexperienced duo of Omari Spellman and Alen Smailagic as the team’s only other bigs on the roster.

Spellman was acquired in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks in the offseason that sent Damian Jones packing out east. A former first-round pick, Spellman has the potential to be a solid bench contributor but he failed to reach that potential in Atlanta.

However, the 22-year-old is seemingly in the best shape of his career has he’s reportedly lost upwards to 40 pounds since the summer league. And according to Spellman, he’d still like to drop a little more weight.

The Warriors will need him to take some minutes early on while Willie Cauley-Stein recovers and Looney takes the bulk of the playing time.

There’s also the chance that head coach Steve Kerr opts to insert rookie Alen Smailagic into the rotation, but don’t expect him to play a major role just yet. The Serbian big man just turned 19-years-old and is extremely raw as a player.

While he offers significant upside, he will still require time to grow into his body and develop as a true NBA player. Expect his minutes to be limited if he even receives any at all.

Ultimately, losing Cauley-Stein at this point in the season is a pretty significant blow. The seven-footer was just beginning to develop chemistry with the rest of the team and losing this developmental time is invaluable.

Moreover, the Warriors will likely ease him back into the rotation upon his return while he continues to learn the system and get back to full health.

At the very least, the Golden State Warriors could take solace in knowing that they have a very reliable player in Looney who will step up and fill the void created by Willie Cauley-Stein’s absence.