Pressure situations have found Willie Cauley-Stein lately in home games.
They’ve led to the center having to defend guards on the perimeter in key moments. Last Sunday, Cauley-Stein was matched up with Utah point guard George Hill and forced an airball in overtime.
It’s just unfortunate Rudy Gobert caught the airball and put it in the hoop as time expired.
Friday, Cauley-Stein found himself on the perimeter checking All-Star John Wall and contested a shot that Wall missed at the end of regulation.
Cauley-Stein loves those moments because they’re a chance to show off the defensive versatility he talked about having when he entered the league in 2015. In those moments, Cauley-Stein likes to show he can move his feet like a guard and cover a lot of space on the floor.
“That’s what it is. Step for step, I can keep up with anybody in the league and use that to my advantage,” Cauley-Stein said before the Kings hosted the Denver Nug gets on Saturday at Golden 1 Center. “And being able to switch like that has always been a thing that’s been in my bag, but people don’t believe it until it happens.”
Cauley-Stein’s ability to defend multiple positions allows the Kings to play two big men at once. He’d been used in spot duty against mobile big men earlier in the season, but tradingDeMarcus Cousins opened up more minutes for Cauley-Stein.
“It’s funny because I feel more comfortable doing that than playing on a guy my size,” Cauley-Stein said. “It’s more fun to me, switching out, because they don’t want to see you do that. They don’t want to see you be able to guard five positions like that.
“When I do get to switch on a guard and I get a chance to make him miss, that’s cool because it’s like, I’m doing it, it’s unheard of,” Cauley-Stein said. “It’s just a blessing to be able to do it.”
Cauley-Stein is still working on rounding out all parts of his game, including rebounding, which has been an area that’s usually cited as a weakness.
He had 13 rebounds, a season high, against Washington on Friday night. Coaches have been emphasizing that Cauley-Stein has to use his athleticism to get more rebounds out of his area.
“You can be a really good rebounder and be a really bad defender,” Cauley-Stein said. “I’m just learning to rebound out of my zone. It’s not like I don’t box out or I just stand and watch. If there’s a guy next to me, I hit him.”
Cauley-Stein said he’s getting better at studying where to position himself to get to missed shots, and how to play the angles the ball comes off the rim.
That, along with ability to defend the perimeter, would do a lot to justify why the Kings were so high on him in the 2015 NBA draft.
“Now I’m getting a chance to prove it,’ Cauley-Stein said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Notes – Denver coach Michael Malone had plenty of good things to say about Cauley-Stein.
His career high of 29 points came against the Nuggets on Feb. 23.
“He does all the dirty work,” Malone said. “Very efficient around the basket, a really soft touch. If you go back to the game right before we played them last (March 7), they lost in overtime, a heartbreaker against Utah. He was hitting runners from the foul line, floaters that didn’t even hit the rim.
“When he plays pick-and-roll with (Darren) Collison, with (Ty) Lawson or with Tyreke (Evans), our weak side has to get over and help on him.”
▪ The Kings stayed with the same starting lineup for the second straight game. Collison and Buddy Hield were the guards, and the frontcourt was Arron Afflalo, Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos.