Even before Willie Cauley-Stein missed 12 games because of a dislocated right index finger, Kings coach George Karl was not looking to play the rookie more than 20 minutes a game consistently.
And as Cauley-Stein works his way back, Karl is concerned about whether the rookie can play major minutes. Before the Kings faced the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night, Karl questioned Cauley-Stein’s fitness.
In his first game back from the injury, Cauley-Stein played five minutes Saturday against the Phoenix Suns.
“I’ve not seen his conditioning, and I have a feeling it’s probably behind a little bit to play as fast as we want to play,” Karl said.
Never miss a local story.
Cauley-Stein was hurt Dec. 3 against the Boston Celtics in Mexico City. But Karl’s worries about the rookie’s conditioning date to the fall.
“I think the thing that sticks in the back of my head is I didn’t think he was in great shape in training camp, so I’m worried,” Karl said.
Because Cauley-Stein’s injury was to his finger, Karl hoped the layoff would not excessively hurt his fitness.
“I’m sure he’s been on the treadmill,” Karl said. “I’m sure he’s done all the extra work. I’m sure (trainer) Chip (Schaefer) has kicked his butt pretty good, but basketball conditioning is different from treadmill conditioning. It’s a different energy, a different stress, a different tension. But in the same sense, I don’t think I’m going to play him 10 minutes straight.”
I think the thing that sticks in the back of my head is I didn’t think he was in great shape in training camp, so I’m worried.
Kings coach George Karl, on rookie Willie Cauley-Stein
Cauley-Stein didn’t start Monday’s game but started the second half. He finished with eight points and three rebounds in 15 minutes.
Karl did praise Cauley-Stein’s approach during his rehabilitation.
“I enjoyed him,” Karl said. “I think he was in the gym a lot. If I had to give him a grade, I’d probably give him an ‘A’ for his professionalism for trying to figure out what you do when you’re injured. I think our players did a pretty good job of chirping at him and directing him in a positive way.”
Extra work – Asked about moving into a tie for fifth all-time in NBA coaching wins Saturday, Karl said he probably wouldn’t reflect on it much until after the season.
30 Consecutive games in which the Kings have had 20 or more assists
Karl said NBA coaches have little time to be sentimental.
“I’m amazed at the amount of information we have to go through for every basketball game,” Karl said. “I actually think it’s too much. But if you don’t do it, you feel like you’re not doing your job.”
Passing more – With 26 assists Monday, the Kings had 20 or more assists for the 30th consecutive game, the fourth-longest streak in Sacramento history.