Before last year’s NBA draft, critics said Willie Cauley-Stein was not a good collegiate rebounder, noting the 7-foot center averaged just 6.4 rebounds as a junior before declaring for the draft.
Cauley-Stein always laughed at those assertions.
“What those dudes failed to realize is they looked at the number or the stat,” Cauley-Stein said. “I’m pretty sure they didn’t watch the game because if they watched the game they knew I was playing against guards. I wasn’t in the paint with the bigs, I was up on the guards, locking (them) down.”
One of the reasons the Kings were intrigued by Cauley-Stein was his defensive versatility, which the rookie is proud of from his days at Kentucky.
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“I wasn’t in there to rebound,” he said. “So the fact I was even averaging as many rebounds as I did is amazing. I was playing against guards, I wasn’t even in there to rebound.”
Cauley- Stein continued his recent run of solid play Monday night with 13 points and a career-best 14 rebounds in the Kings’ 105-93 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center.
One of the top priorities the rest of the season is to play Cauley-Stein a lot. The Kings rested center DeMarcus Cousins, forward Rudy Gay and guard Rajon Rondo, so there were plenty of opportunities to get the most out of the rookie, who came off the bench and played 33 minutes.
Cauley-Stein scored 47 points and had 13 rebounds in his previous two games.
Monday marked his third double double of the season, his first since getting them in games Jan. 20-21.
Cauley-Stein’s prevous double-digit rebounding game was Feb. 1. The ball just came his way more often against the Blazers.
“Just in the right spots at the right time – I didn’t do nothing that I normally don’t do,” Cauley-Stein said. “The ball was coming my way. I’m just learning offensively to get to the spots where I know I can score and I do a good job of that. Same way with rebounding. Get to the spots where I think the ball is going to go. If I get checked out, I get checked out. If not, get the ball.”
Kings coach George Karl said he believes Cauley-Stein will develop into a player who will average a double double. He expects Cauley-Stein will add at least 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason, which will make him stronger in the paint to grab more rebounds.
“In general it’s an area he’s going to have to get stronger at on a consistent basis,” Karl said. “(Monday) I think he did a good job ... I think Willie’s having a very impressive run right now.”
One reason some have said Cauley-Stein might not rebound at a prolific rate is he can be all over the court, covering perimeter players and protecting the rim.
Cauley-Stein doesn’t believe that’s a hindrance on the glass.
“That’s just the reason why I am the way I am,” Cauley-Stein said. “I’m decent enough to be able to do all those things on defense. I can block the shot, grab the rebound, push it, catch the lob. I can do whatever. I’m just blessed to have the ability where I can help, stunt, block a shot, rebound it and then just go. That’s why I’m here.”
He also expects next season to be better in all areas of the game, including rebounding.
“I’m a hard worker so it’s only going to go up,” he said. “The only way is up, there’s no backwards for me. I’m just going to keep on working, keep on grinding, keep on learning from my teammates and hopefully we can keep building off this.”
Karl plans to continue to play Cauley-Stein a lot. He’s averaging 30 minutes in his past three games, more than 10 above his season average.
Seth Curry scored a team-, and career-high 21 points on 9-of-17 shooting, including 3 of 6 from three-point range. He scored 12 points in the fourth quarter when the Kings enjoyed a 16-1 run while the Blazers sat out their starters. Omri Casspi scored 18, but only four points in the second half. Allen Crabbe led Portland with 21 points off the bench.
The Kings’ rested starters are expected back for Wednesday’s home game against Washington. Karl said resting players would be an organizational decision with input from general manager Vlade Divac.