In today’s NBA, Willie Cauley-Stein is old for a rookie.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean Cauley-Stein, 22, comes to the NBA ready to contribute. So far, it appears Cauley-Stein will help the Kings in some way.
“He’s an NBA player,” coach George Karl said. “Youngster from the standpoint of offense, and pretty talented defensively. I laugh at him because I think he’s scared to death to make a mistake.”
Cauley-Stein, however, said he’s not preoccupied with miscues.
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“Nah, because you really don’t think about making mistakes once you’re playing,” Cauley-Stein said. “Only in the beginning before you start, but once you start playing, you’re not going to make a mistake. Or if you make a mistake, make it going hard.”
He’s an NBA player. Youngster from the standpoint of offense, and pretty talented defensively. I laugh at him because I think he’s scared to death to make a mistake.
Kings coach George Karl on rookie Willie Cauley-Stein
That’s really all the Kings are asking their first-round pick to do. Play hard and let everything else happen.
“I think he played with a lot of energy,” said center DeMarcus Cousins after Cauley-Stein had eight points, seven rebounds and three blocks Wednesday at Phoenix. “You can tell he has some good instincts on the defensive end. It’s about him continuing to learn the game, learn what he can do, can’t do, those little veteran tricks. But I think he’s on the right path. He’s a player with big potential.”
Cauley-Stein has started the last two preseason games, including Thursday against the San Antonio Spurs at Sleep Train Arena.
His offense, as expected, needs work. The defense, which is why the Kings selected him sixth overall, has shown flashes of what Sacramento needs with his range and ability to protect the rim.
“I think he’s getting more comfortable,” Karl said. “I think he’s getting in better shape. I think he has to understand for him to get on-the-court energy is probably more important than skills.”
Cauley-Stein can focus on just energy because unlike many of the Kings’ recent draft picks, he’s not being asked to come in and be a primary option on offense. He can focus on what he does best and grow into his role.
“Man, just learning, keep on playing hard, that’s really all,” Cauley-Stein said. “Play really hard and try not to make mistakes. You know you’re going to see the floor, so just don’t turn the ball over, finish when you get a chance to finish, make free throws, and everything else kind of takes care of itself.”
Perhaps the biggest adjustment for Cauley-Stein is dealing with the size and strength of NBA players, which can sap a player’s energy.
In college at Kentucky, it was rare that a player could match his size (7-foot, 240). Now, if he’s not being roughed up by Cousins or Kosta Koufos in practice, Cauley-Stein is encountering strong veterans in the preseason.
“You’ve got to find a niche,” Cauley-Stein said. “You’ve got to find out how you move somebody who is bigger than you. You’ve got to play smarter than them.”
It’ll just take time to figure out how to do that. No one expects Cauley-Stein to have that figured out already. But he’s still been praised by teammates.
You’ve got to find a niche. You’ve got to find out how you move somebody who is bigger than you. You’ve got to play smarter than them.
Kings rookie Willie Cauley-Stein
“Obviously, he’s still a little wet behind the ears, and the NBA game is a little fast for him,” forward Rudy Gay said. “But it’ll come.”
Karl said Cauley-Stein’s game against Phoenix would have been even better had he not missed two dunks. Even with that, it’s expected the rookie will help the Kings out more as the season progresses.
“I can see his game; I can see what he can do,” Gay said. “He’s very versatile. He missed some easy ones (in Phoenix), but he’ll be just fine.”
Lineup changes – Karl started guard James Anderson in place of Ben McLemore as the coach continues to look at different lineups during the preseason.
Karl likes Anderson’s defensive approach. Rather than go for steals and deflections too much, Anderson focuses on one-on-one defense.
That’s what Karl is looking for, particularly on the perimeter, where the Kings have had problems for years.