More than once, former University of Kentucky star Willie Cauley-Stein has had to explain his rebounding numbers and why they might not be as high you would expect from an athletic 7-footer.
Sometimes the ball just didn’t bounce his way. Other times he might be pulled away from the basket on a defensive assignment.
Still, no one really wants to hear why someone with the length and quickness of Cauley-Stein can’t get a rebound, and the second-year center is tired of talking about it.
So he’s going after every rebound like it’s his last.
Cauley-Stein is averaging 11 rebounds in his last five games, well above the 4.1 he’s averaging this season.
“I’m just going after them now,” Cauley-Stein said. “Before I’d just go after the ones that come to my side, and then I used to let the guards take the rebounds so they could just go. I got tired of people telling me about rebounding … so now I just go get rebounds so they can shut the hell up.”
When the Sacramento Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins during the All-Star break, they parted with one of the NBA’s elite rebounders.
Cauley-Stein’s playing time increased without Cousins. No one expected Cauley-Stein to fill Cousins’ scoring void, but could he improve his rebounding?
He’s averaging 7.6 rebounds in the 20 games since the trade.
“Yeah, he’s been better,” Kings Coach Dave Joerger said. “Willie’s doing a better job of rebounding outside of his area."
That doesn’t mean the “people” stopped talking about Cauley-Stein’s rebounding.
“I used to joke with him before game games and say: ‘(Darn), you only rebound on the offensive end,’” Kings guard Ty Lawson said. “He’s looking at me like: ‘Is he really trying to say something?’ So I said: ‘Yo, get a defensive rebound.’ It’s so huge when he tries to go get everything.”
Lawson said Cauley-Stein doing that is important because it allows the Kings to have more chances for fast-break points.
And when Cauley-Stein is aggressive attacking the glass, he draws attention and the Kings can corral the ball and get in transition even if he doesn’t end up with the rebound.
Lawson was also happy to rib him about his lack of rebounds at times.
“Yeah, I was like: ‘You’ve got five rebounds and they’re all offensive,’” Lawson said. “So I guess he finally took it to heart and he’s doing it.”
Cauley-Stein finds the rebounding talk annoying but said there wasn’t any specific chat that led to his more tenacious approach.
As Lawson noted after Saturday’s win at Minnesota, Cauley-Stein wasn’t waiting on the ball to come to him. Instead he was attacking the ball above the rim after missed shots.
“It’s just something for myself,” Cauley-Stein said. “I’m just tired of hearing it — so all right, I’ll go get y’all eight rebounds.”
Still, 38.3 percent of Cauley-Stein’s rebounds are contested, tops on the Kings, even including Cousins. But his rebound chances, which tracks when a players is within 3 1/2 feet of a rebound, is 7.3, fourth among current Kings.
Just know that Cauley-Stein is tired of discussing his rebounding and his approach to it.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” he said. “That’s just a joke to me. I don’t even want to talk about it. It’s going to (tick) me off.”
If Cauley-Stein keeps this up into next season, he might like the talk about his rebounds.