More than once, Kings Coach George Karl has watched film of his team and thought he should give rookie center Willie Cauley-Stein more playing time.
Karl expressed the sentiment again this week.
“I’m happy with Willie,” Karl said. “There are a lot of nights when I’m watching film I think he should have played more minutes. And I think he will continue to get more minutes as the season goes on.”
Cauley-Stein has made some spectacular plays to start his career. The former University of Kentucky star has also looked like a rookie finding his way at times.
Cauley-Stein’s length, athleticism and defensive instincts are needed, as the Kings rank near or at the bottom of the NBA in key defensive categories.
But there are no guarantees on playing time, especially for a rookie.
The 7-footer from Kentucky is averaging 19.5 minutes, 12th among rookies and eighth on the Kings. He has started eight of 13 games.
Though teammates have praised Cauley-Stein’s progress, that’s different from earning the trust of Karl, who is more inclined to turn to veterans in certain situations.
So rather than take his lumps against the likes of Blake Griffin or Paul Millsap, Cauley-Stein has come off the bench while Kosta Koufos and Quincy Acy started games.
Cauley-Stein said his effort will not change regardless of his playing time or status.
“The way I feel, I’m not the coach, so whatever he says goes,” Cauley-Stein said. “If I’m starting, I’m playing the same. If I’m coming off the bench, I’m playing the same. If I’m playing three minutes, I’m playing the same. If I play no minutes, I’m thinking the same thing. It’s just go in there and do what you’re supposed to do.”
That’s what he’s done in averaging 5.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.0 blocked shots. But Karl clearly has reservations about playing his rookie too much, too soon.
DeMarcus Cousins was suspended by the NBA for Thursday’s game at Miami. Cauley-Stein played 22 minutes before fouling out with 11 points, five rebounds and two blocks.
Karl acknowledged Cauley-Stein had a good showing but noted that Miami Heat All-Star Chris Bosh took advantage of Cauley-Stein’s youth.
“Willie played well, played hard, but he’s a young player,” Karl said. “Bosh tricked him a few times.”
Cauley-Stein has a mature take on giving up baskets. He realizes he has much to learn as a rookie. As he said before playing Memphis’ Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph: “If you get busted, they’re supposed to do that. So you’ve got to have that in the back of your head — even if you do get busted on some stuff, you’ve got to keep on playing hard.”
Before the draft, Karl said he didn’t think the Kings would pick a player sixth overall who would play in the 30-minute range consistently.
That’s happened only twice for Cauley-Stein.
Cauley-Stein is still No. 3 for Karl behind Cousins and Koufos, as Karl noted after the Miami loss, saying the Kings were without their two best interior defenders in Cousins and Koufos, because of fouls, for much of the game.
When asked if he was progressing at the rate he expected, Cauley-Stein said he is not thinking about his expectations.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t expect as much, honestly. I just go hoop.”
As for those physical matchups, Cauley-Stein has no reservations about his ability to hold his own.
“Yeah, it’s good,” he said. “I don’t feel like it hinders me at all or is a weakness. I think it’s just normal.”
What Cauley-Stein hopes does not become normal is Karl watching film and wondering why he didn’t play more minutes.