Sacramento Kings head coach George Karl has a good problem to have - he has two serviceable big men who pride themselves on defense to take pressure off DeMarcus Cousins this season. Kosta Koufos is a defensive-minded veteran and Willie Cauley-Stein is a defensive-minded, athletic rookie. Either can operate as centers to let Cousins' offense fly as a power forward.
Though the Kings have only played three preseason games, Karl admitted Thursday that he is leaning toward to idea of putting Cauley-Stein next to Cousins, which would, in theory, point to Cauley-Stein starting.
"Right now, my feeling is Kosta probably fits the bench better than Willie does and Willie probably fits Cuz a little bit better too," Karl said. "I'm not sure that's where I'll go but that's probably where I'm tilted right now."
Cauley-Stein helped seal a 95-92 victory over the San Antonio Spurs Thursday with some key rebounding and defense in the final seconds. Cauley-Stein's effort on defense has been noticeable (and consistent) so far in the preseason, certainly enough for Karl to take notice. Though Karl wasn't willing to commit to saying Cauley-Stein will be the starter when the regular season begins, he did say he has a chance to log 1,500 minutes this season (for comparison, NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins logged 2,969 minutes last season and last year's Kings draft pick Nik Stauskas played 1,127 minutes)
"That's a very good year for any rookie that he can play on winning team that plays 1,500 minutes on a winning team, it's a sign that he's a good player," Karl said.
Cauley-Stein is averaging 6 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 24 minutes in the last three games. Koufos is averaging 8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1 block in his two games played this preseason. Koufos can serve as a good replacement for Cousins when he exits the floor and has proven to be effective in that role in the preseason, which would fall in line with Karl's comments about him fitting the bench well.
Following the game Thursday, Cauley-Stein said he likes how it is going so far playing next to Cousins.
"It's been good. It's good matchup wise. I could guard dudes that, not necessarily that Boogie can't guard them, but he don't got to foul them. He don't got to get cheap fouls off it. I can," Cauley-Stein said with a smile. "I'm just always running around, so when people start doubling Boogie, I'm going to be wide open underneath the basket so it's going to be good. They got to guard that, so it's either they're going to have to not double-team him or double-team him and give up a dunk."
Cauley-Stein said he can already feel the game slowing down and he is beginning to figure out the pace of the NBA. The main aspects of the game he is focusing on is going "after every board" and never missing weak-side help. The thoughtful Cauley-Stein went on to tell reporters how he is trying to spin off guys and "seal them one way," illustrating it with his long wingspan. Recent reports have stated conditioning to be an issue with the Kentucky product. Admittedly, Cauley-Stein said basketball shape is different than being in shape, but when asked how far he is away from being in basketball shape he responded with "I'm there. I'm good."
Karl must agree because he is showing some confidence in his rookie.