Sacramento Kings: Should Willie Cauley-Stein Start?


Before the Sacramento Kings drafted Willie Cauley-Stein, many thought he’d be a pleasant addition to the team. With his athleticism and defensive prowess being something the Kings needed, he seemed to be a natural fit for the team. It’s now been almost four months since he was selected by Sacramento and Cauley-Stein has worked himself into the conversation to be a starter for the Kings. Now, the question should be asked asked: Should Willie Cauley-Stein start?

His performance for the Kings has been everything many expected — from his non-stop motor to his defensive control of the paint, to how well he runs the floor, and even his ability to run pick-and-rolls on offense. Many have been left wondering where his ceiling truly is.

He’s a shot-blocking threat, as seen during the preseason where he’ averaged 1.3 per game. He played just under 24 minutes so that would equate to about two blockers per 36 minutes played. Cauley-Stein also put up 6.5 rebounds per game which is about 10 per 36 minutes per game. (Both stats according to

Preseason stats are not something most can reliably go by, but it can give you a general idea about a player’s abilities. Paired his preseason performance with his college career though, where he was mostly known for the same type of ability he’s displayed thus far, and it paints a compelling picture of the player.

With DeMarcus Cousins garnering most of the attention on the offensive end of the floor, the Kings will have Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos to pair him with. The better fit with Cousins in the long-run could potentially be Cauley-Stein, but for now, the Kings should stick with the veteran Koufos.

This isn’t a knock on Cauley-Stein. He’s going to be the Kings’ franchise starter if all goes well, but for now, Koufos should start for Sacramento, even if that doesn’t mean he actually gets more playing time than the rookie.

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Koufos, while not as athletically gifted by any means, is a somewhat similar player to Cauley-Stein, statistically speaking. Through seven seasons in the NBA, he’s averaged five points and five rebounds per game, while averaging a minimal 15 minutes of playing time.

He’s a career .528% shooter and with Cousins being the focal point on offense, along with the likes of Rudy Gay and Rajon Rondo, Koufos understands his role and has the proven ability to be consistent and very efficient in it.

The Kings have the opportunity of easing a rookie into their system for the first time in what seems to be forever rather than doing what they had to do with Thomas Robinson, Jimmer Fredette and others — which was throwing them into the fire, crossing their fingers, and hoping for the best.

The Kings have an abundance of veterans to go along with a core of young potential and it would be the wrong choice to let a 22-year-old with huge upside feel the burden of pressures and expectations that come with being a starter in the NBA.

He still may play more than Koufos, and he may be put into more late-game situations. These are things that would benefit the Kings very well. But he doesn’t need to start.

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He can get accustomed to the traveling and the circus that goes with the NBA life — not that it’s any less of a circus than playing for Kentucky — but still, he can dip his toes into the pool, as they say, instead of having to dive in head-first. He’ll very likely still earn plenty of playing time.

Willie Cauley-Stein could very well be the first player of a new generation of basketball players and why limiting him at the beginning to let him develop could turn out to be the right move. The possibilities could be extraordinary for this young man.