SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings had a welcome sight at Thursday’s practice. Rookie Willie Cauley-Stein was on the floor, running up and down the court playing basketball for the first time in almost a month.
“I think he’ll be activated on the road trip,” George Karl said. “I don’t think he’ll be activated tomorrow, but I think he’ll be activated on the road trip.”
Cauley-Stein is almost back from a gruesome open dislocation of the right index finger that he suffered during the Kings December 3 loss in Mexico City to the Boston Celtics. While the injury didn’t require surgery, it did warrant a 4-6 week break from the game.
“I feel like I’m on schedule, on track,” Cauley-Stein said following practice. “Today was kind of a test to see how it felt, but I don’t see a problem.”
Sacramento’s coaching staff has been working with their rookie big, both to keep him in the best shape possible and also to add new dimensions to his game. The 22-year-old out of Kentucky said he has been running and lifting weights everyday in preparation for his return, although it’s tough to simulate game speed without contact.
“Just staying ready, so you don’t have to get ready,” is what Cauley-Stein said he learned from this experience.
The Kings aren't a great defensive team in general, but without Cauley-Stein, they don’t have a true rim protector or a player with his size and versatility. Both DeMarcus Cousins and Kosta Koufos are solid defenders, but they both play below the rim and are more position defenders than goalies.
“That’s one of my niches is team defense,” Cauley-Stein said. “I think my lack of presence there and kind of being a floor general on that side is pretty big for us.”
After being selected with the sixth overall selection in June’s NBA Draft, Cauley-Stein has started 14 games for the Kings, averaging 4.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 18.9 minutes a night.
The Kings return to the court Saturday night to face the Phoenix Suns at Sleep Train Arena hoping to snap their three game losing streak. They travel to Oklahoma City on Monday to take on the Thunder and then to Dallas the next night to play the Mavericks. Expect to see Cauley-Stein back on the court sometime over the next three games.