SACRAMENTO, (AP) — The Sacramento Kings drafted Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein with the sixth overall pick Thursday night, adding an elite defender to one of the NBA’s worst defensive teams.
Vice President Vlade Divac took Cauley-Stein in his first major move since taking over the organization this offseason from departed general manager Pete D’Alessandro.
Cauley-Stein averaged just 8.0 points per game in three seasons at Kentucky but is considered to be a top defender capable of blocking shots, playing in the post and defending pick and rolls. Cauley-Stein averaged 6.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game in college while shooting 59 percent from the field.
There were some concerns about Cauley-Stein’s health after he underwent surgery for a stress fracture in his ankle late in the 2013-14 season. But Cauley-Stein was able to play all 39 games last season and was a first-team AP All-American, averaging 8.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.
He could form a formidable inside duo with another former Kentucky star in DeMarcus Cousins if the Kings don’t trade Cousins. Sacramento needed defensive help after allowing the third-most points per game and seventh-highest shooting percentage last season.
The Kings are coming off another tumultuous, losing season that saw the organization go through three head coaches and post a 29-53 record. Sacramento has missed the playoffs for nine straight seasons and has the second-worst record in the NBA over that span.
The Kings fired coach Michael Malone 24 games into the season and replaced him with Tyrone Corbin. That tenure lasted just 28 games before George Karl was hired to coach the franchise.
Karl posted an 11-19 record down the stretch but has far from solidified the franchise. D’Alessandro left in the offseason for Denver and Divac took over running the team and the Kings have been surrounded by reports that Cousins is on the trading block because Karl does not want to build the team around him.
Those reports won’t go away soon with the Kings drafting another center in the first round although the two big men are capable of playing together.
Cousins is one of the few foundation pieces the Kings have on the roster. He averaged 24.1 points and 12.7 rebounds last season and is one of the game’s brightest young stars at age 24.
The team’s past two first-round picks are still works in progress in guard Ben McLemore, who showed signs of improvement in year two, and swingman Nik Stauskas, who struggled as a rookie.
The Kings are not scheduled to make any other picks Thursday.
This story has been corrected to show that Cauley-Stein played all 39 games last season, instead of 31, and averaged 8.0 points per game for his career, instead of 7.9.