José Luis Villegas / jvillegas@sacbee.com

Kings point guard Ray McCallum, driving against Houston’s Terrence Jones on Tuesday, recently has supplanted fellow rookie Ben McLemore late in games.

Kings expanding rookie McCallum’s role

Published: Sunday, Mar. 2, 2014 - 6:58 pm

For months, Kings officials said they needed to see what Ray McCallum would do in game situations.

But McCallum, last year’s second-round pick, was at the bottom of the pecking order at point guard, so any significant on-court progress was seen only in practice or during stints with the Kings’ NBA Development League team, the Reno Bighorns.

Now with the chance to play, McCallum is becoming more than just a fill-in for Isaiah Thomas. He’s earning playing time with the first unit. Recently, McCallum has supplanted more heralded rookie Ben McLemore late in games.

McCallum has had moments where he’s looked like a rookie, but he’s done enough lately to earn the coaching staff’s trust. He runs the team when Thomas is resting and plays alongside Thomas, too.

“With the second unit when I come in, I’m on the ball more and I can create and make more plays,” McCallum said. “With the first unit, I’m off the ball. I always have a defensive mindset, but when I’m out there with the first unit, it’s strictly to play defense and lock up. Try to find guys, but at the same time be aggressive. But with both groups, I feel comfortable and I’m having fun.”

McCallum is averaging 15 minutes in his past eight games, nearly double his season average of 8.1 in 22 games. He played a season-high 28 minutes in Saturday’s loss to Minnesota.

“I want to win every time we play,” coach Michael Malone said. “But at the same time, more important than that right now is allowing Ray to get these minutes. Ben is struggling right now, so we’re playing Ray and Isaiah out there together. These are valuable minutes for Ray.”

In the past two games, McCallum has shown he can facilitate and take care of the ball (10 assists, one turnover), but he is still struggling to get on track offensively (6-for-18 shooting).

What’s helped McCallum is his willingness to play defense and run the team to free Thomas to be a scorer. Playing McCallum alongside Thomas is something Malone could do more the rest of the season.

“By allowing Ray to handle the ball at times, that gets Isaiah off of it,” Malone said. “(Thomas) can space the floor and now we can get the defense moving so he can attack instead of just coming down and attacking a set defense.”

McCallum said even though he wasn’t playing much for most of the season, he always believed he could contribute.

“I’ve always had a lot of confidence in my game,” McCallum said. “Just to have an opportunity to get on the floor, it definitely helps. Being in there in close games down the stretch, being out there with those guys, it builds my confidence a lot. I just try to go out there and defend, do little things to try to keep myself on the floor.”

McCallum realizes the task won’t get any easier this season. He’s taking advantage of teams that are not familiar with his game. But with increased minutes, McCallum is learning how to break down NBA defenses, and that should help him as opponents adjust.

“A lot of these teams don’t really know who I am, so when I come in there, I just try to attack and look for the open guy,” McCallum said. “And I’m realizing the more you attack the defense, guys are going to get open. I’m playing with a lot of high-level guys, and they’re making it easy for me by knocking down shots.”

The more McCallum does that, the more the Kings will like what they see.


Follow The Bee’s Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

Read more articles by Jason Jones



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