When Kings rookie Ray McCallum first began playing significant minutes, he was out to prove he could be a “true” point guard.
That meant passing to a teammate on a play designed for him – even if the better option was for McCallum to take the ball and score.
“He was just trying to force-feed instead of playing off of us,” Rudy Gay said. “He was just trying to be a good point guard, and you can’t blame him for that. But he’s learning every day, how to pick his spots and how to make himself better and also excel as a point guard.”
The latest example came Wednesday night in the Kings’ 107-102 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Sleep Train Arena.
Knowing the Lakers would focus on Gay and DeMarcus Cousins, McCallum exploited those openings for a career-high 27 points and a team-high five assists. It was the second consecutive game McCallum had a career high, topping the 22 he scored Monday at New Orleans.
McCallum looked as comfortable as ever starting his fifth consecutive game in place of Isaiah Thomas, sidelined because of a right quadriceps contusion.
Part of the rookie’s growth is knowing when to be the aggressor on offense and when to set up his teammates. Kings coach Michael Malone does not want McCallum to predetermine where the ball should go. Malone also wants the rookie to look for his opportunities.
“Obviously when the play is designed for someone, you feel like you need to get them the ball,” McCallum said. “One thing I’m learning is they’re such great players, the defense is keyed into them. Sometimes when I come off the pick-and-roll, if someone is keyed on DeMarcus, Rudy, Ben (McLemore), all those guys, it’s freeing me up. I thought I did a better job with that (Wednesday), knowing they’re going to get double-teamed and that’s going to leave me open. If I’m open, I’ve got to make something happen, or if they’re open, make a play.”
McCallum made 12 of 22 shots in 46 minutes. He has played 227 of a possible 240 minutes over the last five games. That’s the most minutes by a rookie over five games in Sacramento history, surpassing Kenny Smith’s 217 minutes in 1987.
Not only is McCallum more confident finding his offense, he’s more comfortable running the offense and assertive when he needs to be.
“The biggest thing that impresses me isn’t his scoring, it’s not his assists,” Malone said. “It’s his demeanor, it’s his composure, it’s his poise that he shows that he shows. For him to be a young kid, a rookie, that hasn’t played a lot this year, to exhibit all those attributes at such an early age, I think is remarkable. And obviously that bodes very well for his career.”
McCallum said his demeanor on the court is a product of more playing time.
“The more experience you get, the more poised you can become and just have confidence in your game,” he said. “Knowing what you can do on the floor and use your abilities to your advantage.”
Gay scored 31 points as the Kings (27-48) beat the Lakers (25-50) for the first time in four meetings this season. The Kings also ended a five-game skid against the Lakers.
The game figured to be a chance for Cousins to dominate. The Lakers were without their two top centers: Pau Gasol, who had a severe recurrence of vertigo, and Chris Kaman, who had a calf injury. Jordan Hill started at center.
Cousins got off to a quick start with eight points and five rebounds, but foul trouble prevented him from being more dominant. He still finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes.
Jodie Meeks led the Lakers with 21 points, and Hill had 18 points and 15 rebounds.