Cynics would say individual success on a losing team at the end of the regular season means little.
NBA coaches, however, praise young players who work hard and finish the season strong in the face of multiple losses and then excel in the summer. But too often that success is not a true gauge of how the next season will go.
Ray McCallum finds himself in that situation entering his second season with the Kings.
After playing well to finish his rookie season and capping the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas by being named MVP of the championship game, McCallum is in the same position he was last preseason – the Kings’ No. 3 point guard in a league where teams rarely use their third ballhandler.
Last year, McCallum was backing up starter Greivis Vasquez and Isaiah Thomas, but he figured this year would be different.
At the end of summer league play, McCallum seemed destined to log minutes as a backup to new starter Darren Collison, but days before training camp opened, the Kings signed seven-year veteran Ramon Sessions.
McCallum has appeared in two of the Kings’ four preseason games for a total of 14 minutes entering today’s exhibition game against Maccabi Haifa at Sleep Train Arena.
“It’s a business, and I understand that side of it, especially going through everything last year,” McCallum said. “Me and my mindset is to keep getting better and compete everyday. Last year, with the opportunity I got toward the end of the season, I tried to take advantage of it – make the most of it. It gave me confidence in myself as a player, showed me what I could do in this league.”
McCallum averaged 13.8 points, 7.3 assists and just 1.9 turnovers in 10 starts late in his rookie season in place of Thomas, who was out with an injury. McCallum shot just 36.5 percent. He averaged 44.6 minutes in those 10 starts, an unusually heavy workload because of a lack of healthy ballhandlers. The rookie wasn’t about to complain about playing too much after waiting for playing time behind Vasquez, Thomas and Jimmer Fredette.
With Thomas agreeing to sign with Phoenix just prior to summer league, McCallum went to Las Vegas wanting to improve as a leader on the floor and show he can help the Kings play at a quicker tempo. The Kings wanted to replace Thomas with a point guard who was less of a scorer.
The team considered guard Elfrid Payton in the NBA draft before signing Collison in July.
The move to add Sessions was a reminder the Kings are trying to speed up the rebuilding process by not waiting on a young player like McCallum to develop.
McCallum, however, remains confident that his 10 starts last season showed he can be a contributor.
“I tried to carry it over into the summer and worked really hard and we were able to come out on top and win the summer league, and I was proud of my performance,” McCallum said. “And now I’m in a position where there are two more point guards again. But, hey, I’m just going to come in and compete and just do whatever the coaching staff and the team needs me to do.”
Kings coach Michael Malone was pleased with the work McCallum did over the summer but has to prioritize and get the players at the top of the rotation ready.
There simply aren’t enough minutes to give everyone a fair look.
“It’s so hard to play three point guards, three small forwards, five bigs,” Malone said. “Game to game, some guys might get shut out.”
The coaching staff wanted McCallum to work on getting into the offense quicker, an emphasis for the entire team. McCallum said he has a better “feel” for getting into the offense and 24-second shot clock after having 35 seconds in college.
It’s just a matter of how often McCallum will be able to show he has improved in his second season.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in myself,” McCallum said. “I worked extremely hard this summer, and I feel I’m a much better and improved player from last year. When I get my chance and my opportunity, I’ve got to make the most of it, and I have the confidence I’ll get it done.”
Bighorns hire coach – David Arseneault Jr. has been hired to coach the Reno Bighorns, the Kings’ NBA Development League affiliate. Arseneault, 28, was the associate head coach for Grinnell College in Iowa the past four seasons. Arseneault averaged 9.4 assists as a point guard for Grinnell.