Guard Ramon Sessions made his first appearance for the Kings in a month Wednesday night, playing nearly 22 minutes – and most of the fourth quarter alongside point guard Darren Collison – in his return from a lower back strain.
The result: Ray McCallum, Collison’s primary backup at the point in Sessions’ absence, didn’t leave the bench until late in the fourth quarter. And Nik Stauskas, the first guard off the bench against the Brooklyn Nets, played seven first-quarter minutes and didn’t get into the game again.
Sessions’ return from a 13-game hiatus would appear to create a logjam for playing time at point guard, something coach Tyrone Corbin has considered but did not want to elaborate on following the Kings’ 103-100 loss to the Nets on Wednesday night.
“Watch a couple games,” Corbin said when asked how those minutes might be distributed.
Acquired before the season to back up Collison and play alongside him at times, Sessions was averaging just 6.1 points and 2.5 assists a game before getting hurt. But in the guard’s return Wednesday, Corbin said he was impressed with Sessions’ “pace” and stayed with the backcourt pairing of Sessions and Collison for much of the second half.
“I thought he created some opportunities, took Darren off the ball a little bit so (Collison) could play off the ball some,” Corbin said. “And he picked up the pace of the game for us a little bit. I liked the flow of the game once he was in there.”
Sessions said his month-long hiatus “felt like an eternity. But it felt good to get back out there, and the back felt good.” He said returning to full game speed is likely “going to take a little time – we don’t have many practices, but I’ve just got to get it on the fly.”
What that means for McCallum remains to be seen. The second-year guard averaged 19.1 minutes over a 15-game stretch beginning Dec. 21 – during which Sessions played once – but did not enter Wednesday’s game until a potential fouling situation at the end of the fourth quarter.
In those 15 games, McCallum averaged 5.3 points and 2.3 assists in 19.1 minutes while shooting 40.2 percent from the field, and Corbin recently said he thought the second-year guard had seized the increased playing time and “done well.”
As the first guard off the bench against the Nets, Stauskas replaced shooting guard Ben McLemore and played the final 6:42 of the first quarter. But the rookie did not attempt a shot and was hardly involved on the offensive end of the floor.
That followed two consecutive games in which Stauskas did not play at all. Corbin said that “matchups (hadn’t) worked in (Stauskas’) favor” in those two games and, “We still love what he brings to this team.”
Part of that was supposed to be Stauskas’ shooting, but in 40 games Stauskas is averaging 3.6 points and shooting 33.3 percent from the floor, 27.2 percent from three-point range.
Stauskas said Thursday he was prepared for ups and downs in his rookie season, and that “everyone has been real supportive” during a sometimes frustrating first half in which, “I haven’t played up to what I expect of myself.”
McLemore, not far removed from his own growing pains as a rookie, said players and coaches have talked with Stauskas about staying positive.
“I know how he feels; it’s frustrating, man,” McLemore said. “Even me, I’m not shooting the ball well right now, but at the same time I can bounce back and just keep believing in myself and shooting the ball. And that’s what we as a team got to come together and tell him.”
The Kings’ guards will have their hands full Friday night against the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, considered by many the best starting backcourt in the NBA. As of Thursday, Curry (23.2 points per game) and Thompson (21.9) ranked seventh and 11th in the league in scoring, respectively, while Curry also led the NBA in steals (2.1 a game) for a Warriors team holding opponents to the league’s lowest shooting percentage.
“Especially going up against a great defensive team, we’ve just got to move the ball and make the defense shift around,” McLemore said. “Not letting the ball stick, not pounding the ball, just moving it around – good things happen when you do that.”