Kings coach Michael Malone joked he would have to play Isaiah Thomas the entire game at point guard after starter Greivis Vasquez was traded to Toronto as part of a seven-player deal.
The reality is someone has to back up Thomas.
Jimmer Fredette and rookie Ray McCallum will be given opportunities to show they should go from seldom-used guards to the first point guard coming off the bench.
McCallum, the Kings’ second-round draft pick, had been the third point guard behind Vasquez and Thomas.
For Fredette, it means playing the point for the first time this season after being a backup shooting guard. Fredette was drafted as a point guard in 2011 but has never played consistently and is in the last year of his contract.
In two games since the trade, Fredette has been the backup to Thomas.
“I haven’t been able to get that much (consistent playing time) since I’ve been in the NBA,” Fredette said. “I get a couple games here and there, I sit out for a while, and then I come back. It would be nice to have a consistent long stretch where I can get comfortable in the role I have and go out and play and show everybody I can play. Things constantly change in the NBA, and you have to be prepared for anything.”
Malone used Fredette at off guard to take advantage of his shooting ability and give him a chance to play instead of dealing with the logjam at point guard.
But Fredette was stuck behind Ben McLemore and Marcus Thornton, and had played in only seven games.
Monday’s win over Dallas was the first time Fredette was used as the backup point guard. He had two points, two rebounds and two turnovers. He then had 13 points in Wednesday’s blowout loss to Utah.
“That’s the position he’s played his whole life, where he’s had the ball in his hands,” Malone said. “Obviously, he hadn’t played in a while so I think he was a little bit hesitant, a little rusty out there, but he’ll be fine. Jimmer’s a guy that’s always shown he can make plays, make shots.”
Before the trade, McCallum played in just one game, for 13 seconds. He entered Monday’s game in the fourth quarter and had two points and one turnover, and he was scoreless with a rebound in the final 2:30 of the Utah game.
“He’ll get better,” Malone said. “He turned the ball over … didn’t handle the pressure from (Dallas rookie guard) Shane Larkin as well as he’d like to, but experience for him will be his best teacher, and he’ll get better with every opportunity.”
McCallum’s only extended playing time since the preseason had been three games with the Reno Bighorns, Sacramento’s NBA Development League affiliate.
“You’ve just got to be patient,” McCallum said. “That’s something all the coaches and teammates have been telling me. Stay patient, keep working, and your opportunity will come someday, and it looks like it could possibly be coming soon. I guess you could say the time is coming now, and I’m ready for my opportunity.”
The transition for Fredette and McCallum is different.
Fredette has been a point guard for most of his career, just not in Malone’s system.
“You go awhile and you know the plays as a two (shooting guard) and you’re consistent with that and you start to get comfortable with that,” Fredette said. “But now I’m going back to where I’m most comfortable, so hopefully, things will go well.”
McCallum, just learning how to be an NBA player, has been praised for his poise since summer league. But running a team in the preseason is different than doing so under the pressure of the regular season.
“Even though I’m a rookie and a young guy, I feel like I have a good relationship with a lot of guys on the team and (am) earning ... respect from them,” McCallum said. “I can’t be quiet. Being a young guy and a point guard out there, I have to be assertive and run my team.”
It has to work out for one of them. Thomas is going to need breaks.