Life defending NBA point guards isn’t easy and the Kings’ schedule to open the season provides no breaks.
One night it’s All-Star Stephen Curry, perhaps the best shooter in the NBA. Next up it’s All-Star Damian Lillard, who can hurt you with his jump shooting as well as with his drives to the rim.
Next up is Chris Paul, generally considered the best point guard in the NBA.
Fun times for Kings guard Darren Collison.
“It doesn’t get easier,” Collison said. “But one thing you guys are going to find out about me is I love every challenge like this, and when you play against these All-Star guards, it’s fun.”
If the Kings are ever to become a good defensive team, they need to improve their on-ball defense, and they believed Collison could help when he was signed in July as a free agent from the Los Angeles Clippers, who the Kings play Sunday afternoon at Staples Center.
Collison has received praise from coaches and teammates for his ability to defend individually and help coordinate the team defense.
Curry shot 7 of 17 against the Kings and Lillard was 4 of 13 with Collison leading the way.
“You know, he’s done a great job defensively, of picking up Steph Curry, of picking up Damian Lillard, harassing those guys, making them a little bit uncomfortable,” said Kings coach Michael Malone. “Running our team, being aggressive, getting to the free-throw line, he’s just so active, and he has a great competitive fire.”
Collison (6-foot, 175 pounds) isn’t the biggest guard but has shown a knack for knowing the tendencies of opponents and has been active in getting into the passing lanes to make plays.
That’s allowed Collison to get in transition more as the Kings continue to try to play at a faster pace.
Collison knows Paul well. He’s backed him up twice. The first stint was as a rookie with New Orleans and then with the Clippers last season.
Paul is as crafty a player as there is in the league on both ends of the floor, but Collison embraces his role.
“I’m the head of the snake,” Collison said. “I’m trying to start that tempo, pick up full court, pick and choose when to play full court, just be a little more physical off the pick-and-roll and just try to make it tough for these guards.”
Collison has consistently said the Kings were making strides defensively, even when there were rough stretches during exhibition play.
In the first two games of the regular season, he’s been right.
The Kings are coming off holding Portland to 41 percent shooting in Friday’s win. They also held the Warriors to 44 percent in losing the season opener. In both games, the Kings have held both opponents under 100 points.
“Defense, we’ve been there,” Collison said. “Defensively, we are playing great team defense and that’s all we can ask for. We’re probably not going to be consistent shooting-wise but defense has been good, especially against these top-tier guards.”
For the defense to stay good, Collison will have to be on his game. After playing the Clippers, Sacramento plays at Denver on Monday before hosting the Nuggets and their blur of a point guard, Ty Lawson, on Wednesday.
Then a four-game trip begins at Phoenix, which can throw dynamic point guards on the court in Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas – who Collison replaced as the Kings’ starter.
It’s a good thing Collison likes a challenge, because his job won’t get easier anytime soon.