Ailene Voisin

Opinion: NBA opportunity arises for John Stockton’s son with Kings

Newly signed point guard David Stockton shoots during practice  Tuesday.
Newly signed point guard David Stockton shoots during practice Tuesday. rpench@sacbee.com

Sometime within the next few games, David Stockton will step on the same Sleep Train Arena court where his father delivered his final pass, scored his final field goal, stole his final ball, dribbled for a final time.

John Stockton is a Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer, a Utah Jazz icon, one of the greatest point guards in the history of the game. Twelve years later, his son just wants to be an NBA player.

Interesting, isn’t it, that his first chance comes with the Kings?

After impressing team officials with his performances for the Reno Bighorns of the NBA Development League, the younger Stockton signed a 10-day contract late last week. Though he didn’t play Friday when the Boston Celtics visited, and saw minimal action in Los Angeles the following night against the Clippers, his prospects for an extended audition are enhanced by Darren Collison’s potential season-ending hip injury.

Collison’s continued absence leaves the Kings with point guards Ray McCallum, Andre Miller, and at least for the next few days, the son of the legendary Stockton.

“He (David) reminds me so much of his dad,” Kings coach George Karl said. “He makes good decisions. He can run the pick-and-roll. He’s a good shooter, but he wants to orchestrate, direct, coordinate the offense. He looks like a little kid, a high school kid out there, but he’s feisty, just like his dad.”

Any comparison to John Stockton, while well intentioned and virtually inescapable, is almost cruel. In the closing moments of the Kings-Jazz playoff series here in 2003, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound veteran walked to the visitors bench and sat with his head bowed, his massive hands clasping a towel, as the opposing sellout crowd rose to its feet, applauding and appreciating the league’s all-time leader in assists and steals.

At 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, with boyish features that would get him carded in most pubs, the third of Nada and John Stockton’s sons inherited his mother’s slight, wiry build instead of his father’s thick, powerful thighs and calves. Forget the famous short shorts and Prince Valiant haircut, too. Not a chance.

Yet according to Gonzaga coach Mark Few, in this instance looks deceive. He describes his 2013-14 starting point guard as a fierce, fearless competitor with uncanny quickness and developing skills.

“David has longer arms than his father,” said Few, “and he has excellent court vision. He can really put the ball in small windows on the pick-and-roll, post feeds. His use of the bounce pass will be familiar. And he’s got an edge to him. He really thinks he belongs, though like all the Stocktons, he’s a late bloomer.”

The first of the Stockton siblings to play at the Division I level, David enrolled at Gonzaga five years ago as a walk-on. He redshirted his freshman season, and after gradually packing 20 to 25 pounds onto his slender frame, became a starter as a senior. But neither the Zags’ continued success nor the Hall of Fame name enabled him to overcome questions about his size and erratic shot. Undrafted, he played with the Phoenix Suns in the Las Vegas Summer League and later signed with the Bighorns, the Kings D-League affiliate that experiments with full-court pressure, creates offense with defensive havoc, and encourages players to shoot threes and layups within a 12-second span, and all while eschewing mid-range jumpers.

Bighorns coach Dave Arsenault, Jr., coaxed his point guard into an impressive season. Stockton, 23, was averaging 16.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 7.9 assists, while shooting 46 percent from the field and 36 percent from beyond the arc when he was recalled by the Kings. The elements that most intrigue general manager Pete D’Alessandro and his staff, of course, are the passes that lead to field goals and the skills in the open court.

“David is willing to push the pace,” Arsenault said. “You very rarely see our point guard coming down, organizing or setting people up. Getting them into the offense means attacking the rim, advancing the ball with a pass, or with a dribble handoff. We are always on the attack, and always attack with speed, and David thrives in the open court.”

Stockton jokingly says that although his father was his favorite player and the Jazz frowned on fraternization, he particularly enjoyed watching Jason Kidd and current Sacramento Mayor and former Phoenix Suns All-Star Kevin Johnson.

As for Stockton senior? There were few John Stockton sightings in Reno. David describes his father as supportive and helpful, but not intrusive. Of the four Stockton boys, David was the first to shatter the family’s offseason vacation routine by participating on the Amateur Athletic Union circuit.

“In the summers we hardly saw a basketball,” said David. “We’d go back to Spokane, go to the lake, just hang out like kids. My dad would come out and play with us if we asked, but he would never say, ‘do this, or do that.’ He just let us evolve. You see all these kids with their parents yelling at them during games, getting in their face, and it’s just crazy. He never did that, never pressured us. But obviously it’s hard these days to get any college looks unless you play AAU, so unlike my two older brothers, that’s what I decided to do.”

After his NBA debut Saturday in Los Angeles – his first assist set up a three by Omri Casspi – Stockton received a short congratulatory text from his father. It’s during the quieter, private moments he hears subtle messages about working hard and gaining and maintaining strength. His slight physical stature is perhaps his major obstacle to an NBA career, and to that end, his father’s résumé alone offers tremendous insight.

John Stockton not only was a remarkable performer, he was a physical phenomenon. Adhering to a private training routine he steadfastly refuses to detail, he played every game in 17 of 19 regular seasons, missed a mere 22 games because of injury. When he retired at age 41, walked off to that ovation in Natomas, he still ranked among the league leaders in assists with 7.7 per game.

So while the lofty Stockton gold standard includes two Olympic gold medals, including a 1992 tour with the original Dream Team, Few cautions against underestimating the third of six Stockton siblings.

“David has a bit of a riverboat gambler in him,” continued the coach of the third-ranked Zags. “He made big plays for us throughout his career. Steals, anticipating. And his passing is at the highest level. If that’s what the Kings are looking for, that’s what David will bring.”

Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.

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