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Your team is in trouble if Darren Collison is your 3rd best player (Warning: Click-bait headline!)

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Ah, good. My inflammatory headline got you to click onto the article. Spoiler alert: This post is not written in an effort to disparage Darren Collison

As the Sacramento Kings continue on the long, long road to rebuild, the focus has somewhat appropriately been on the team's lack of even average contribution from the starting power forward and shooting guard spots. This is not to blame the incumbents, Jason Thompson and Ben McLemore, as they really are the best options on a roster that still possesses some gaping holes.

But the hidden hole on the roster is when it comes to its third best player, a title currently held by Darren Collison.

This is not meant to be derogatory to Collison. After Cousins and Gay, he is the best player on the team. Aside from some spotty shooting (Collison is behind McLemore and Ramon Sessions(!) in points per shot), Collison has exceeded almost every reasonable expectation. But can you really envision Collison being the third best player on a playoff caliber (Western Conference, mind you) team? Because I am having a lot of trouble with that.

Let me make something clear here. Darren Collison is not the problem. And I don't think that he is miscast as the starting point guard on this particular team. But if he is going to be your starting point guard, you better have at least three superior players around him. If he is your third best player, he is as miscast as Jason Thompson is as your starting power forward.

Let's take a look at the top three players for every NBA team (and Philadelphia):

Team Three Best Players
Atlanta Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap
Boston Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green, Avery Bradley or Jared Sullinger
Brooklyn Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson
Charlotte Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson
Chicago Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson or Jimmy Butler (Ridiculous!)
Cleveland LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving
Dallas Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons or Tyson Chandler
Denver Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari
Detroit Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Josh Smith or Brandon Jennings
Golden State Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, David Lee or Andre Iguodala (Ridiculous!)
Houston James Harden, Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza or Terrence Jones
Indiana Roy Hibbert or David West (with a healthy Paul George)
LA Clippers Chrsi Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan (sorry, Spencer)
LA Lakers Kobe, Kobe, Kobe, Jordan Hill, Carlos Boozer or Jeremy Lin
Memphis Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley
Miami Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng
Milwaukee Brandon Knight, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker (for now) or Larry Sanders
Minnesota Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, Thad Young or Kevin Martin (with Wiggins on standby)
New Orleans Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans or Omer Asik
New York Carmelo Anthony, Iman Shumpert, Amare Stoudemire
Oklahoma City Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka
Orlando Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris,
Philadelphia Um…er…eh…
Phoenix Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic or Markieff Morris
Portland LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum or Wesley Matthews
Sacramento DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Darren Collison
San Antonio Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard
Toronto DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas or Amir Johnson
Utah Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Dante Exum, Alec Burks or Enes Kanter
Washington John Wall, Kevin Fippin, Bradley Beal, Paul Pierce or Nene

Now, I’m not going to pick nits here. Arrange the players in whatever order you prefer. And feel free to add anyone that I may have overlooked. The purpose of this exercise is to count how many teams have a better third player than Darren Collison.

To my count, there are a lot more teams that exceed the Kings at the third best player slot than don't. Probably 18 teams (subjectivity rules here!), and a handful teams (Boston, Denver, Detroit, Orlando, Minnesota, Phoenix) that might be a push. I only count the LA Lakers, Milwaukee (for now), New York, Philadelphia, and Utah (for now) as being worse at the third best player position.

Again, subjectivity rules. You might have a few more teams that you would slot at or below the Kings. Fair enough.

Let's take a look at only the Western Conference:

Team Three Best Players
Dallas Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons or Tyson Chandler
Denver Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari
Golden State Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, David Lee or Andre Iguodala (Ridiculous!)
Houston James Harden, Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza or Terrence Jones
LA Clippers Chrsi Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan (sorry, Spencer)
LA Lakers Kobe, Kobe, Kobe, Jordan Hill, Carlos Boozer or Jeremy Lin
Memphis Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley
Minnesota Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, Thad Young or Kevin Martin (with Wiggins on standby)
New Orleans Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans or Omer Asik
Oklahoma City Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka
Phoenix Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic or Markieff Morris
Portland LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum or Wesley Matthews
Sacramento DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Darren Collison
San Antonio Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard
Utah Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Dante Exum, Alec Burks or Enes Kanter

Alright, let’s call Denver a push (though a healthy Gallinari or Arron Afflalo at his best would probably leave Collison in the rear view mirror). Better than the Lakers (can’t write that enough). Push with Minnesota. Push with Phoenix. Better than Utah.

That leaves the Kings around 10-13. Sound familiar? Now look at the teams that most favor for the playoffs (I went with Las Vegas odds to win the 2015 World Championship to whittle the field down to the top eight in the Western Conference) :

Team Three Best Players
Dallas Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons or Tyson Chandler
Golden State Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, David Lee or Andre Iguodala
Houston James Harden, Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza or Terrence Jones
LA Clippers Chrsi Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan (sorry, Spencer)
Memphis Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley
Oklahoma City Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka
Portland LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum or Wesley Matthews
San Antonio Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard

Contracts notwithstanding, you can see the talent gap between the third best player on these teams and the Kings third best player. It is a gap that does not exist as much when you look at each team’s best overall player (Cousins is at least in the conversation), or even their second best overall player (though Gay is definitely on the lower end).

The play of Darren Collison in this young season has been one of the better things about this Kings team. He is looking to be a tremendous value to contract, and an invaluable (if not irreplaceable) piece of the current roster. The Kings languish almost every time that he is not on the floor. But this is fool’s gold as long as Collison is the third best player on the roster. His talent and productivity will likely not be enough to get this team to the next level.

The Kings still need to improve their talent at the top of the roster. And the odds are as good as not that this will not happen earlier than this coming off season. The team is indeed making progress. Most of us would have jumped at a 5-4 start before the season began, and would have thought it impossible after the home opener. But that next big step upward will not occur until there is an infusion of top-end talent.