About a week ago, we found out that Isaiah Thomas would be missing some time with a deep thigh injury. Upon hearing this, I prepared myself for some ugly basketball, as without Thomas, the only guards the Kings had left available were rookies Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum. McCallum had just started to see real playing time after the All-Star break after not playing much at all before then, but while he had shown some occasional flashes (like a 15 point effort against the Bucks), there were more moments where it seemed clear he wasn't ready for more responsibility.
McCallum appears dead set on proving me and many other people wrong however. The first two games of Isaiah's absence were really rough, as I had expected, but in each consecutive game he seemed to grow more confident and more capable. Take a look at his progression these last 5 games:
3/26/14 vs. New York: 10 points, 3-14 FG, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 turnovers in 42:42
3/28/14 @ Oklahoma City: 13 points, 6-16 FG, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 turnovers in 45:42
3/29/14 @ Dallas: 16 points, 7-17 FG, 4 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 turnovers in 48:00
3/31/14 @ New Orleans: 22 points, 9-19 FG, 2 rebounds, 10 assists, 1 turnover in 43:56
4/2/14 vs. Los Angeles: 27 points, 12-22 FG, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 turnovers in 46:03
It's a small sample size to be sure, and the two teams he really went off on featured Kendall Marshall and Austin Rivers as big minute players (not exactly lockdown defenders), but it's also more than the numbers. After the game last night, Coach Malone praised McCallum's recent play.
"The biggest thing that impresses me isn't his scoring, it's not his assists," Malone said. "It's his demeanor, it's his composure, it's his poise that he shows that he shows. For him to be a young kid, a rookie, that hasn't played a lot this year, to exhibit all those attributes at such an early age, I think is remarkable. And obviously that bodes very well for his career."
Ray spent a lot of this year both on the bench and on multiple trips to Reno for development in the D-League. He's seen teammates come and go on an almost monthly basis. This has not been an easy year for him, so for him to be able to come out and step up his game when the team needs him to has been a welcome sight, and not one that's expected from a rookie.
In McCallum, the Kings have yet another young player who has shown he deserves to be in this league and that he can be a good player, given the opportunity. He's certainly making the most of the opportunity he's being given now, and I look forward to see how he ends the season, as the final 7 games all come against tough Western Conference opponents, starting Friday against Golden State and Stephen Curry.
There's still a long way to go for Ray McCallum, but over these past weeks, he's started to write himself into this franchise's future plans rather than become an afterthought.