The Point Guard position was the focus of the offseason for the Sacramento Kings, who added Ramon Sessions on Saturday to contend with Darren Collison and Ray McCallum for playing time. After the July sign-and-trade shipped Isaiah Thomas out of town, the position is arguably the biggest storyline going into the season; the production out of the point will strongly define whether the 2014 offseason is considered a success or a failure.
Ball movement was the catch phrase of the summer, and the teams' desire to improve it is one of the reasons the Kings reshuffled the position. The starting job will likely stick with whomever Coach Mike Malone thinks is doing a better job of running the teams' offense and keeping the ball moving. While Collison is the favorite to begin the year as the starter, will he still be by the end of the season?
Indeed, Collison not getting the starting nod on October 29th would be a surprise considering the teams' aggressive move to sign him; he agreed to his three year deal on the second day of free agency, and the organization has raved about his ability to pick up the offensive pace. Collison has said and done all the right things during the offseason, and has spoken about his desire to a leader - check out Blake Ellington's great interview with Collison earlier in the month.
While the specter of Thomas will haunt regardless of who starts, it will haunt Collison more since he appeared the teams' immediate replacement when Thomas was shipped out. He's put up respectable numbers over the past two years, averaging 12 points, 5.1 assists and 47.1% shooting in 2012-13 for Dallas, and 11.4 points, 3.7 assists and 46.7% shooting as a reserve last year for the Los Angeles Clippers. This also may be his last shot to prove himself an NBA level starter - he's playing on his fifth team in six years, and has been replaced as a starter twice in both Indiana (George Hill) and in Dallas (old man Derek Fisher).
Collison hopes to be the pass-first and defensive friendly point guard the team craves, but the numbers don't fully back that idea up. Collison's career assist rate is an average 27.6% and he finished at 21.9% last year, the lowest of his career. While it's a tad unfair to point out that the Clippers were worse defensively when Collison was on the floor (he was filling in for Chris Paul, after all), in 2012-13 Dallas held opponents to a lower collective field goal percentage AND had a better assist percentage when Collison was on the bench. There's reasons for optimism about Collison, but he has a lot to prove and his starting role shouldn't be a lock.
While Sessions is primarily considered a back-up, he's put up better numbers as a starter than Collison. Throughout his seven year career, he averages 14.7 points and 7.1 assists on 44.4% shooting (Collison averages 13.6 points and 5.8 assists on 46.5% shooting as a starter). Session's biggest weakness is his inconsistency from deep, where he's fluctuated from year to year. In 2011-12 he shot 44% from three, but in the last two years those numbers fell to 30.8% and 28.2%, respectively.
Defensively, he's had average success; in his time with the Bobcats last year, teams averaged two points more when Sessions was on the court. Still, his two point shooting (45.3% for his career), assist rate (30.6%) and PER (16.7) are all solid numbers. If Collison struggles, the Kings might opt for Sessions' veteran experience over the younger alternatives.
Finally, there's McCallum – Ray filled in admirably for Thomas in late March, but he's still a young player who might not be ready for big minutes on a winning team. As Akis argued on Saturday, the added depth at the position may allow the Kings to develop McCallum more slowly than fans originally thought they could.
The numbers don't support the idea that McCallum was more of a pass-first point guard than Thomas was. McCallum topped Thomas' yearly assist rate average of 32.2% just twice in his ten starts, and he also averaged more shots as a starter (15.6) than Thomas (15.2). Certainly the small sample size can't be overemphasized, especially given that McCallum was a rookie, but his shooting struggles (37.7% on the year, 36.5% as a starter) should also keep immediate expectations in check until he provides some consistency.
There is good reason for long-term optimism on McCallum; he was the best player on the Kings summer league championship roster, played with excellent confidence, and busted out with a 29 point outing in the title game. While his collective average of 12 points and four assists isn't amazing, his shooting was an excellent 50% from the field and 38.5% from three. He may start the year as the 3rd stringer, but if he continues to show consistent all-around improvement, he may be a dark-horse to end the season as the starter.
Originally when I suggested this as a 30Q, the team only had McCallum and Collison, a battle between the team's biggest free agent addition verses a sophomore who showed solid potential. The addition of Sessions has made an already interesting competition even more so. While Sessions may not have the potential of McCallum or even Collison, I'd argue he has the highest floor. If Collison doesn't lock up the starting role, and if McCallum isn't ready to start on a team eager for numerous wins, it wouldn't be a huge shock to find Sessions leading the team by the end of the year.
My nostradumbass predictions (still waiting on Akis to confirm this isn't trademarked): Collison begins as the starter, and baring a major injury, ends the year as the starter. However it plays out, the production out of the position will make a huge impact on how the organization looks at this summer's decisions, and how they progress going forward.