Isaiah Thomas is a better point guard than Darren Collison.
This isn't exactly a controversial statement in Sacramento, or around the league. So why would the Sacramento Kings decide to send Isaiah Thomas to the Phoenix Suns in a sign-and-trade and replace Isaiah with Collison? Now, keep in mind that this isn't a direct one-to-one replacement. In addition to Collison, the Kings signed Ramon Sessions and still have Ray McCallum. We don't really know how the minutes will be split, and we don't know if Collison, the presumed opening day starter, will be the starter for the whole season. We've discussed those questions ad nauseum this offseason. So please understand that I feel Isaiah Thomas is a superior point guard. I think the Kings should have kept him. And with those two views clearly stated, let me tell you why the Kings can be better with Darren Collison.
Building a successful team in the NBA is much more difficult than building a successful team in NBA2k. Isaiah Thomas has a higher overall rating, and is way more fun to have on your team, but that doesn't mean he was the best option for the Sacramento Kings. Chemistry is nearly impossible to evaluate on paper. When a team comes together, you can see it. It shows up in the stats, but the improved stats are a byproduct. And while I can't tell you why, it didn't seem like losing Isaiah Thomas this offseason was detrimental to team chemistry.
We heard reports throughout the summer than Isaiah hadn't heard from any of his Kings teammates during his free agency. I'm not a smart man, but that doesn't scream to me that Isaiah was the glue holding the team together. Will Collison become the unifying force that excels the Kings to new heights? Maybe, maybe not, but he's going to give it his best.
As Collison told Sactown Royalty's Blake Ellington:
"I just wanted to welcome myself, introduce myself into the family. You just can't come in and start the leadership stuff, that is part of the being a point guard, but you've got to introduce yourself and try to get to know your teammates one by one and try to go from there," Collison told Sactown Royalty. "I understand what it takes to be a leader."
And Steve Perrin of Clips Nation added that Collison was well-liked in the Clippers locker room. Does team chemistry translate to wins? Or do wins translate to team chemistry? I don't know the answer, but it takes a level of talent beyond what's on the Kings roster in order to succeed without chemistry.
Collison also gives the Kings new options for line-ups. Collison is primarily a point guard, but has shown the ability to slide to the shooting guard position. As the Kings tout their desire for "positionless" players, Collison's versatility will allow new line-up combinations. The aforementioned Ramon Sessions can be used similarly. Ray McCallum has the size to play some shooting guard, although he doesn't have the proven track record of his cohorts. This versatility could prove important if Ben McLemore doesn't demonstrate improvement from his rookie season. The Kings also drafted Nik Stauskas to play shooting guard, but McLemore serves as a fresh warning against relying on immediate contributions from rookies.
The final benefit the Kings expect from Collison is an increased pace. Much has been written on this notion already, as the Kings played at their fastest pace when Isaiah was on the floor and the Clippers' pace slowed when Collison was in. But much has also been written about how quickly each players gets the ball out of their hands. Collison is expected to initiate the offense quicker. He's not the scoring option Isaiah Thomas was, but it's fair to question how sustainable last season's model was. The Kings had DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, and Isaiah all average over 20 points per game. Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs won the NBA Finals with exactly zero players averaging over 20 points per game for the year. Even if we factor in San Antonio's famous minutes management, only Tony Parker averaged over 20 points per 36 minutes. Obviously you can have a successful team with one or more players averaging over 20 PPG, but there's probably a reason the Kings were an anomaly having three.
The Kings are building around DeMarcus Cousins with Rudy Gay as the secondary option. Darren Collison may fit into that team concept better, even if he isn't the better player. To help the Sacramento Kings improve, Collison doesn't have to be a better player than Isaiah Thomas. He just needs to be a better fit.