One of the biggest additions the Kings made this summer wasn't a trade or signing at all, and yet nobody seems to be talking about it. I'm talking of course about the return of Darren Collison, who missed the entire second half of last season due to an abdominal tear. Collison's injury came just before the Kings hired George Karl and as a result, Karl never got to utilize Collison.
Before his injury, Collison was one of the few bright spots for the Kings. The initial news of his signing was overshadowed by the fact that the Kings let a fan favorite player in Isaiah Thomas go for pretty much nothing (yeah, it still bugs me). It didn't take long for Collison to endear himself to Kings fans with his solid and consistent play, with fans lamenting the drop-off in production whenever the Kings had to go to the bench. Those 45 games as Sacramento's starting Point Guard were Collison's best in the NBA, averaging a career-high 16.1 points, 5.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals.
Now Collison finds himself as a bit of an afterthought once more. While nothing has been said of who is starting and who isn't, it seems obvious that the Kings are going to try to give Rajon Rondo the first crack at running this team's starting lineup. Why else go after a high-profile Point Guard? That decision, if it comes, will relegate Collison the bench, a role he has played a few times in his career.
It should be noted that at this point in their careers, Collison might very well be the better player. He's most definitely the better scorer, shooter and even defender, while Rondo is the better playmaker and rebounder. But Collison's ability to create scoring opportunities for himself also makes him the more logical bench option, especially if Rondo is able to return to form even a little bit.
In Los Angeles, Collison served as Chris Paul's backup and put up very similar numbers to the ones he put up in Sacramento. Per 36 minutes, his averages across the board were relatively equal in both years, with a slight increase in scoring output and efficiency for the Kings.
Even coming off the bench, Collison is still one of Sacramento's best players. He also has the added benefit of having some existing chemistry with the players on the team from last year, and shouldn't miss a beat if he plays big minutes with other starters. Perhaps the best part of being able to bring Collison off the bench for the Kings will be the luxury of knowing you have someone who can give you consistent production. Last year, the Kings saw the team fall in disarray whenever the backups would come in. According to basketball-reference, the Kings were about 4.3 points per 100 possession better on offense with Collison in the game and 4.1 points per 100 possessions better on defense. That's a more than 8 point swing, which is huge!
I fully expect that we'll see lineups in which Collison and Rondo are on the floor at the same time, if only for the simple reason that you want your best players on the floor a lot. He's also proven very capable of playing with another Point Guard, as the most used lineup for him in Los Angeles saw him next to Chris Paul for 326 minutes of game time. That's almost double the amount of time the next highest lineup he was in saw. One potential lineup we could see George Karl use a lot could feature Rondo and Collison in the backcourt with Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins up front.
This team has a lot of question marks, but Darren Collison doesn't really seem to be one of them. Wherever he plays, be it off the bench or in the starting lineup, he's a good bet to give you solid production and good effort across the board on both sides of the court.