As gramps used to say, slow and steady wins the race. It’s a concept Ray McCallum abides by, even as Sacramento Kings fans may have unfairly heightened expectations on the second-year point guard.
McCallum was drafted 36th overall in 2013 out of Detroit Mercy as a junior. The Kings were enamored with the potential he showed to be a complete floor general on offense and a perimeter stopper on the defensive end, signing the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder to a three-year contract.
But entering training camp last year, McCallum was an inconsistent shooter and decision-maker. He found himself buried on the depth chart behind Greivis Vasquez, Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette. Two reassignments to the Reno Bighorns over the course of the season gave the impression that he wasn’t ready for the NBA.
Soon enough McCallum caught his break. After Vasquez was traded to the Toronto Raptors on December 9 and Fredette was waived February 27, Thomas and McCallum were the only point guards left on the roster. The veteran went down with an deep thigh bruise in mid-March, forcing the rookie to start 10 of the last 12 games of the season. He responded by averaging 13.5 points on 37.9 percent shooting, 6.8 assists, 3.1 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.9 turnovers in 42.2 minutes a contest.
Followed with a stellar Summer League showing which landed him MVP of the tournament, observers assumed he would play a more crucial role and possibly start with Thomas out of the picture. But the Kings signed Darren Collison early in free agency and added Ramon Sessions a week before training camp began. Rather than be discouraged, McCallum decided to make the most of his free courtside view.
“When I’m sitting there (on the bench), I’m constantly watching the game and just learning,” McCallum told Cowbell Kindgom on Monday. “Learning from my teammates, and from the players on the other team. Just seeing what I can and can’t do when I’m out there, seeing the mistakes that anyone makes, and seeing all the things that guys on the court do right. I think that’s (going to) strengthen my game.”
This season, McCallum is logging just 8.5 minutes a night as head coach Michael Malone subs him in as defensive specialist. In 12 appearances, the 23-year-old is holding opposing 3-point shooters to 18.2 percent from behind the arc, more than justifying his playing time.
In his limited action, McCallum is also getting shots, and he’s marked a significant improvement in field goal shooting to 42.9 percent, up from 37.7 percent a year ago. A skilled driver, McCallum’s jumper still needs work, as he’s hitting 23.1 percent of his 3-pointers which account for 46.4 percent of his total attempts, but he says that’s one of his main focuses of improvement this season.
McCallum credits the whole Kings organization for helping him along, but highlighted one coach and former NBA player in particular who’s been in his corner since puberty.
“I have a pretty strong relationship with (Kings assistant) coach Dee Brown,” McCallum said. “I’ve known him since middle school. Going to all the Nike camps and AAU camps and all the Nike stuff in the summer time. Someone I’ve always worked out with a lot, and when I was living in Detroit, he was with the Pistons. So we do have a strong relationship. We’ve known each other for a long time. That’s my player development coach, and we work out every day.”
Of course, the basketball coach that’s mentored McCallum since day one, his dad, Ray McCallum Sr., also remains supportive of his son every day over the phone.
“(He tells me) just keep working,” McCallum spoke of his dad who coached him at Detroit Mercy. “There’s a lot of things in this league you can’t control, but the one thing you can always control is the work you put in and how hard you work. So that’s what he’s always stressing to me, just continue to go in there every day, don’t take any days off of work, and just keep getting better.”
Between 102 regular season minutes (lowest on the Kings to Eric Moreland’s two minutes) and 10 DNP’s this season, McCallum and the bench have become acquainted. But you don’t see the NBA sophomore goofing off or chatting with fans on the sideline, because his attention is on the sequence at hand. McCallum understands there is much to pull from live action, in addition to film study.
As one observer told Cowbell Kingdom, McCallum wasn’t prepared to play last season, but circumstance pulled him into action. He’s ready to contribute this year, but he’s waiting for the opportunity.
McCallum has all the physical tools and the smarts to be a successful starting point guard in the NBA. He’s putting in the work behind the scenes to ensure there’s no regrets when his professional career is all said and done.