In case you missed the memo, Darren Collison is a really good basketball player. He has shunned the expectations of replacing a fan favorite. He has grabbed a leadership role. While many of his teammates are still waiting for Michael Malone to walk back through that door, Collison has continued to show more and more of his game.
At the point guard position in the NBA, you need a leader. Check. You need a passer. Check. And in today’s game, you need a scorer. Check, check, check.
Collison has been a breath of fresh air. He knows he has work to do to replace Isaiah Thomas, but he doesn’t care. He is going to win the fans over one game at a time. His way.
I have never met a player who connects so quickly with the media. Or a player who plays through the stress of a collapsing season with so much grace.
What I know is that regardless of how bad his team plays, Darren Collison is present. He knows that his locker, fit perfectly between Ramon Sessions’ and Omri Casspi’s, is a destination location in post game. And he fields the tough questions whether the Kings are smacking around the Oklahoma City Thunder or bombing to the Denver Nuggets, rolling over the Cleveland Cavaliers, or dropping a heartbreaker to the Mavs.
He is present. Not reluctant. Not pretentious. He is ready, because he is a leader.
On the season, Collison is averaging career-highs in points (16.6), assists (5.9), rebounds (3.9) and steals (1.7). He is undoubtedly a top 15 point guard in the league and a candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
Collison is having a career year, and he is the one King who has really moved forward from a shocking mid-December coaching change.
In 14 games under new head coach Tyrone Corbin, Collison is shooting 50.9 percent from the floor and 46.6 percent from behind the arc. The Kings are 5-9 during the stretch, but Collison is the barometer under Corbin.
“It’s pace,” coach Tyrone Corbin said. “He’s really getting the ball down the floor. We’re playing in a little bit of longer stretches. I think he’s getting comfortable with his team and his teammates are getting more comfortable with him. He’s really getting the ball down the floor to give himself a chance.”
In the team’s last five wins, Collison is averaging 21.4 points and 6.6 assists per contest, while shooting 58.2 percent from the field and 59.1 percent from downtown. As goes Collison, so goes the Sacramento Kings.
59.1 percent from behind the arc is astounding. But if you really look at how Collison is being used, it all makes sense.
Collison loves the short porch. He loves it.
46.2 percent from the right corner this season is incredible, but underutilized. The Kings have to find a way to get him more than 26 shot attempts through 35 games. Especially with DeMarcus Cousins ruling the left post. He should be the weak side option. A pedestrian waiting for the light to go green from the corner.
You could say that 26 shot attempts are a small sample size, but we can point to his 64.3 percent (18-for-28) numbers from the same corner last season with the Clippers. This is his happy zone.
“The corner three, that’s my spot,” Collison told Cowbell Kingdom. “Especially the last year, playing with Blake (Griffin) and CP (Chris Paul), I was in the corner. So I just kind of perfected that shot, because I knew that was going to be most of my shots.”
While the Kings have Cousins and Rudy Gay to open the floor for others, they don’t have Chris Paul. In fact, they don’t have a secondary ball handler in the starting lineup, and with Sessions out with a back injury, there isn’t a true point guard on the roster to find an open shooter hiding out in the corner.
But that hasn’t stopped Collison from being himself.
Corbin can only do so much. The Kings are an isolation-based team in the half court. Cousins is improving greatly as a passer, averaging a career-high 3.2 assists per game. The same goes with Gay, who is a producing an entire assist more per game (4.1) than his career-best (3.1). But the duo needs to do a better job of finding the sharp-shooting Collison from the corner.
“We want to make sure that when we initiate the play on the weakside, that we can get him spotting up at the 3-point line,” Corbin said. “He’s a very capable 3-point shooter on the secondary side. He’s shooting it well. We need to make sure as we get into our offensive sets we’re giving him good looks.”
Collison is the rock of the Sacramento Kings. He is the guy that stands in when no one wants to answer the bell. He is just now realizing his potential as a starting NBA point guard. If the Kings can figure out the most productive ways to use him and find the complementary pieces to aid in his development, the sky is the limit for this 26-year-old.
For now, we know this much – when Collison isn’t pushing the tempo, his teammates need to space the floor, and when the defense collapses on the paint, find him for the right corner three. Just like he’s ready to answer the tough question in postgame, he’s waiting for the open opportunity on the wing.