Ray McCallum shining in starter’s shoes again

Ray McCallum shining in starter’s shoes again

Cowbell Kingdom

Ray McCallum shining in starter’s shoes again

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For the second time in as many seasons, Ray McCallum is slated to finish the schedule as the Sacramento Kings’ starting point guard. While the 23-year-old isn’t superstitious, he’s warming up to the idea of déjà vu.

“It’s crazy, right?” McCallum told Cowbell Kingdom before the Kings began their road trip. “That just shows you how the league is. Just got to be patient and always be ready because you never know when your chance might be, just like last year towards the end.”

In his rookie season, the 37th pick of the 2013 draft started 10 of the last 12 games in place of a hobbled Isaiah Thomas, averaging 13.5 points, 6.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.9 turnovers in 42.2 minutes per game. This year with Darren Collison out (core muscle injury), McCallum reentered the starting five on February 20 and has produced 11.4 points, 3.8 assists, one steal and 1.8 turnovers in 27.7 minutes a contest.

The path to starter for McCallum has been anything but a cakewalk. As an NBA freshman, the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder began the year fourth on the depth chart and was assigned twice to the D-League Reno Bighorns. As a sophomore, despite his strong finish to year one and a monster summer league performance, McCallum sat on the bench once again in favor of Collison and ill-fitting veteran Ramon Sessions.

When Collison went down for the season on February 5, McCallum had already accrued 14 DNP’s, and interim head coach Tyrone Corbin continued to play the struggling Sessions. It wasn’t until Sessions was traded for backup point Andre Miller on February 19 when the youngster finally regained the reins.

“He don’t make a lot of mistakes,” Miller told a small group of reporters.  “He’s polished, he’s athletic and he’s taken advantage of the opportunity.”

Since his last stint as a starter, McCallum has vastly improved his weaknesses as a shooter, and has learned to create better looks for himself. The University of Detroit Mercy alum shot 37.7 percent from the floor his rookie year and 41 percent through the first three months of this season, but he’s been making 46.3 percent of his field goals in his last eight games.

McCallum is driving more to the rim, taking 57.6 percent of his attempts within five foot of the hoop after doing so 52.2 percent of the time as a rookie. The hard worker is still finding the touch on his 3-pointer, hitting only 26.7 percent since the All-Star break, but it’s clear that he’s firing away with more confidence.

Defense on the other hand, which is McCallum’s calling card, has been up-and-down since becoming a starter. Since stifling Chris Paul on February 21, the active, physical perimeter stopper has allowed monster offensive performances to Damian Lillard and Tony Parker. McCallum’s inconsistencies could be a sign of fatigue, but he claims it’s simply a matter of getting comfortable with teammates’ tendancies.

“I think it’s just all about all of us just getting on the same page and getting a rhythm,” McCallum told the media last week. “You know, I haven’t really played all that much with everyone this year, and now I’m getting the opportunity to get a lot more, an increase of minutes with them. So I think they all know my game. But the more we’re on the court, our chemistry will just continue to get better each and every game, and it’s starting to move in that direction.”

In the meantime, Collison and Miller have gone out of their way to help guide McCallum, which the second-year pro acknowledges.

“We just kind of dialogue off each other,” Miller said.  “If he sees something that he doesn’t understand, he’ll either ask me or ask one of the coaches.  Just a little dialogue talking basic basketball.”

McCallum appreciates the tutelage.  He understands that for him to make it in the league, he has to have more than just physical tools.  He needs the knowledge that comes with years of experience.

“Every game, (Collison) he’s out there helping me,” McCallum noted. “Standing in my ear, (telling me) things that he sees at half time and throughout the course of the game. Having guys like Darren and Andre just makes my job easier.”

With support of his coaches and teammates, and belief in himself, McCallum resembles more and more a bonafide NBA contributor with each passing day. When Collison returns, the Kings may face another minutes dilemma, but there’s no question the young ball hander can help his team, or 29 others.

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