Sacramento Kings position battles at Vegas Summer League
The Sacramento Kings are approaching the 2014 Las Vegas Summer League a little differently this season. Instead of bringing two or three prospects and a team of NBA D-Leaguers to the tournament, Sacramento is shooting for the moon.
Not a single one of the 15 players the Kings brought to summer league last July had played in an NBA game. This summer, seven players who have already made it to the show will flank rookie first-round pick Nik Stauskas.
It’s a different approach to player development than we have seen in the past. Coach Malone and his staff are using every available moment to work with the team’s young players, including third-year veteran and former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams and last season’s rookies Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum.
Summer league usually has very little impact on what happens next, but this years feels different. In a strange twist, we are seeing position battles developing, even this early in the preseason. Some are conventional battles and others are more roster-based, but there is certainly intrigue none the less.
McCallum did an excellent job in limited action for the Kings and is expected to play an even larger role this season in Sacramento. In his 10 games as a spot starter for the injured Isaiah Thomas, McCallum averaged 13.8 points and 7.3 assists per game for coach Malone. The 23-year-old guard may be the point guard of the future for the Kings. He has good size and an above-average basketball IQ, and he has the makings of a strong defender.
McCallum will share time with Jared Cunningham, another 23-year-old guard with plenty to prove. After being drafted with the 24th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Cunningham was traded from the Dallas Mavericks to the Atlanta Hawks and eventually waived before signing a pair of 10-day contracts with the Kings last season. He has played sparingly in a total of 21 games through two seasons in the league, averaging just 2.0 points in 5.0 minutes per contest.
At 6-foot-4, Cunningham can play both guard positions, but has really struggled to get an opportunity at the pro level. McCallum is clearly ahead of Cunningham on the depth chart, but the former Oregon State star is fighting for an invite to training camp to further prove his worth and possibly enter the conversation for the team’s fifth guard spot. Both players have been working out in Sacramento over the last few weeks and will look to prove they have what it takes to make the Kings rotation this season.
When it was Sacramento’s turn to pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, it silenced the crowd with the selection of Stauskas. The 6-foot-6 sharpshooter out of Michigan is NBA ready, but he also plays the same position that last season’s first-round pick, Ben McLemore, plays.
This will be the first of many battles between these two young players. McLemore has a major edge in athleticism and speed, but he was extremely raw on both ends of the court during his rookie season. In 82 games during the 2013-14 season, McLemore averaged 8.8 points, but shot just 37.6 percent from the field and 32 percent from 3-point range.
Similar to McCallum, Stauskas is a high-basketball IQ player. But there are question marks about his ability to play defense at the NBA level. The Kings love his passing and his ability to create for himself and others and he has the ability to come in immediately and open up the offense with his shooting.
You would think that McLemore would get first dibs on the position this season, but early word around Sacramento is that the position is Stauskas’ to lose. We will likely see these two play together some in Vegas and then fight it out in training camp for the starting job, barring a late-summer trade.
When Sacramento dealt for Derrick Williams in November, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the young forward. But once the Kings added Rudy Gay to the roster, Williams wilted away. At 23 years old, Williams has plenty of time to develop, but there is a major concern about his commitment to the game. In Sacramento’s final 24 games, Williams scored in double-figures just three times and grabbed double-digit rebounds twice.
Top picks don’t usually play in Las Vegas in their fourth season in the league, but Williams is playing for a new contract and maybe more. If Williams comes out strong in Vegas, he may enter the conversation for the starting power forward spot.
Quincy Acy is another player looking to keep his NBA dreams alive. The 23-year-old forward is working on a non-guaranteed deal that would become fully guaranteed late in July. Acy became a fan favorite for his ferocious dunks and huge beard, but he lost minutes to veteran Reggie Evans down the stretch and faces even longer odds when Carl Landry returns to form.
Las Vegas won’t make or break Williams’ spot on the Kings, but Acy is another story. It’s not fair, but Acy could outplay Williams at every step and still find himself out of a job later this month. That is the reality of the NBA game.
Sim Bhullar is huge. I mean, really, really big. It’s a long shot, but don’t count out the 7-foot-5, 360-pound Canadian of Indian origin. With Aaron Gray signing with the Detroit Pistons, the Kings could use a big body like they had early last season with Hamady N’Diaye. Sacramento could stash the former New Mexico State big in Reno and hope that with some work on his body, he can translate his 3.3 blocks in 26 minutes per game last season in college to the NBA level.