What does Darren Collison bring to the Sacramento Kings?
The Sacramento Kings’ signing of point guard Darren Collison didn’t rock the NBA landscape yesterday. However, it did send shockwaves throughout the capital city. So far, the response has been mixed for fans, who would at least like to wait and see what the Kings do next in regards to Isaiah Thomas.
CK: Two part question: first, how surprised are you that Collison is bolting the Clippers? Second, are you shocked that of all places, he decided on Sacramento?
AH: I’ll answer the second part first. It was very surprising that Collison landed in Sacramento. Mostly because when going through the list of teams that needed a starting point guard, I had crossed the Kings off the list because of Isaiah Thomas. I know the organization has been lukewarm about handing the keys to the team over to Thomas, but with a new owner and the front office shipping away Greivis Vasquez and passing on Elfrid Payton in the draft, I thought Thomas’s incumbency gave him the advantage.
Apparently not. Collison was a solid role player for the Clippers last season. But it was always clear that the team would be a comfortable spot for him to rehab perceptions and be able to contribute to a contender. With Chris Paul missing a sizable portion of the season, Collison got that opportunity.
CK: Reports are that Collison has received a three-year deal at an estimated $15-16 million, fully guaranteed. Did the Kings overpay or is that a fair price for the 26-year-old guard?
AH: Here’s a bit of contradiction for you: $5 million/year is fair price for Collison and his expected output based on last season, but it’s too much if he can’t be a clear cut starting point guard.
Collison was a supreme luxury for the Clippers last season; a guard that could run the offense, get his own shot and fill in when Paul went down. In that capacity, DC is one of the better backup point guards in the league. How does that translate over to being a starter? Point guard is decidedly the deepest position in the league these days. And if Collison becomes a bottom-third starting point guard, well then what’s the difference between that and the 35th best starting point guard?
It’s a strange position in the league. You’d ideally like a top-15 lead guard (someone that makes $8-plus million/year) or, because of the depth of field, can afford to use someone that costs much less for value.
CK: There is speculation about whether Collison has signed with the Kings as a backup or starting point guard. He started 35 games for the Clippers last season. In your mind, is he starting point guard or is he at his best as a backup?
AH: Well, I sort of jumped the gun in the previous response, didn’t I? Collison is perfectly capable of being a starting point guard. He’s not an “any system” type of guard though, as evidenced by his time in Indiana and Dallas. If Malone will run a pick-and-roll heavy set, that’s where Collison excels. He’s also a sturdy spot-up catch-and-shooter, if he’s sharing ball-handling duties.
But DC has a tendency to develop tunnel vision when he sees a sliver of daylight. So if the Kings don’t want him making the call off a screen, he’s going to struggle. And then it’s better to bring him off the bench, when reserve units have more of a tendency to improvise. And if he’s coming off the bench, then the price tag becomes far too great for a backup point guard.
CK: It’s no secret the Kings would like to improve their ball movement next year. The Kings finished last in assists this past season, averaging roughly 18 per game. Can Kings fans expect Collison to help them in that department?
AH: Not really. Collison averaged about 1.26 shots per every assist opportunity (league average for qualified point guards was about 1.02 shots per assist). So DC tends to be a shoot-first guard. Now this is partly due to his function on the Clippers last season, but as I said before, court vision and passing players into open space tends not to be his strong suit.
CK: Defense remains another area of weakness the Kings need to address. Guard penetration as well as 3-point D are two points of emphasis for head coach Michael Malone. Does Collison make them better at all defensively?
AH: Nope. Because Collison is relatively diminutive in height and girth, he has a tendency to be bullied in the halfcourt and struggles to get through screens, a staple in the more pick-and-roll heavy league. Collison is defensively at his best when he can harry a ball-handler in the backcourt and slow down the ability for an opposing team to initiate their offense, kind of like what Patrick Beverley does for Houston.
Don’t let me confuse you though, Collison is not nearly as good as Beverley in on-ball harassment. He’s also a reasonable off-ball zone defender, with decent anticipation for casual passes to pick off for quick transition buckets. If you put Collison into a reliable defensive system, he’ll likely be serviceable but not a player you’re asking to lock anyone down.