Isaiah Thomas is better than Darren Collision. You know that, I know that, every NBA writer knows that, every general manager knows that, and the Sacramento Kings know that. So why is Collison here and Thomas isn’t?
Lets get the boring stuff out of the way first. Collison signed what I would call a ‘fair’ contract considering what the market has looked like thus far. The Kings locked him up for 3 years at roughly 5.3 million dollars per year, which is a lot lower than what your average starting point guard is making around the league. Of course, if the Kings do start Darren Collison (and that seems likely) the Kings will have one of the bottom ten or so starting point guards in the NBA next season.
If I were to make a list of the things Darren Collison is better than Isaiah Thomas at, it would be a pretty short list. With that being said, they actually have a fairly similar skill set. I wouldn’t consider either player a ‘pass-first’ point guard, so get that idea out of your head right now. And despite Collison having a better reputation around the league as a defender, I’d say he’s slightly better than Isaiah Thomas at best. Both players like to score. Both players shoot a similar percentage on 2’s and 3’s. They are both durable. They can both attack the rim. I would give Thomas the edge in every one of those categories, but the gap isn’t wide. They have nearly identical per 100 possessions numbers, which is a way Darren Collison apologists (I’m assuming there aren’t many) will say they truly are identical, but the obvious difference here is that Isaiah Thomas has done it. With Darren Collison, you are hoping his production will scale with a bigger role and more playing time, but you just never know.
The one thing Darren Collison has going for him, and I truly believe this is a big reason why the Kings decided to go this route, is that he uses less possessions. As a starter last season, Darren Collison USG% was 18.8; Isaiah Thomas’s was 25.7. To be fair to Thomas, over the course of their careers as a starter, Collison’s USG% is 20.2, while Thomas’s is 23.1. It does appear, however, that Thomas’ usage percentage is trending upwards, and that’s ok. Thomas is better; he should have a higher usage percentage. Collison appears to be settling into a lower usage rate that maximizes his effectiveness, which is good for the Kings if it is actually true and not just a one-season anomaly.
I’m not criticizing Isaiah Thomas for his high usage rate. He can clearly produce at an effective level using that many possessions. That isn’t the issue here. The issue is that the Kings already have two extremely high usage players who they like more than Isaiah Thomas in Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins. Last season, the Sacramento Kings had three players in the top-35 in regards to usage percentage (of players who played more than 20 minutes per game). That is just poor roster balance. You can justify that sort of usage distribution if the team is winning. The Kings weren’t winning.
So while it’s easy to compare Isaiah Thomas to Darren Collison, and question why the Kings would choose one over the other, I really think it’s more complicated than that. If anything, the Kings chose Rudy Gay over Isaiah Thomas.
It may sound like I’m blaming the poor ball movement or bad record on Isaiah Thomas. If it comes off that way when you are reading this than I apologize. Isaiah Thomas is who is he, and that is a very good starting (yes, starting) point guard. He proved last season that he can perform in a high usage role at a high level, but that doesn’t mean he is necessarily the guy you want handling the ball on a team with DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay.
With this move, the Kings are hoping that it will open up more shots for whoever is the starting power forward is next season, and the Ben McLemore / Nik Stauskas shooting guard combination. Of course, in order for this to be considered the correct move, this teams role players are going to need to be better. They were bad last season, which makes this entire premise questionable. Were the role players bad last season because they didn’t get enough opportunities to get into the flow of the game, or did they not get enough opportunities because they were bad? I don’t know the answer to that question, and I don’t think the Kings do either, but if nothing else I can understand why the Kings would make a move like this one. I can see what they are trying to do, but whether or not this actually improves the Kings ball movement, or fixes the production distribution, remains to be seen.