May 11, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, center Ryan Hollins (15) look on as forward Matt Barnes (22) hugs guard Darren Collison (2) after defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder 101-99 in four of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

What do the Kings see in Darren Collison?

You’ve probably heard the news by now. Darren Collison is a Sacramento King, and in all likelihood Isaiah Thomas will be playing in a different city next season.

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.

Tags: Darren Collison Isaiah Thomas Sacramento Kings

  • Steven

    Collison is more of a winner! He doesn’t need the ball to score or to make his teammates better! Isaiah doesn’t make his team better! Maybe that will change once he gets paid! But right now McCallum and Collison are better than Isaiah

    • John hooks

      Please don’t ever say that collison and ray is better than isaiah.stats speak for themselves.Isaiah is way better than ray and collisn.its just they way isaiah play doesn’t mesh well with the kings style dumbass.Know your shit before you open your ass lip to

    • Gavin Varitech

      I couldn’t agree more. But it all depends on what your definition of “better” is.

      Isaiah is a better scorer… But Collison shoots higher percentages from everywhere on the court, he just doesn’t dominate the ball or take NEARLY as many attempts. What is to say if Collison played as many minutes as Isaiah did and took as many shots as he did last year that he wouldn’t have similar, if not better stats as a scorer? If we go by averages he would score even more than IT. Of course with more shots his efficiency and shooting percentage should go down a little. So maybe they would be the same. But the facts don’t say Isaiah is better at being a scorer, which is BY FAR Isaiah’s #1 skillset.

      Isaiah is a better passer… He has more assists, right? They have similar assist per minute numbers but again, IT has the ball in his hands more. There is something to be said for Isaiah passing less and taking more shots because he didn’t have faith in his teammates converting once he got them the ball, but I am not in the camp that buys into that. And Collison’s assist/turnover ratio is far better. IT at 2/1 is pretty weak in this regard (that ratio is great for a wing player but not a point guard).

      People try and say Collison is not a better defender. He is. Plain and simple. Collison is NOT 1st Team All Defense by any stretch but he is better at getting in passing lanes (IT is pretty good at this from time to time himself) and just playing all around team defense.

      Looking at just turnovers and steals Collison is worth a minimum of one and a half extra possessions per game (assuming he plays the same number of minutes per game IT did last year). In a game where games are often won and lost by 1-4 points this could be a huge difference in wins alone. Those possessions alone could have been the difference in 11 games last year.