When training camp opens in just under a few weeks for the Sacramento Kings, the majority of what can be considered a fairly straightforward summer will result in coach Mike Malone attempting to prepare his troops for regular season battle. NBA training camps are useful for clarifying issues and identifying them. The Kings front office haven’t come close to clarifying their vision for the future, but they’ve made the agenda crystal clear in the interim.
This summer the Kings let undersized point guard Isaiah Thomas walk, replaced him with Darren Collison and in a miraculous turn of events even convinced Rudy Gay to opt into the last year of a deal that will pay him over $19 million. Even if you thought that was unbelievable, there’s nothing facetious about the fact that the Kings have one lingering issue. Before the team can start the regular season, they’ll have to figure out what to do with their young and very talented shooting guards Nik Stauskas and Ben McLemore. Specifically, who to place in the starting lineup.
It’s not really a “problem” per se, and the NBA gods know the Kings have had their share of more pertinent issues. However, as they’ve have transitioned from fledgling Pacific Division cellar dwellers to a team that’s capable of league raucous, the next step is continuity on all levels. Finding balance, especially within the Kings’ roster and minutes to be played at each position, is crucial to capitalize on one of the best summers in recent memory.
The first obstacle in what the Kings hope will be a smooth and productive season all starts with their fortune at the shooting guard position. It ends with the upcoming position battle between Nik Stauskas and Ben McLemore. Although the Kings have been consistent in their support for McLemore claiming that Stauskas was not drafted to replace him, the averse skills between both players forces a debate incapable of being ignored. It’s too blatant and imperative for the success of the club.
It’s equally important for the Kings to find stability and well defined roles. With DeMarcus Cousins and Gay coming into training camp after performing for Team USA, focus and ambition are certain to be at an all time high.
Last season, McLemore averaged 8.8 points and 2.9 rebounds in 26.7 minutes of action per game. He struggled for most of the year, shooting only 32 percent from three. With Cousins and Gay primed to command greater roles as primary scoring machines in the offense, the Kings’ starting unit will need a consistent outside threat — the exact reason why they drafted Stauskas.
The Kings will also need a better catch-and-shoot player to bail out newly acquired point guard Darren Collison who tends to push the tempo into a brick wall. Last, they’ll need the type of player who’s able to keep the double team away from Cousins and Gay with his threat to shoot.
Examing which would be the better player in a starting role is tough for Malone or anyone else debating the topic. McLemore is still raw in a few areas where Stauskas is pretty solid, and on the other hand Stauskas hasn’t been battle tested. NBA Summer League is never an adequate measuring stick.
Stauskas’ impressive Summer League campaign might’ve been the catalyst for conversation, or perhaps the viral video of Stauskas draining 15 consecutive three bombs in just under three minutes was his official invitation to the looming training camp battle versus McLemore. What it will boil down to is which player poses the best threat on the floor, and who’s going to force the opposition to plan for him. Neither Stauskas or McLemore will serve as volume scorers in Sacramento’s offense and although you’d expect NBA experience to trump an unproven rookie, it seems this position battle will start out completely even.
Both guards have been working out hard this summer. McLemore improving his handle and shot under pressure, while Stauskas hopes the hard training will result in easier acclimation into the NBA. A great sign for the Kings: the passion to improve is present for both youngsters. As it relates to the starting shooting guard position, may the best man win — or at least, the better fit for Malone’s plans.