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Spotlighting and Breaking Down Sacramento Kings' Point Guard Position

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Spotlighting and Breaking Down Sacramento Kings' Point Guard Position
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Here are two of the team's main point guard options squaring off, Greivis Vasquez and Isaiah Thomas.

The Sacramento Kings roster is one of varying depth. Some positions are incredibly deep, while others are lacking even one solid option. The team's point guard spot is one with seemingly boundless options, as at least four players will see time at the 1.

While finding a solution to this logjam is a potential problem, it's certainly a good problem for the Kings to have. 

Newcomer Greivis Vasquez, incumbent Isaiah Thomas and rookie Ray McCallum figure to get most of the run as the team's floor general. Third-year guard Jimmer Fredette is also expected to log some minutes at the point. 

Of the numerous options, who figures to get most of the playing time? How will each of their strengths and weaknesses affect their standing on the team? What can be expected from the Kings' point guards in 2013-14? Those are all questions worth examining, and they're ones that'll be answered during this spotlight of the Kings' point guard position. 

In order to do that, let's break down each individual option. We'll highlight a bit about their backgrounds, their strengths, weaknesses, realistic expectations and their projected stat line for the upcoming season.

 

Greivis Vasquez

Background

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

Vasquez comes to the the Kings via trade. When Sacramento decided it didn't want to match Tyreke Evans' offer sheet with the New Orleans Pelicans, the two teams (three teams, actually, as the Trail Blazers got in on the action) worked out a sign-and-trade, most notably swapping Evans for Vasquez.

The 26-year-old is entering his fourth season in the NBA. After being drafted 28th overall in the 2010 draft, Vasquez has made strides every year. The 2012-13 campaign was the point guard's best by far, as he set career highs in scoring, assists, rebounding, minutes, field-goal percentage and three-point percentage. 

The Kings are hoping the Venezuelan's upward trend continues, and the point guard is the most likely candidate to be the team's starting floor general. 

 

Strengths

Vasquez's main strength is his ability to facilitate the offense. He led the NBA in total assists last season (704), finished third in assists per game (9.0) and second in assist percentage (44.9). He'll be expected to produce similar results in his first season in Sacramento.

Beyond his passing abilities, Vasquez also brings other things to the table on the offensive end. While he'll never be mistaken for a scoring champ, the point guard did average 13.9 points on 43.3 percent shooting from the field and 34.2 percent from three-point range. So although he brings a pass-first mentality to the table, he's more than willing to put the ball in the hoop when the opportunity arises. 

Furthermore, his 6'6" frame provides length and an alternative to the team's most recent options, Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette, who are much smaller in stature. That size allows the team to exploit matchups and provides flexibility in the lineup, with Vasquez having the size to play multiple positions on defense. 

 

Weaknesses

Unfortunately, Vasquez's biggest weakness is also the Kings' biggest weakness: defense. While he's an above-average point guard on offense, he's yet to be mistaken for one on the defensive end. 

His aforementioned size could seemingly provide matchup problems for smaller point guards. And despite his length, Vasquez moves pretty well. Yet those tools haven't turned into on-court results for the fourth-year pro. 

Over his career, he's allowed an average of 110 points per 100 possessions. And according to 82games.com, Vasquez allowed opposing point guards to post a player efficiency rating of 16.0. With a PER of 15 being league average, the 26-year-old is a below-average defender.

It'd be one thing if Vasquez made up for allowing points by creating turnovers. But with a career average of one steal per 36 minutes, that's not the case. 

Yet, even though Vasquez struggles on defense, he might actually be the team's best defender at the position. So while it's an overall weakness of his, as strange as it sounds, his defensive abilities may be a strength for the Kings. 

 

Realistic Expectations

Vasquez should be the team's starting point guard to open the season. His distributing abilities and pass-first mentality are upgrades over any of the team's other options at the position. Vasquez will be able to facilitate the offense and keep DeMarcus Cousins happy. 

With so many other viable options at the position, Vasquez may have to mix and match, depending on who he's paired with. Yet he figures to be the point guard on offense whenever he's on the floor, as rookie Ray McCallum is the only other option that resembles a "pure point guard." 

 

Stats Projection

35.0 minutes, 13.0 points, 9.5 assists, 4.4 rebounds, .440 FG%, .352 3P%

 

Isaiah Thomas

Background

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas is entering his third NBA season and his third season with the Kings. The point guard was taken with the last pick in the 2011 draft. 

Originally thought of as a long shot to contribute much, Thomas has done nothing but prove people wrong since entering the league. He started his rookie year coming off the bench and had ascended to the starting lineup by season's end. His sophomore campaign had a similar arch, with him coming off the bench and rising to the starting lineup midway through.

While Thomas isn't known as an excellent passer, he has proved to be a very capable scorer. At the very least, he's worthy of a role as a sparkplug. But as we've seen, he can contribute even more.

 

Strengths

Thomas' biggest asset is his scoring ability. The point guard averaged 11.5 points as a rookie and saw that number rise to 13.9 last season.

Despite his 5'9" stature, he can score in a variety of ways. As you can see from his shot chart, he scores from all over the court. His size doesn't prevent him from getting into the lane and attacking the hoop. He's also more than capable of knocking down long-range jumpers and three-pointers when he gets enough space. 

Isaiah Thomas' shot chart, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.

 

Thomas is also an excellent leader. Even as a rookie drafted with the last selection, he immediately commanded respect in the locker room. At 5'9", he's someone everyone else looks up to...pun intended. On a team in need of a culture change, Thomas could be one of the main catalysts in this regard. He always puts in the work, and he always keeps his composure. 

 

Weaknesses

Like Vasquez, Thomas' biggest weakness is on the defensive end. Yet he's probably even worse than the Venezuelan in this area. 

Thomas boasts a defensive rating of 114 in his two seasons. His rating of 115 last season comes in at No. 460 of the 469 players ranked. According to 82games.com, he also allowed opposing point guards to post a PER of 16.2.

Through no fault of his own (it's not his fault he's only 5'9"), Thomas also doesn't provide much on the boards. As a point guard this isn't a huge aspect of his game to begin with. But it is noteworthy with the team's overall struggles with defensive rebounding. 

To a lesser extent, his ability as a distributor is lacking. He's good enough as a quality backup, but you'd like to see more from a primary point guard. His assist percentage (24.6) comes in at No. 61 overall. When compared to Vasquez, who's third overall in this category, the discrepancy between the two as facilitators comes into better focus.

 

Expectations

What's a realistic role for Thomas?

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Even if Vasquez starts the year at point guard, Thomas will still see plenty of action. His 2012-13 average of 26.9 minutes is probably a pretty realistic expectation for his playing time in the upcoming campaign. And considering Thomas averaged 13.9 points in that time, it's probably safe to assume he'll still be a pretty prominent factor as a scorer.

His versatility as a scorer will allow him to play off the ball, allowing the team to pair him with different backcourt options. And while he's not as good as Vasquez as a floor general, Thomas is still competent enough to run the point when needed. 

In short, expect to see Thomas fill a variety of roles and expect him to still see plenty of playing time.

 

Stats Projection

26.0 Minutes, 14.3 Points, 4.0 Assists, 2.2 Rebounds, .450 FG%, .375 3P%

 

Ray McCallum

Background

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft, Ray McCallum is entering his first NBA season. Generally speaking, as a second-round pick not much should be expected of him in his rookie year. However, in McCallum's case that's not necessarily true. The point guard got a guaranteed two-year contract (which isn't the norm for most second-rounders) and he's expected to contribute.

After attending the University of Detroit Mercy, McCallum brings a nice resume with him to the league. In high school, he was a McDonald's All-American. During his freshman year, McCallum was Horizon League Newcomer of the Year. He followed that up with back-to-back first-team all-conference honors, including winning Horizon League Player of the Year in his final season.

 

Strengths

Like Vasquez, McCallum is a pure point guard. He's got a pass-first mentality and figures to be the floor general when on the court. During the summer league, the rookie paced the team in assists, with an average of four assists in 30.1 minutes of action. He also averaged 4.5 assists during his last year in college. While he was the team's go-to scorer, the 22-year-old also found ways to keep his teammates involved.

McCallum also provides size, which is lacking from the other backup point guards. This should allow him to impact the game with his rebounding and defensive ability. In fact, ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required) described him as a "defensive hawk." That makes sense, given his 1.9 steals and 0.6 blocks (as a point guard) during his final year at Detroit. 

 

Weaknesses

Experience. That's the big one for McCallum. He's entering the season with no real idea of what to expect. Granted, the rookie did gain some playing time in summer league, but there's really no equating the summer circuit to the regular season. He should still get playing time and have an impact, but it may take him a little while to catch up to the speed of the game. 

McCallum could also stand to improve his outside shot. That was one of the knocks on him, which ESPN's Ford pointed out, entering the draft. It stands to reason, as he only hit 32.3 percent of his three-pointers last season (in college, where the three-point arch is closer than in the NBA) and didn't even utilize the shot in summer league, attempting only two treys in 151 minutes of action. 

 

Expectations

It's difficult to know exactly what to expect from McCallum in the early part of the season. He has no NBA experience, and he may have to overcome an adjustment period.

By season's end, he should be a key part of the rotation. With his pass-first mentality, McCallum figures to run the offense when on the court. He could be paired with other point guards, such as Fredette and Thomas, in smaller lineups. 

If he shows the ability to defend, he could carve out an even bigger role on the team. With Vasquez, Thomas and Fredette all being below-average defenders, McCallum could provide an alternative, assuming his defense is an upgrade. 

 

Stats Projection

15.0 Minutes, 8.5 Points, 3.5 Assists, 3.6 Rebounds, .430 FG%, .215 3P%

 

Jimmer Fredette

Background

Fredette is now entering his third season with the Kings. Originally acquired to be the point guard of the future, Fredette hasn't shown the passing ability to be a lead option. However, the former BYU standout is valuable as a sharpshooter and sparkplug off the bench.

Now entering the last year of his guaranteed contract, this could be a make-or-break year for his tenure in Sacramento. Fredette made some pretty drastic improvements in his second year. He'll need to see similar progression this season to stay with the point guard-heavy Kings. 

 

Strengths

Here's Fredette's range on display.

As anybody who watched him in college can attest, Fredette's biggest strength is the incredible range on his three-point shot. Opposing guards basically need to stick with him as soon as he crosses the half-court line, as the 24-year-old has no qualms about jacking it up considerably past the three-point arc.

But it's not just that he's willing to pull the trigger—Fredette makes them, nailing 41.7 percent of his attempts from downtown. 

Beyond just shooting, Fredette is also a capable offensive player. He averaged 18.4 points per 36 minutes. He also saw his PER raise to a very respectable 14.6, considerably higher than the 10.8 he had as a rookie. And when he gets hot, look out. He's capable of scoring in bunches as he did against the Lakers, posting 18 points in 10:45 of action. 

 

Weaknesses

Not to sound like a broken record, but like the other point guards on the roster, Fredette struggles with defense. His 115 defensive rating is tied with Isaiah Thomas at the bottom of the NBA. Yet according to 82games.com, he's even worse than the others when it comes to shutting down the opponent's counterpart. Opposing point guards posted a PER of 21.1 and shooting guards had a 16.8 against Fredette. 

Despite the fact that he was drafted as the team's point guard, Fredette simply isn't very good at running the offense. He only averages 3.4 assists per 36 minutes, and that's on top of posting 2.5 turnovers per 36. On top of that, he doesn't have the ball-handling ability associated with starting-caliber point guards. Too many possessions end with him trying to do too much with the ball, rather than just take what the defense gives him.

 

Realistic Expectations

Fredette's main value to the Kings figures to be as a floor spacer. With his immense range, Fredette can bring a defender with him virtually anywhere he goes on the court. And of course, he's more than capable of knocking down open shots when they present themselves. 

With Vasquez, McCallum and Thomas all better at running the offense, Fredette won't get many minutes as the floor general. However, he'll still get his playing time as he brings value with his scoring ability. At this point, he's truly a combo guard, and that should bring even more opportunities to get into the game. 

Yet the simple fact remains that he's a defensive liability in long stretches, even more so than the team's other point guards. Because of that, he'll be called on to provide scoring in bunches. But there likely won't be many chances for him to stay on the court for extended periods.

 

Stat Projection

14.5 Minutes, 8.7 Points, 1.3 Assists, 1.1 Rebounds, .425 FG%, .421 3P%

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