Will Darren Collison Prove Kings Were Right to Move on from Isaiah Thomas?

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Will Darren Collison Prove Kings Were Right to Move on from Isaiah Thomas?
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
The Kings shipped out Isaiah Thomas and brought in Darren Collison (pictured).

The Sacramento Kings switched out point guards this season, shipping Isaiah Thomas to the Phoenix Suns in a sign-and-trade and bringing in Darren Collison on a free-agent contract

It was an interesting decision and one that's been met with a lot of mixed emotions from Kings fans. Thomas was a productive player during his time in Sacramento and was a popular player, leaving a lot of people sad to see him go.

Collison, on the other hand, doesn't have the track record of success that Thomas has as a starter, but he's been an important player on some playoff teams, and he brings certain things to the table that Thomas was lacking.

Ultimately, though, the Kings will either be vindicated or condemned based on what happens on the court, both as far as the team is concerned and the performance of each player.

 

Expect a Downgrade in Production from Point Guard Position

Let's get this out of the way right now: It's unrealistic to expect Collison to match Thomas' statistical output.

Collison's best season was 2010-11, in which he averaged 13.2 points and 5.1 assists as the starter for the Indiana Pacers. He's also posted career numbers of 11.9 points and 4.9 assists and per-36-minute tallies of 15.0 points and 6.1 assists.

Thomas, as most Kings fans are aware, had an excellent season in 2013-14. The point guard averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists. Only LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook matched those totals, showing how stellar it was. 

Duane Burleson/Associated Press
Thomas has become a dynamic offensive player.

For his career, Thomas is at 15.3 points and 4.8 assists. Per-36 minutes, those numbers jump to 19.0 points and 5.9 assists. 

In Thomas, the Kings had a player who was extremely productive on offense. In Collison, they get a guy who is certainly adequate but far short of spectacular. 

However, while it's hard to argue that Collison's the better individual player, the difference between the two isn't as great as some may think.

 

The Silver Lining

Collison's abilities in other areas—namely on defense—help make up for some of what he gives away in scoring and assist numbers.

Thomas improved over the years as a defender, to the point where he was adequate in 2013-14. According to 82games.com, he held opposing point guards to a player efficiency rating of 14.5. With 15.0 being average, you can see Thomas clearly wasn't a sieve. He also had a defensive rating of 111.

One of Collison's strengths, on the other hand, is on defense. Per 82games.com, he held opposing point guards to a PER of 12.9 and opposing shooting guards to a PER of 11.9. He also posted a defensive rating of 107. 

Tony Avelar/Associated Press
Collison is a better defender than Thomas.

In addition to being the better defender, the overall gap between the two isn't that big—at least in terms of how they perform against their opponent. That's because while Thomas is the better offensive player of the two, what he gives back on defense helps close the gap.

According to those same PER numbers, Thomas posted a 21.2 PER. With the previously mentioned opponent PER of 14.5, the result is a net PER of 6.7.

Collison, meanwhile, had an 18.5 PER. When compared to his opponent PER of 12.9, he had a net result of 5.6. So Thomas was better, but not by a considerable margin.

 

Different Players; Same Situation

For all their differences, the one similarity between Thomas and Collison is how each views his situation with his new team. What's meant by that, of course, is that neither one really felt valued by their respective franchise. 

As far as Thomas was concerned, he felt as if retaining him wasn't a priority for the Kings. 

Really, who could blame him? After putting up the numbers he did, Thomas felt as if he didn't need to keep proving himself. Yet, the Kings repeatedly brought in outsiders to take his job, starting with Aaron Brooks and then with Greivis Vasquez the following year.

It was pretty much the same story for Collison, who felt as if bringing him back wasn't a top priority for the Clippers

Possessing one of the best point guards in Chris Paul, Collison was somewhat of a luxury for Los Angeles. No doubt he was an excellent backup, but the team already has Sixth Man of the Year winner Jamal Crawford as a backup combo guard. The Clippers probably felt as if their cap space could be better served elsewhere.

Regardless of the reasons behind it, both players have moved on, and they both feel as if their current situation is better than the one they left. That gets us to our next point...

 

A Different Direction

It seems the main reason the Kings moved on from Thomas was to switch up their style of play. Due to the different skill sets of each player, the team felt as if Collison's was more conducive to what it wanted to do. 

Of course, part of the team's motivation was Collison's ability as a defender. Head coach Michael Malone has a defensive-oriented philosophy, and with Sacramento finishing 23rd in defensive rating, allowing 108.8 points per possession, Collison was a better fit.

Beyond that, Sacramento wanted to increase its pace on offense. The team was 14th in pace factor last year, averaging 94.4 points per 100 possessions. Apparently, the Kings felt as if Collison would be a better option to push the offense.

As general manager Pete D'Alessandro would go on to say, the move wasn't so much about one player being better or worse than the other. Rather, it was about the way each of them fit with the Kings.

Obviously, D'Alessandro and the Kings felt Collison fit their plan better than Thomas did.

 

Will It Work?

Whether or not Collison proves the Kings right comes down to your perspective. 

If you're viewing this simply as a comparison of Isaiah Thomas to Darren Collison, it's likely that Thomas is the better option. He's put up better numbers than Collison throughout his career, and the system in Phoenix is one that should allow that trend to continue. 

Even with Collison's strengths in comparison to Thomas on the defensive end, whatever advantages he has over IT are mitigated by Thomas' advantages on offense.

Simply put: As individual players, Thomas is better. From a talent perspective, the Kings got worse with this move.

Yet, individual performance doesn't have to be the only factor in whether or not the Kings made the right call. The biggest decider in that should be the team's win-loss record. 

Remember, "you play to win the game." As funny as Herm Edwards' comments may have been, the man has a point. Wins and losses are what ultimately matter. 

Do you think the Kings made the right move by taking Collison over Thomas?

Submit Vote vote to see results

To that end, while Thomas clearly had excellent stats last season, they led to the same 28-54 record the Kings posted the previous season. To be clear, not all of that is on Thomas. Basketball is a team game, and it'd be unfair to put all of that on one player. 

Yet, it'd also be improper to absolve him of all blame, especially as the floor general in charge of the offense. 

So, will the Kings be proved right for their decision? It's not clear yet because nobody knows how the team will perform. 

But this much is true: The Kings will be better off with less production from the point guard spot if it helps lead to more success as a team. That will be the ultimate factor in whether they're proved right. 

 

Unless noted otherwise, all stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

What do you think? Will the Kings be proven right? Let me know on Twitter @SimRisso.

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