There were periods Ray McCallum resembled an infant on the court. He threw up (shots), got rattled, got disoriented and crapped his pants (figuratively, not literally). He looked cute…cute in the sense that fans couldn’t take his All-Star hopes seriously.
After the Sacramento Kings drafted McCallum 36th in 2013, the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder enjoyed his first Summer League and then met the bench. Stashed behind Greivis Vasquez, Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette for point duty and Ben McLemore and Marcus Thornton at the two, McCallum spent a stint with the D-League Reno Bighorns before making his NBA debut December 6 against the Los Angeles Lakers, when he logged 13 seconds. He continued to play sparingly for the next three months, landing another D-League assignment along the way.
For someone who was raised around basketball (he was coached by his dad at the University of Detroit Mercy), McCallum sure seemed like a project. Those who studied the rookie’s early-season play would best describe him as “timid,” afraid to make errors and act on instinct. McCallum’s jumper needed work, and opposing guards regularly tested his handles.
Head coach Michael Malone admired McCallum, however, for his committed work on defense and at the practice facility. By the 2014 trade deadline, Malone had no choice but to give the kid some run.
Beginning February 19, McCallum never missed a game the rest of the regular season, and for the last 12 games (10 starts) the guard averaged 42.2 minutes, 13.5 points, 6.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.9 turnovers per night. (Take that, Jimmer.)
The momentum apparently carried into the 2014 Summer League, which the Sacramento Kings won with McCallum at the reins. The 23-year-old was praised for his collectiveness and accuracy through the tournament, and upped his scoring when needed in the Final dropping 29 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
McCallum’s fireworks on the Vegas stage, which included a running trey from the top of the arc, is particularly encouraging considering he fired from the floor at a 37.7 percent clip last season. He was especially poor from midrange, making 27.3 percent of his shots within five to 14 feet and 32.4 percent from 15 to 19 (NBA.com). It was a point of emphasis when McCallum spoke to Sports Out West before season’s end.
“This summer, really work on my midrange game, different finishes around the rim, and just being a more consistent shooter. At the same time, watching a lot of film, all of my mistakes this year, and ways to just try to master the pick and roll.”
“We talk like every day. My father and I have a really close relationship. I talk to him everyday whether or not about basketball but anything. “
If McCallum can harness his stroke and shine down the intricacies of point-play, his Summer League Final MVP performance can become the norm. He can then finally take the training wheels off and push the tempo with the Kings, as he does best.
Photo Credit: John Locher / Associated Press