Ray McCallum has clearly been practicing and taking notes, because lately he’s proved to be a more than capable understudy to Isaiah Thomas.
With the latter out of action once again, the former filled in seamlessly, directing his teammates on offense and finding his own throughout the night. With the Sacramento Kings on the ropes late in the game, McCallum stepped up to take and make crucial shots without hesitation.
His performance, along with DeMarcus Cousins’ dominant outing, lifted the Kings to a 102-97 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
Under the radar amidst McCallum’s impressive outings of late, though perhaps most important, has been his ability to take care of the basketball. Turning the ball over has plagued the Kings for much of the second half of the season, but McCallum handles the ball and directs the offense with the patience and precision of a veteran.
In 48 minutes of play against the Dallas Mavericks Saturday, McCallum turned the ball over just twice. Monday, he was afforded a brief respite (thanks to the recent signing of Jared Cunningham), played a mere 43 minutes, and turned the ball over just one time.
McCallum has been thrown to the fire since Thomas’ injury last week and he’s reemerged with dragons.
Not only is he a rookie, but McCallum has only appeared in 37 games of the Kings’ 73 this season. He only started getting consistent, significant minutes after Sacramento shipped off two guards at the trade deadline a little over a month ago.
Yet, despite his lack of experience, McCallum continues to deliver.
“Each game, I just kind of get more comfortable and I’m kind of figuring out the game,” said McCallum, who finished with 22 points and 10 assists, both career-highs. “All my teammates help me off the court and watching film and make it a lot easier on me.”
While Cousins made McCallum’s job easier Monday, his opponents’ was anything but.
From tip-off to the final buzzer, Cousins was unquestionably dominant. The Pelicans threw a number of defenders at Cousins, and one by one he disposed of them. He hit mid-range jumpers when they gave him space outside. When they came up to prevent those, he drove to the basket. He posted up and powered through defenders, stepping over them as they lay on the ground, puzzled at what had just happened.
New Orleans tried to double-team Cousins, but that didn’t work either. In the fourth quarter he countered a double-team by dribbling toward the baseline, seemingly making the defenders’ task easier, but then he took to the air. While his body was behind the backboard and virtually out of bounds, Cousins scooped his right hand out in front of the backboard, put some English on the ball and smoothly finished the reverse in a move reminiscent of Julius “Dr. J” Erving, only Cousins is 6’11”, 270 pounds.
“DeMarcus Cousins was obviously not named an All-Star this year, but I think tonight is another reason why, to me, he’s the best big man in the NBA,” said Michael Malone of Cousins, who registered 35 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 assists Monday. “That’s no disrespect to anyone, no disrespect to Anthony Davis, but you look at his numbers … he’s been a dominant, dominant force the whole season. And I thought his will to win tonight was infectious and it also had a lot to do with us winning that game.”