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Why Ray McCallum Might Be On His Way Back To The NBA

After a rough 2015-16 season, Ray McCallum might be on his way to the NBA due to a solid start to the D-League season.

NBA: Preseason-Milwaukee Bucks at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

During the 2014-15 NBA season, Sacramento Kings fans were going through something they were very familiar with: defeat. For their ninth season in a row, the Kings finished under .500 with an atrocious 29-53 record. Despite that disappointing season, there were a little less than a handful of things that both Kings fans and organization could be optimistic about. Of course, that headliner was DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins who had an outstanding season by averaging 24.1 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.7 blocks on 47% shooting.

The other positive aspect of that Kings season came with the play of Darren Collison, whom the Kings got in the prior summer on a cheap three-year, $16 million deal. Collison immediately excelled with his new team as he had career high in points (16.1 PPG), assists (5.6) and steals (1.5), while shooting a solid 47% from the field and 37% from 3.

Unfortunately for Collison, that fantastic season came to an end on February 5th where he suffered a right hip flexor. Collison’s season-ending injury put the team’s backup point guard, Ray McCallum, to the front of the team’s rotation. Although the Kings were well out of playoff contention when McCallum decided to take over, it was still a golden opportunity for the young guard to show himself on a bigger stage.

McCallum did just that during his 30 games as a starter as he averaged a solid 11.2 points and 4.3 assists per game on 45% from the field and 34% from beyond the arc. Although those numbers may seem pedestrian to some, it was a solid performance from a young guard that spent his first two NBA seasons moving between the Kings and the Reno Bighorns, their D-League affiliate. Much of that success was due to McCallum knowing his role on the offensive end and spending most of his possessions leading Cousins or Rudy Gay just take control.

His solid late-season performance would make you think that the Kings would put McCallum in their long-term plans. Unfortunately, that wasn’t meant to be as the Kings signed Rajon Rondo to a one-year/$9.5 million deal. Mere days after that signing, the Kings dealt McCallum to the Spurs in exchange for a future 2nd round pick.

At the time of the deal, this move was thought to be a win for McCallum as he’d head to a Spurs team that stands as arguably the best team of the 21st century. Looking past that, McCallum was set to possibly be the Spurs backup point guard behind veteran Tony Parker.

Like his standing with the Kings, McCallum was apparently not meant to have any kind of role with the San Antonio Spurs. With the Spurs, McCallum only played a total of 256 minutes where he averaged 2.2 points and 1.1 assists per game in only 8.5 minutes per game. That lack of playing time ultimately pushed the Spurs to waive McCallum on February 29th.

Just three weeks following his release, McCallum caught a bit of luck by the Grizzlies signing McCallum to a 10-day contract. That bit of luck was due to the Grizzlies having a bevy of injuries to the point where they had to use the NBA hardship exemption to go over the usual 15 player limit to add more pieces to their roster. Although the Grizzlies were willing to give McCallum plenty of playing time, he struggled with the Grizzlies. In ten games with the Grizzlies, McCallum averaged 6.9 points and 2.7 assists per game with an atrocious 42% True Shooting Percentage.

McCallum’s struggles with the Spurs and Grizzlies dampened his reputation inside NBA circles to the point where he had to consider option B: The NBA D-League. After being waived by the Detroit Pistons during the preseason, McCallum was acquired by the Grand Rapids Drive as an affiliate player. Pun intended, McCallum has shown plenty of drive with Grand Rapids.

In his first eight games with Grand Rapids, McCallum is averaging 21.5 points, 7.5 assists, 5 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game on 46% from the field. Although those numbers are obviously bigger than anything he averaged in the NBA, he’s still basically the same player that we saw two years ago in Sacramento. McCallum’s game is still based around hard cuts to the rim, mid-range jumpers and being a standout facilitator.

That work as a facilitator is probably the biggest thing that has stood out during this young D-League season. Although he was always skilled in this area, it seems like McCallum has taken a significant step since joining the Drive. His progression is evident whether you look at advanced stats or his actual on-court performance. When you take a look at his advanced stats, you see that McCallum maintains an excellent 3.33 Ast/TO ratio, the third best average in the NBADL.

His incredible efficiency as a facilitator makes plenty of sense when you watch him actually play. McCallum plays with this great sense of confidence as he seems to know what’s going to happen on the court before it actually does. That solid court vision is evident whether he’s on the perimeter or working in drive-and-dish situation.

Although he’s solid in both situations, he does his best work as a drive-and-dish facilitator. In the process of cutting towards the paint, McCallum has this innate ability to make precise passes to a cutting big or a teammate stationed out on the perimeter. That ability is seen in the play below, as McCallum makes a terrific bounce pass to a cutting Kevin Murphy.

Apparent from his success as a drive-and-dish facilitator, McCallum is a pretty solid ball-handler. Although he loves to utilize off-ball screens, McCallum is definitely able to work past his perimeter defender with a quick first step. After that initial victory is where McCallum impresses. Once he nears the paint, he does an amazing job at confusing any defender by either changing speeds or directions on a dime or utilizing a wicked spin move. McCallum’s jaw-dropping spin move is seen in the play below.

Another area where Duval’s handles help him out is as a shooter. Over the course of the season, McCallum has shown a continued ability to use his handles to either break down the opposition or just go with the classic step-back move. Those skills are mostly seen in mid-range looks where McCallum has done most of his shooting so far during the D-League season. Although mid-range jumpers aren’t the most desired shots in 2016, McCallum has countered that by being extremely efficient. In his first eight games, McCallum has shot 50% from mid-range on 40 attempts.

Transitioning over to the defensive end, McCallum has really shined as a vicious ball hawk that works his tail off to force turnovers. That effort is seen by McCallum averaging 1.6 steals per game, which is about what he’s been averaging in consistent play since his time in college with Detroit Mercy.

After a rough season in 2015-16 that saw McCallum experience incredible lows with both the Spurs and Grizzlies, he probably needed the D-League to get back on his feet. While it’s not his preferred destination, the D-League is a great way for McCallum to put that prior season behind and gain some much needed momentum as an NBA prospect. Although the season is still very young, McCallum has shined as arguably the best all-around guard in the NBA D-League.

With his knack as a facilitator, on-ball cutter, mid-range shooter and defensive ball-hawk, McCallum has shown a skill-set that should have him be a role player on most NBA teams. While he still definitely has some work ahead of him, I think McCallum has shown that he’s on his way to return to the NBA. Hopefully, this time it’s permanent.