The Spurs have had a pretty eventful off-season. To recap, they signed the most coveted free agent in the league in LaMarcus Aldridge, picked up another veteran power forward of note in David West, and added Jonathon Simmons, who went on to be a sensation in the Las Vegas Summer League. They re-upped their pair of young star wings in signing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to long-term deals and said good-bye to a bunch of good Spurs, trading Tiago Splitter and seeing Cory Joseph, Marco Belinellli and Aron Baynes sign elsewhere. There was also Kyle Anderson's MVP-caliber play as Simmons' teammate and the curiosity that is Boban Marjanovic. Heck, they even signed Jimmer!
What else happened? Well, Pop agreed to stay on through 2019, and then went on to the worst fourth-quarter in the history of African basketball. Boris Diaw wrote a children's book, danced like nobody was watching, and continued to photograph the world. Tony Parker almost got eaten by a tiger. Becky Hammon became the queen of the universe, proving Diaw can't match her moves.
Given all that, you can understand the acquisition of someone like former Sacramento Kings backup point guard Ray McCallum for a future second-round pick kind of falling by the wayside with fans. McCallum is mostly an unknown commodity for us, and I decided to remedy that by asking Akis Yerocostas of Sactown Royalty about him.
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Michael Erler: Well, Akis, it's been quite the interesting off-season for both of our clubs. As a long-time Kings fan I guess you're used to the roster shuffling, but we're not exactly accustomed to it over here and it's been dizzying and disorienting. (I know, I know, Spurs fan problems.)
One of the below-the-radar moves the Spurs made is trading a future second-round pick for Ray McCallum. We really don't know too much about him down there. He was the MVP of the Summer League championship game last year, I know that. From afar, he seems closer to the Patty Mills mold than a replacement for Cory Joseph, who skewed more defensive than offensive in his strengths.
Would you compare him to either of those guys, more of a traditional point guard, or is there someone else in the league you'd liken his game to?
Akis Yerocostas: I'm not sure I'd compare him to either Mills or Joseph, although if I had to choose I'd lean more towards Joseph. For both of the last two seasons, Ray was able to see huge chunks of playing time due to injuries to both Isaiah Thomas and Darren Collison. In both cases he became Sacramento's starting PG down the stretch of the season and while he had some good moments, it quickly became clear he wasn't capable of running the team on a consistent basis.
The problem with Ray is that he's not particularly great at any one thing. In his rookie year, it seemed promising that he might be able to become a decent three-point shooter, given that he shot 37.3% on 59 attempts. However that percentage dripped drastically last year when he was given more time and attempts. He'll probably benefit from the better spacing and flow of the Spurs offense, but I have a hard time seeing him fulfill the sharpshooter role that Mills brings to the Spurs. He does tend to lean more towards score-first, and is fairly effective with a mid-range jumper. His court vision is just so-so, but he has put up big assist numbers when given a greater control of the offense. He turned the ball over more last season but he's shown the ability to go long stretches without making too many mistakes, particularly late in his rookie season.
Defensively, he has the size and effort to one day become a good defender. He puts in a lot of work on that end and I think given time and development that this will be an area he can excel at. Mike Malone said more than once that McCallum was the only defensive-minded player he had on the roster. That effort and intensity didn't often translate into results, but that will come with experience.
The worry with Ray is that he's already near his ceiling. He's not the most physically gifted player, although he's got good size and strength for a Point Guard. I think if there's a team out there that can make the most of a player like McCallum however, it's the Spurs. Ray's a hard worker and has been around the game for a long time, having played for his father in college. In small spurts where he doesn't have to try to do more than he's capable of, I think he can excel, and that's exactly what San Antonio will likely ask of him.
Erler: Malone's comments and your observations regarding McCallum's defense interest me greatly. I don't know if you trust adjusted plus-minus or not, but according to that metric he was like the 78th-ranked defensive point guard last year (but somehow still ahead of Tony Parker). You seem to think experience and coaching --and playing with other defensive minded players-- should translate into results there, I gather?
Yerocostas: I think a true system will do wonders for Ray's defensive acumen. I think he was asked to do far too much on that end in Sacramento, and while he tried, he was almost always outclassed and didn't receive much help.
Erler: What stood out to me about McCallum's shooting is that while his 3-point percentage took a huge tumble in his second season, his overall eFG went way up, meaning he was far more efficient as a two-point shooter, particularly in getting to the rim. His mid-range percentage still wasn't very good at all. I know you mentioned that he isn't very physically gifted, but do you see a knack or ability to get to the rim and finish on a regular basis from him?
Yerocostas: As for Ray's increased efficiency, he did get much better attacking the rim in his second year. While he's not the quickest guy, he is pretty strong, which allows him to keep more control of the ball as he gets to the basket. If anything, I'd like to see him attack the basket even more than he was doing in Sacramento. In his rookie year, only 22.7% of his attempts came from 0-3 feet. That jumped up to 31.3% of his attempts last season, and he had a slight uptick in FG% in that area too.
Erler: Pop has used Joseph as the starter whenever Parker has been injured or rested, preferring to keep Mills in his sparkplug off the bench role. Do you think McCallum could be used in a similar fashion, and that playing with starters would be more beneficial for him than being a reserve, or do you see him strictly as a reserve who'd be in over his head starting?
Yerocostas: I think McCallum can play the starting role in spots, as long as it's not for huge stretches. He actually started quite a bit in Sacramento due to injuries, but comparing Sacramento's starters with San Antonio's is a different matter entirely. I think Ray is still probably best used off the bench, especially if he continues to be more of a score-first guard.