After being suspended for the first eight games of the 2016-17 season, Darren Collison's return to the lineup has been a key factor in stabilizing the point guard rotation in Sacramento.
Darren Collison started the 2016-17 season on the bench after an eight-game suspension for domestic violence, and the Kings were forced to sign Ty Lawson to a minimum deal to fill in at point guard. Collison was one of the Kings' better players last season, and Sacramento struggled to score without him in the lineup.
The Kings averaged 98.1 points per game in the first eight games this season, mostly due to the scoring struggles of Lawson. He played 30 or more minutes in six of the season's first eight games, cracking double-digits in scoring only once, when he scored 11 points in 35 minutes in a loss to Orlando. Lawson is shooting 38.5 percent on the season and 32.5 percent from 3-point range, worse than his disastrous 2015-16 season. Those shooting numbers underrate Lawson's impact as he has been a solid creator for Sacramento. He has averaged 4.5 assists a game against just 1.6 turnovers and has been good at creating looks for others. However, Lawson does not appear to be a starting-caliber point guard any longer, and the Kings' struggles on offense lay partially on his shoulders.
The Kings have looked like a different team on the offensive end after Collison came back into the fold. Sacramento is currently averaging 103 points per game and 105.8 in the 14 games that Collison has played this season. Collison's Offensive Rating of 114 points per 100 possessions is the highest on the team, barring Skal Labissiere's 143 in 15 minutes.
Collison has been an effective scorer for the Kings from almost every area of the floor. His shot chart shows his surprising knack for finishing at the rim, despite his 6-foot stature:
Collison's 64.0 percent mark highlights his ability to finish through and around contact and is a trend Kings fans can expect to continue. He shot 60.3 percent on shots within five feet of the basket last year, according to NBA.com's shot tracking data. Overall, Collison's 59.7 percent True Shooting Percentage leads the Kings and ranks 53rd in the league out of 359 players averaging 10 or more minutes per game.
Collison has also had a huge impact on the play of DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins averaged an impressive 25.5 points per game without Collison in the lineup, but that has jumped to a remarkable 30.6 points per game since Collison returned to the Kings. Collison has averaged more shot attempts per game than Lawson, which would presumably lead to fewer opportunities for Cousins; in actuality, however, the result is just the opposite —? the presence of a third scoring threat in the lineup has really opened the floor for Cousins to go to work.
The most impressive part of Collison's game so far, however, has been his effort on the defensive end. He is in the 94th percentile on defense, according to Synergy, and has held defenders to just 0.71 points per possession on the defensive end. Although that number is partially skewed by his unsustainably great 0.33 points per possession mark on opponents' spot-up looks, Collison has nonetheless been a huge factor on the defensive end for a Kings team that has struggled to contain opponents all season.
Although the Kings currently have a disappointing 8-14 record, their point differential of -1.0 is more indicative of a 10-12 team. The Kings lost some close games this season and played a very tough schedule. In the games he has played, Collison has been a bright spot for this team. If he can continue his strong defensive play and rock-solid shooting, Collison can help the Kings climb the standings as the season progresses.