The year was 2003. The mere notion of an NBA franchise in Oklahoma City was considered unfathomable at this point in time. Despite the fact that phase 1 of the MAPS project had literally transformed OKC’s “Bricktown” from an eyesore occupied by vagrants into the city’s party hotspot in is wrap-up year, the simple idea of a professional sports team in the city of Oklahoma City was one that bigger cities and their residents found laughable. Even Seattle had no reason to foresee their beloved Supersonics leaving a media market that sits just outside of the Top 10 for one that is barely hanging onto its spot in the Top 50.
In the head coaching position for the Supersonics at the time was a man by the name of Nate McMillan, who was coaching a very “middle-of-the-road” Sonics team coming off of a 40-42 record the previous season. And in the 2003 NBA Draft, he chose a 6’10″ forward/center out of Kansas by the name of Nick Collison.
As I said in another article, spending an entire decade with one franchise isn’t necessarily indicative of a superstar. However, you don’t last 10 seasons on an NBA franchise if you aren’t doing it right. Collison knew what his role was going to be from the second he entered the NBA. He was going to be the guy tasked with protecting the paint on defense while the starters took a breather.
This season saw Collison post career lows in points, rebounds, assists, and minutes. Seeing as he will have celebrated his 34th birthday by next season’s opening tip, time is a luxury that a man Nick Collison’s age will no longer find benefits within. With that in mind, we take a look at the totality of Nick Collison’s 2013-2014 season, and grade it accordingly.
Offensive Grade: C
It’s just very hard to give Collison anything other than an average grade in this category. He’s pretty much the prototypical power forward: He scores easily near the rim, but can’t shoot the 3-ball to save his life. His career shooting percentage is 54.3%. However, force him to shoot from beyond the arc, and you’ll notice that percentage drop severely (13.2% for his career). And yet, oddly, he shot almost as many 3-pointers last year alone (17) than he had in his entire NBA career up to last season (21). It’s become obvious that 10 years of wear and tear have rendered Collison unable to move bodies around in the paint in the way that he used to be able to do so. That’s probably the biggest reason behind his astronomical increase in 3-point attempts. Although to his credit, he dropped 4 3-pointers last year, after having only dropped 1 total in his entire 9 years leading up to last season. Simply put, he’s good for a quick 2 points if you find him in position near the rim and get him the ball. But if you need a quick 3-pointer to swing the game’s momentum your way, Collison will not be the guy who drops that shot. He’s simply too tall, and doesn’t put enough arc on his shots to be an effective shooter.
Key for improvement - News of the knee surgery offered an easy explanation for his stat decline, but Nick Collison isn’t the type to make excuses. He knows that in order to improve, he simply needs to get back to what he does at the offensive end: Set picks, hang out near the basket, and cash in on easy dunks and lay-ins when the opportunities present themselves. Abandon the 3-ball, Collison. It’s a specialty skill that you simply do not possess.
Defensive Grade: B
Collison’s defense has slowed somewhat, due to the fact that he simply doesn’t have the same fluidity when he moves laterally on defense. His age is the obvious reason behind the slowdown. Then again, it’s not like his defensive abilities are entirely gone either. Just how can you tell his defense is still solid? You can always tell how good a player’s defense is by how easily he’s able to get under the skin of opposing players, and make them blow their stacks. The Pelicans’ Austin Rivers confirmed that Collison’s defense was still pestering when he tried to start a fight with him outright in the middle of a game played back on April 14th of this year. That altercation earned ejections for both Rivers and Collison. Although the defense Collison plays is highly physical. It leaves him open to all kinds of bumps and bruises, and sometimes just opens him up outright. Take yourself back to the last regular season game against the Spurs on April 4th. Collison took an elbow to the head that had him leaking so much blood, that if former WWE play-by-play announcer Jim Ross was on the mic, he would have made at least one reference involving Collison’s “crimson mask”. He really looked like a wrestler who had just completed or received a very deep blade job, or very deep “juicing”, as it is referred to in the wrestling business. He actually had to have four staples put in his scalp to close the wound. As a matter of fact, Google even had “Collison bloody face” trending in its search engine shortly after the incident. The link is to the Google Images section of “Collison bloody face”. Prepare yourself before clicking the link. It’s not a pretty sight. At the end of the day, while Collison’s defense has declined somewhat, he’s still a pain in the keister to deal with if you’re matched against him.
Key for improvement – Heal that knee. It’s rather hard to be a persistent pest on defense when you have persistent pain in your knee. He needs to use every bit of that 4 to 6 weeks to chill out, and take it easy. If it heals properly, I can easily see Collison picking right back up where he left off.
This would have easily been an A+ for his work ethic, toughness, and total team commitment. I had to knock off though, because one particular intangible is working against him. Sadly, there’s nothing he can do about it. This one downside intangible cost him an A+, but since it’s one that is beyond his control, I decided to at least leave him in the A range. The downside intangible in question is his age. He will be 34 years old by the start of next season, and time waits for no man. Collison is no exception. There’s simply nothing he can do other than accept it as fact, and try to play on for as long as he is able to do so.
Key for improvement - At the end of the day, the only way to eliminate Collison’s downside intangible would be to find a way to stop time itself. And that simply isn’t possible, period.
Overall Grade: B-
The knee issue gave him an excuse for his decreased stats, but it’s one he never bothered to even try to hide behind. Collison is all too aware that his playing days are numbered, and time to win an NBA Championship continues to decrease for him. If he doesn’t get it in the next 3 to 5 years, he most likely won’t get it at all. His body will have already given him every indicator to put the shoes away and call it a career. But there are very exciting pieces surrounding Collison, so it’s not as though an NBA Championship is unattainable. He was a part of the 2012 Finals team that got so close, only to have it snatched from them by LeBron and the Heat. I’m sure that taste of a championship ring is too much to resist. He’s even hungrier, and I’m sure he’d like to win one before his body forces him to call it quits. Don’t worry too much about him though. He’s not done yet. And rest assured he’ll return next season as hungry as he’s ever been.