Fringe starter. Best suited for a backup role
The Pacers have done well to take overlooked talent and blossom it in Indiana. And that goes beyond Victor Oladipo.
In his first season with the Indiana Pacers, darren collison is working to disprove the labels affixed to him when he signed a two-year, $20 million contract last summer. Finally, Collison has stability for a player who, in nine seasons, called five different NBA cities his home.
To keep pace with the Cleveland Cavaliers this series, they’ll need Darren Collison to repay that stability on the court.
This season, the former UCLA Bruin averaged 12.4 points and 5.3 assists with just 1.2 turnovers in 29.2 minutes a night. And even those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Rather, it’s his efficiency as a scorer and facilitator that, much like the Pacers as a whole, has been pleasantly surprising and truly underscores his value. His turnover rate of 10.9 percent was a career low while his true shooting percentage of 61.0 was a career high.
In fact, Collison was one of eight guards with at least 1500 minutes and 500 shot attempts who registered a true shooting percentage north of 60 this season. Moreover, Collison netted a career-high 46.8 percent of his triples, which led the league.
Taking a look at his shot chart this season, there’s only one area in which he dipped below league average:
Collison made his money this season as an elite spot-up shooter and pick-and-roll ball handler, two play types which comprised over 50 percent of his offensive usage, where he ranked above the 80th percentile in both categories, per Synergy.
His proficiency as a catch-and-shoot man has been necessary with Oladipo’s emergence as a ball-dominant star. When defenders cheated off Collison, his teammates found him for open looks:
The ninth-year pro wasn’t a one-trick pony beyond the arc, either. He was nearly as dangerous off the bounce, converting 45.6 percent (31 of 68) of his pull-up treys this season. Teams ducked under screens to avoid getting burned against his jitterbug drives to the tin and instead, he’d yo-yo it back behind the three-point line and can the jumper:
But Collison didn’t solely pull up for three-pointers in the pick and roll — a set in which he paired high usage (31.4 percent) with efficiency (84th percentile).
He wreaked havoc when guards fought over screens and big men dropped into the paint, gift wrapping him midrange jumpers — an area in which he splashed home 46.1 percent of his looks this season. And when the rolling big drew his defender out of the paint, Collison set up his man for the screen, whipped a quick crossover and zipped inside. There, despite his diminutive 6-foot, 175-pound frame, Collison finished 63.4 percent of his looks at the rim, using an array of crafty moves.
On the two layups shown above, note the contrasting approaches he takes to convert each one. Against Milwaukee, with Giannis Antetokounmpo and his 7-foot-3 wingspan lurking, Collison busts out a scoop shot, which disrupts Antetokounmpo’s timing as he anticipated contesting a traditional layup. Against Toronto, with DeMar DeRozan attached at the hip, Collison protracts his final stride to create separation for a clean look.
Along with Collison’s savvy finishes and knockdown shooting off the dribble, he was a menace in the passing lane, which allowed him to be an above-average transition athlete. With 24.7 percent of his offensive usage coming on the break, Collison was stationed in the 67th percentile (1.19 points per possession) of such plays. He darted into the open spaces to nab errant passes and glide to the hoop for easy scores; he knifed through discombobulated defenses all the way to the cup; he elevated for long bombs before teams nailed down their assignments. Below, his pesky off-ball defense sparked three steals and buckets:
Collison’s ability to thrive in his three-most frequented playtypes has made him an invaluable piece of Indiana’s playoff roster. His offensive rating of 109.8 was tops on the squad (min. 50 minutes played) and when he was on the court, the Pacers posted a true shooting percentage of 57.8, which was the team’s best mark. When he was entrenched on the sidelines, those numbers tumbled to 104.4 and 53.5 percent.
Furthermore, that career-high offensive rating of 109.8 ranked eighth among point guards (min. 50 games, 25 minutes a night). Using that same games-minutes criteria potentially suggests Collison has been a top-10 point guard this season — at least in the light that advanced metrics shine him in. Pulling from the data accessible on Basketball Reference, all of which are career highs, here were Collison’s ranks among point guards this season (min. 50 games, 25 minutes a night):
- Sixth in win shares per-48 minutes (.181)
- Eighth in box plus-minus (2.2)
- Eighth in win shares (7.6)
- Ninth in player efficiency rating (18.8)
- 10th in value above replacement player (2.1)
Juxtaposing those numbers with All-Star shooting guard Bradley Beal highlights Collison’s underrated season:
- WS/48: .112
- BPM: 1.7
- WS: 6.9
- PER: 18.4
- VORP: 2.7
During the regular season, Collison was Indiana’s second-best offensive player. However, it hasn’t translated to the postseason, forcing Oladipo to shoulder considerably more work on that end of the court.
Through four games, Collison is averaging just 9.3 points on .366/.267/.600 shooting splits, producing a less-than-rosy 42.8 true shooting percentage. After pacing Indiana in offensive rating during the regular season, he’s just ninth in the playoffs with a shield-your-eyes-and-hide 96.9 mark.
Collison carried his torrid shooting into Cleveland with .450/.375/.500 splits while adding 11 points per game in two contests. Yet a return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse has turned those numbers cold as he’s tallied .286/.143/.667 percentages and chipped in just seven points a night. The playmaking has traveled throughout the Midwest, amassing 23 assists in four games, but Collison hasn’t been able to make the Cavaliers pay for abandoning him on the perimeter or sliding under screens:
Four games is hardly a worthy sample to assess Collison’s shooting. But in the postseason, every game is magnified. In order for the Pacers to spring an upset and hand LeBron James his inaugural first-round series loss, Collison will need to right the ship in Game 5 and beyond.
Victor Oladipo is the frontrunner for Most Improved Player of the Year as he’s made the leap from talented prospect to perennial All-Star this season, but Collison’s second stint in Indiana has breathed new life into his game. It’s often difficult to teach an old dog new tricks but the 30-year-old veteran is proving otherwise, aging like fine wine.
Journeyman, fringe starter, and best suited for a backup role remain attached to Collison’s name, but with every three-pointer, midrange jumper and thievery, those monikers are slowly beginning to fade away. Now, it’s up to Collison to deliver in the postseason and provide his star backcourt partner some much-needed help.
All stats and videos via NBA.com, Basketball Reference and 3Ball and are accurate as of April 25.