Darren Collison: A Glass Half Full


It’s been an up-and-down kind of career for Darren Collison. After being selected 21st overall in the 2009 NBA draft by the New Orleans Hornets, he would go on to have a solid rookie campaign en route to being named a 1st Team All-NBA Rookie.

As promising as his initiation into the NBA was, he was traded that offseason to Indiana.

As a Pacer, he started on a team that featured Danny Granger, Paul George, Lance Stephenson, and Roy Hibbert. It was only his second season in the NBA, and yet, he was the Pacers’ second-leading scorer with 13.2 points per game and averaged a team-leading 5.1 assists.

It would be good enough to earn the Pacers a playoff birth. For Indiana, it was their first trip to the playoffs in five years since former King Peja Stojakovic led them in the 2005/06 season.

However, a season later, after losing his starting role to George Hill, Collison would be traded again – this time to the Dallas Mavericks for Ian Mahinmi.

Collison would start 47 games for the Mavericks but eventually be supplanted once again by the likes of Mike James and an aging Derek Fisher. Dallas would fail to make the playoffs and after they declined his qualifying offer, Collison would enter free agency.

The UCLA product would sign a two-year deal with the Clippers to backup Chris Paul whom he played with in New Orleans. It was with the Clippers where Collison would achieve the highest marks in both offensive rating (113) and defensive rating (107) of his career.

He would play a key role for the 57-win Clippers team and would use it to cash-in as he opted out of his contract to become a free agent once more.

Collison would then decide to sign a three-year deal with the Sacramento Kings – putting him in the fifth different jersey in just six seasons.

The move would once again make him a starter and he would relish the opportunity as he put up career-highs in points (16.1), effective field-goal percentage (52.7%), and minutes (34.8). It seemed as if the journeyed point guard had finally found a home in Sacramento.

Misfortune would strike again as he would miss the final 37 games of the 2014/15 season. In his absence, the Kings would hire their third coach of the season in George Karl and go on to sign four-time All-Star, Rajon Rondo, in free agency.

Going into his seventh season, it seemed as if he had been superseded for the third time in his career while playing for his ninth head coach. With nine new players joining the team, his role, like most on the team, would be something of a mystery.

Through 20 games, that mystery seems far from being solved.

After a fantastic first season in Sacramento, Collison’s numbers have dropped dramatically. His scoring has dropped from 16.1 to 12.7 and his assists from 5.6 to 3.9.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise as his minutes have fallen as well from 34.8 to 28.6 per game.

Unfortunately for Kings fans, it isn’t a case of simply less minutes equating to a lesser output. Collison’s efficiencies are down as well. His Player Efficiency Rating is the second-lowest of his career at 13.7, while his True Shooting Percentage has never been lower than his current 52 percent.

On a per 36-minute basis, his assists (4.8) and rebounds (2.3) are at career-lows (Basketball-Reference.com). His assists-to-turnover ratio also ties a career low at 2.08 (ESPN.com)

While it’s true that his minutes are down, these stats do not, however, come from a lack of involvement. His 21 percent usage rate is actually higher than it was last season and the highest it’s been since his first season in Indiana.

Nonetheless, when it comes to Collison’s struggles, there is plenty of room for optimism as they go beyond statistics alone. In short, Collison seems uncomfortable, unsure, and at times – lost.

It’s more likely that his statistical struggles are a result of figuring out how to contribute in a new system rather than an ability to contribute to the system itself.

That Karl system, has been described as “Pace and Space.” Thus far, that has come to fruition as the Kings are second in the NBA in pace. It’s important to remember though, that Collison never played a game under Karl last season and is as new to him as any free agent addition.

Below, we see Collison push the tempo but he ends up not only driving the ball into traffic without making a single pass, but also practically runs into his own player in Kosta Koufos. The possession is clunky, rushed, and came close to ending in a turnover.

(Video Credit: NBA.com)

Much like how he was used with the Clippers, the Kings are using Collison as both a backup point guard while also giving him minutes at shooting guard.

Running a dual guard lineup can prove to be a lethal weapon in the modern NBA. It can also be a challenge for the point guard that is adjusting to life at the shooting guard position.

We see below Collison as the off-guard with Rondo running the point. Rondo gets the ball at the top of the key and the ball remains stagnate for quite some time. Collison gets the ball, but Rudy Gay slips the screen too soon. Isaiah Thomas is able to stay on Collison and the pass to Gay is easily intercepted.

The pass is both forced and a poorly read by Collison who would have been better off driving baseline.


(Video Credit: NBA.com)

There are multiple reasons for Collision’s lackluster performance thus far. Some of the blame is on him. Some of the blame is on a new system that is trying to figure out how to best utilize the weapon that he is.

That weapon is also coming off a five-game span in which he was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Figuring out a new system takes time, and any additional time missed can prove to be an exponential setback.

“Its tough coming back from an injury, you’re trying to find your own rhythm and it comes,” added Collison after the game against the Mavericks in which he scored 15 points and posted the highest +/- rating since his return from injury.

Collison has pressed on without strife or complaint. He hasn’t blame-shifted his struggles onto a coach, a system, injury, or his teammates. He knows that “it comes,” it just may not come as soon as the Kings had hoped. At 7-13, Sacramento is in desperate need of a spark, and Collison is the most likely to combust.

His struggles are real but they are not permanent. Collison has endured them with a quiet grace and a persistent focus. He knows more than anyone that the NBA is a roller coaster. What goes up, must come down.

In Collison’s case though, what is down, is sure to rise up.

Rest assured, for a team that needs something or someone to shift the needle, Collison is a sleeping giant due for a rude awakening. When that awakening occurs, it could be the catalyst for something special in Sacramento.

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