His numbers aren’t flashy. Heck, they aren’t even that good. Under 20 minutes a game, 5.7 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game and 0.62 blocks a game. All four stats well below his career averages. In fact, three of the four stats are lower than any season average he’s had yet. At just 29 years old, his numbers shouldn’t be declining, right?
But this may be Nick Collison’s best season yet.
The numbers don’t tell half the story for Collison. Scratch that. The numbers don’t tell even a fifth of the story. Collison’s contributions to a now two games over squad aren’t measurable. You can’t quantify grit, hustle and winning plays. Unless of course you’re Peter King. Then he’d be leading the league in all those categories. And Russell Westbrook in smiles. But whatever.
But here’s one thing you can measure: Per 40 minutes, Collison IS leading the league in charges taken, at 1.73 a game. The next closest guy is Jared Jeffries at 1.42. Think about it for a second. If a guy was averaging almost two steals a game, you’d say that’s good, right (for perspective, Rajon Rondo leads the NBA with 2.67 steals a game)? Well taking a charge is even better. Not only do you force a turnover, but you add a foul to a player on the other team. Honestly, taking a charge is the absolute best turnover you can force. And Collison leads the league in it. Even Peter King understands that.
(One aside I’ve noticed about Colly’s charge taking: He’s amazing at it. Almost every charge he takes, he peels off his man and steps right in front of the halo underneath the bucket. But he does one VERY smart thing. He lifts his heels. Watch for it. If his sneakers are touching the white line, it goes as a block and not a charge. And by lifting his heels, Collison may actually be in the halo but appears he’s not. It’s what your high school coach would call a heady play. Every charge Collison takes from now on, you’ll notice it. Unless you’re an official. Then ignore what I just said.)
Collison just has a knack for doing Important Things That Help a Team Win. His offensive rebounds always seem to come in a big spot. He’ll deflect a pass that leads to a turnover. He’ll tip a rebound that otherwise would have gone the other way, but now it’s back in the hands of the Thunder. His rebounding numbers don’t reflect plays like that. He’s got a Barbra Streisand-sized nose for the ball and a sense for a the big play.
People confuse hustle with diving on the floor, jumping over scorer’s tables and bloody noses scrapping for loose balls. Collison really doesn’t do a whole lot of that. He just makes winning plays. Even his bad games, like against the Lakers last week (one point, six fouls, one rebound) he did positive things. He took a charge, he tipped a couple rebounds, he hedged well on screens. He’s always doing something good.
On a given night, he might just play 15 minutes. He might play 30. Regardless of the time he sees, he’s going to make an impact. I’m not saying Colly deserves more minutes, but he defines “role player”. He’s exactly what your team needs. As soon as you let a player like him go, you’re looking for another guy exactly like him. No, he’s not going to drool over a soaring putback like Serge Ibaka. He’s not going rise for a spectacular block. He’s going to take charges, play tough defense, keep rebounds alive and score when he has a chance. (Collison actually is second in the league in field goal percentage at 63.6 percent.)
Shane Battier became a cult basketball figure after Michael Lewis’ moneyball-esque piece on him in the New York Times. Collison is even less sexy because he doesn’t knock down big 3s, doesn’t guard Kobe Bryant and doesn’t stand out on the court. But I bet if you asked Scott Brooks and Sam Presti, they’d tell you he’s every bit as valuable. You just can’t replace his heart.
I think he’s actually leading the league in it.