Jarron Collins’ timing scarcely could have been better. He began his NBA coaching career as a member of Steve Kerr’s new Golden State staff in 2014-15, focusing on player development before moving to the bench a year later. The Warriors have been the league’s gold standard during his tenure, with four Finals appearances and three championships.
It’s a level of success that Collins never experienced in 10 seasons spent mostly as a backup center. Unlike his twin brother Jason who reached the Finals twice with the Nets, Collins got to the second round twice in five postseasons and appeared in 36 playoff games to his brother’s 95. The native Californian arrived in Utah near the end of the John Stockton-Karl Malone-Jerry Sloan era, though he learned a thing or two that he leans on now, nearly two decades later.
The Warriors staff – the Kerr coaching tree, if you will – has sent Alvin Gentry to New Orleans and Luke Walton to the Lakers. With Ron Adams content to sit next to Kerr and Mike Brown having held the top job in Cleveland and L.A., Collins would seem the next logical candidate for an opportunity elsewhere. In fact, he interviewed with Atlanta last spring before Lloyd Pierce was hired.
Collins, 40, talked with NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner a few days ago about his post-playing career, the state of the Warriors, how DeMarcus Cousins is fitting in and which set of Stanford-produced, identical twin NBA centers outranks the other.
Steve Aschburner: From where you sit, how is this season going generally, and how different are the challenges from year to year?
Jarron Collins: Every season, regardless of what team you’re on, there’s always ebbs and flows. We have a really talented core group. We’ve dealt with some injuries, like every other team, so a little adversity that’s an opportunity for other people to step up. That’s where we find ourselves right now. We’re just now getting a little healthy for the most part. Obviously not having DJ [Damian Jones, out after pectoral] hurts our rotation with the bigs. We’re going to have to make another adjustment – a good thing – when DeMarcus [Cousins] comes back.
SA: What would you tell a casual fan who sees all the Warriors’ stars at other positions and might think your bigs aren’t that essential?
JC: Our big guys serve an important role, in terms of their ability to screen and create space for our shooters coming off. They have to understand the timing, the angles, when to set a screen, when to hold a screen, when to slip a screen. After that, they have to be able to make plays in the pocket – once they set a screen and start to roll to the basket, there’s that pocket where they get the ball. Draymond [Green] is arguably our best big in the pocket when he gets that ball, when it’s 4-on-3 on the back side of the action. A lot of that just takes experience and repetition. Our young guys are getting better.
SA: I’ve heard some concern lately that too much of your team’s offense is coming from Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, with not enough shots from the rest of the rotation. Can we possibly fret that Golden State might not have enough shooting?
JC: If we get guys the ball in rhythm, and they catch the ball in their soft pocket, we have a lot of confidence in them going up and making shots. That being said, Steph, KD and Klay, when they come off, they create a lot of space and the word that’s used is gravity. So if we continue to move the ball, we’ll find guys in rhythm and make solid passes, and we have every confidence in the guys we have in our locker room to make shots.
SA: Draymond’s attempts are down from 10.1 three seasons ago to 8.8 last year and just 6.6 so far this season. Are you guys encouraging him to shoot even when he’s struggling, just to keep the defense honest?
JC: With Draymond it’s just the recognition of “good” to “great” and whether he’s feeling it. A lot of our guys understand what’s a “good” shot and what’s a “great” shot. Draymond is no different. He’s probably one of the smartest players I’ve ever been around. So if he’s in rhythm and gets a shot, I want him to shoot it with confidence. But if it’s not there, and they’re not going to defend him, go into a DHO [dribble handoff] or a side pick-and-roll, and his defender will be down the floor coming off against one of our shooters. It’s a little bit of a feel thing and Draymond has a great feel.
SA: Can you give me an update on Cousins and his recovery from the Achilles surgery?
JC: We haven’t put a timeline on his recovery or start date. He’s making progress – tremendous progress. He’s scrimmaging 5-on-5. He’s done it with us, he’s done it down in Santa Cruz [G League]. The most important thing for him is to get his conditioning, get his wind back, and his rhythm. The toughest part is finding him reps so he can work on that before he makes his debut. But he’s looking really good.
SA: Your team hasn’t yet had DeMarcus the All-Star or even DeMarcus the recovering player. But you have had DeMarcus the person around all season. How has he meshed with teammates and fit into the chemistry?
JC: That’s an interesting question, especially for me because I’ve only known DeMarcus from a competitor standpoint from when I played against him [in 2010-11]. We had some battles and I came up on the losing end of those battles quite often. So for me, it’s been a very pleasant surprise to work with DeMarcus. He is a fantastic teammate. Great humor. Great basketball IQ. He’s been very encouraging to our young bigs, from DJ to Loon [Kevon Looney] to JB [Jordan Bell], giving them words of encouragement and what he sees out there on the floor. Being engaged with his teammates. Really, I have nothing but positive, glowing remarks about my interactions with DeMarcus.
For me, it’s been a very pleasant surprise to work with DeMarcus. He is a fantastic teammate. Great humor. Great basketball IQ. He’s been very encouraging to our young bigs."
That’s the personal side. As far as the basketball side, it will work itself out.
SA: When new players come to Golden State, do you notice a tendency to tread lightly, out of fear they might rock the boat?
JC: I think that’s on a case-by-case basis, but it’s our job as coaches to make players comfortable in our system and then play them to their strengths. A lot of guys come in and see our system, they understand the screening, the timing, the cutting. From there, it’s just about putting guys in positions to be successful. We have guys, historically, for the most part, who have come in and done a fantastic job for us doing what they do. Overall, I say it’s “Come in, play your game, and we’ll play to your strengths.” So if it’s Zaza Pachulia, facilitator, screener from the elbow areas. David West, we can run our offense through him. JaVale McGee, setting screens, diving to the front of the rim, catching and finishing. We’ll figure out how we can utilize each player to their best abilities.
SA: You don’t want a new player worried about messing up the machine?
JC: You can’t think that way as a player. You’ve got to be aggressive. You’ve got to play your game. If you come in turning down shots … when the game says “shoot,” you’ve got to shoot. When you cut, move, do everything with pace and stay aggressive, better things are going to happen, just from a general player standpoint.
SA: One of our producers is a longtime Utah Jazz fan and he wanted me to ask about your old teammate Mehmet Okur. Okur, who got in 10 NBA seasons and was an All-Star in 2007, was a pioneer of “stretch fives” – taking more than four 3-pointers a game at 6-foot-11, more than a decade ago. What did you make of his game, how he fit with the Jazz, and where we’ve got with perimeter bigs?
JC: What he provided us was spacing, the ability to knock down 3-point shots and pull the defensive center away from the basket. It allowed more space for Carlos Boozer, really, when it was working well. If you have a talented point guard [Deron Williams] and a low-post threat [Boozer], and you have that opposite big who’s making shots on the perimeter, it opens things up a lot. Memo probably was a little ahead of his time. Now with everybody shooting 30 or 40 3s a game, he would have fit in perfectly. But he had a very solid career and he’s doing fantastic things.
SA: Did he take any grief for straying outside, when that sometimes made a big seem “soft?”
JC: Not on our team. Quite frankly, he was one of our better shooters so we wanted him out there. We had Memo and [Gordan Giricek] and Kyle Korver and Deron. There were a lot of 1-5 pick-and-rolls with Deron and Memo, and Deron was able to get downhill and throw it back to Memo for a lot of good looks. He hit a lot of big shots for us in Utah.
SA: So this second career as a coach, how did you come to it and did you like it right off?
JC: I was very blessed to play for Coach [Jerry] Sloan and get a ton of experience, not only on the court but off. And learned from some really good teachers, from Coach Sloan to Mike Montgomery to Alvin Gentry. I’ve always been fascinated with the game plans. And I wasn’t the most athletic guy in the world, so I really had to be locked into our game plan and what it was we needed to do. Learning player tendencies and that type of stuff. I knew that once I got done playing, I wanted to stay involved in basketball. It’s what I know, it’s what I love, it’s what I have a passion for. When this opportunity presented itself, I was so glad. And thank God I said yes.
Going forward, whatever happens, happens. But I’m learning a lot, I’m growing as a young coach and I’m blessed to get to work with the people I work with.
SA: I know you don’t specialize as a “big man coach,” which is good as far as your growth as a coach and, someday, perhaps a head position in this league. But you do have a strong history of working with the Warriors’ bigs. How much is that due to the work you did yourself, coming into this league as the No. 53 pick in 2001?
JC: It’s just my personality. It’s who I am. I’m going to be in a gym, I’m gong to be working. Developing players, working with the guys, it always comes down to relationships. I’ve worked with a great group of guys, from Andrew Bogut to Mo Speights, to Festus Ezeli and Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney, to DJ [Jones] and DeMarcus Cousins, to David and JaVale. I’m learning from them, they’re learning from me. It’s been a great experience.
SA: So I’ve wondered about this for a long time – who is the better set of Stanford twin big men? You and your brother Jason, or Brook and Robin Lopez?
JC: The Lopez twins. My brother and I had some decent careers and we were pretty good, but the Lopez twins I would definitely say take the cake. The one time Robin and I were teammates in Phoenix many years ago… [Collins let that thought trail off, because it included an infamous practice in which he beat Lopez in a scrimmage and trash-talked a bit. Lopez subsequently slammed open and broke a glass door leading to the Suns practice court.]
I’ve known the Lopez twins since they were kids. I grew up playing against their older brother. I’ve known that family for a really long time. But if you’re just asking about Lopez twins vs. Collins twins and Stanford and all that, I definitely would give the edge to Brook and Robin.
SA: Last thing – this move across the bay next season, what is that going to mean to you?
JC: Right now we’re really appreciating our last year in Oakland. The fans who come to Oracle and cheer for us, we’re so appreciative of playing in front of them. But there is a sense of excitement about the opportunity to move to San Francisco and play at the Chase Center. We appreciate what we have and we look forward to the future.
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