Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| October 9, 2006
wasn't himself. That much became clear to those who follow the Seattle SuperSonics on a day-to-day basis at some point last season. Usually sure-handed, Collison began to mishandle passes. One of the best interviews on the team, Collison suddenly seemed distant. Something appeared to be weighing on him.
Or perhaps many things, starting with the Sonics disappointing performance early in the 2005-06 season but also including his constantly-fluctuating role on the team and the off-court distraction of his girlfriend's pregnancy with the couple's first child. Now, Collison can look back and say all played a part in a sophomore season that didn't live up to his expectations or those placed on him.
"It was a bad year for everybody. We didn't win. We struggled. Myself personally, I didn't play real well."
"It was a bad year for everybody," Collison says. "We didn't win. We struggled. Myself personally, I didn't play real well. I played well in spurts, not at other times. There was so much change in our team - some times I played, a lot of times I was barely playing at all, I was in foul trouble a lot. It was an up-and-down year. I had stretches where I played well, other stretches I barely played, other stretches I played poorly. It wasn't a great year for me."
The season started in promising fashion for the Sonics and Collison. While a reserve at the start of the season, Collison figured to finish almost all games at either power forward or center. That didn't apply in the blowout losses the Sonics suffered on their first road trip of the season that, in Collison's mind, undermined the team's confidence.
"We thought we were going to be really good and then we got smashed on the road three straight games," he says. "Negativity just set in. In the NBA, with how good all the teams are, there are so many games where there's one stretch that defines the game. We would give in in those stretches because we lost our confidence or whatever it was. By getting broke down early, we just had a negativity around our team where we would let games go in those situations."
Still, by the end of that road trip, the Sonics seemed to be recovering by winning two of their last three games. Collison was a key factor after moving into the starting lineup at power forward. He recorded a career-high 20 points and tied his career high with 12 rebounds at Toronto, then had 19 points and surpassed his career high with 13 boards at Boston. The Sonics won both games and Collison appeared well on his way to establishing himself at power forward.
The next change in Collison's role had nothing to do with his performance. With the Sonics getting little production from the center position, Collison moved over to make room in the starting lineup for forward Reggie Evans. Undersized for the pivot at 6-9 and ill-suited to stopping the penetration that was devastating the Sonics defense, Collison struggled in the role. He scored double-figures just twice in eight starts at center. Instead of moving back to power forward, Collison returned to the bench.
Not long after, the health of his girlfriend and their unborn baby became a major concern for Collison.
"About New Year's, we thought her water broke," he recalls. "We had a situation where we thought she was going to be premature and she wasn't, but she was on bed rest for a while. That had something to do with it. It was just the first time in my life I had a real big issue off the court. I've been pretty lucky to avoid a lot of things, so it did affect me a little bit."
When Bob Hill took over the Sonics, he wanted to give Vladimir Radmanovic a chance to start at power forward to see if Radmanovic had a future at the position in Seattle. That experiment lasted a month before Collison returned to the starting lineup early in February. He responded with three double-doubles in the next six games. Daughter Emma Sloan was born healthy in late February, and Collison was beginning to settle in as a starter when fate intervened again.
Collison partially tore the plantar fascia in his left foot on Mar. 5. As the Sonics surged toward the end of the season and Chris Wilcox established himself as the starter at power forward, Collison could only watch. He returned for the final eight games of the season and did go into the off-season with some momentum, averaging 10.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game on 56.3% shooting in that stretch.
All the setbacks of his sophomore campaign did not deter Collison during the off-season.
"He put in a really hard summer," says Hill. "We were down here every day and he'd be down here early in the morning, working on his athleticism and getting shots. It's paid off. I'd say the last five or six days of pick-up after everybody got back into town right up to now, he's playing at a higher level than he did at any time last year."
Collison also used the summer to clear his mind and put himself in a better position mentally than he was during most of last season.
"I'm ready to play, I'm excited to play," he says. "Last year I got down a little, I think. My outlook this year is this is my job, I'm going to have fun doing it. We've got good guys on our team. Just try to have fun playing again - I think last year it wasn't fun for me a lot. It was my own fault, whether putting pressure on myself or what. For me to play well, I think for any player to play well, you have to have fun playing. I think my mindset's a lot better this year."
"For me to play well, I think for any player to play well, you have to have fun playing. I think my mindset's a lot better this year."
Collison's work ethic has never been questioned during his time in Seattle, but hard work alone is not enough in the NBA. Confidence is a key for Collison - especially in terms of hitting the midrange jumper. Hitting that shot on a consistent basis would make Collison a much more effective option on offense, particularly as part of the pick-and-roll game, already his forte.
"It's huge, it's the biggest thing," says Collison. "There's guys in this league that don't ever work on their game at all, but they just have that confidence, they've got good form and they're good shooters. Other guys work at it to death and for whatever reason when it comes time to shoot it, they've got things going through their heads. That's the number one key to shooting - just being confident and letting it go.
"The adjustment I had was coming in for three, four minutes at a time, getting one shot and having to make it. That's a tough thing for me to do. I feel more comfortable with it now, but I'll probably have stretches where I'm cold again this year. I have to keep my confidence and keep shooting and try to take each shot for what it is - one shot, not worry about what happened on the ones before that."
The real Nick Collison was apparent during the second half of his rookie season and into the 2005 playoffs, where he averaged 8.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per game on 60.7% shooting. He showed up for stretches last season. With last year's distractions wiped away, the real Collison looks forward to a complete and successful season.
"It's kind of clichéd - play hard, play well - but really, that's what I want to do," says Collison. "I want to get every rebound, every loose ball, be where I'm supposed to be every time and hit shots when I'm open. It sounds easy, but it's hard to do. That's what I'm trying to do this year. Good things will happen."
"Everybody's rooting for him," Hill says. "Everybody loves him. He plays hard. He's American flag and all that. Sometimes when you're that person, you feel the pressure of everybody rooting for you and it puts more pressure on you shooting the ball. Once he gets beyond all that, he's playing awfully well."