Player Review 2018: Darren Collison

Age: 30
Years Pro: 9
Status: Has a partially guaranteed contract for next season.
Key Stats: Played in 69 games, starting 64 of them. Led the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.28-to-1) and 3-point percentage (.468) while averaging 12.4 points, 5.4 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.3 turnovers.

You'd think it would be impossible for a 30-year-old veteran of eight NBA seasons to suddenly show significant improvement, but Darren Collison did just that.

Regarded by many as a mere placeholder at his position, someone to keep the offense running before the point guard of the future could be found, he turned in not only the best season of his nine in the NBA, but one of the best a point guard has ever had for the Pacers.

In a season filled with surpassed expectations, Collison startled as much as anyone on the roster. Nobody was anticipating anything special when he signed as a free agent in July, and the fact he was awarded a one-year contract with a minimal guarantee for a second season indicates the front office was cautious as well.

No wonder, then, Collison was practically an afterthought at the July press conference when he was introduced to the media along with Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. The reaction wouldn't have been any less blasé if the Pacers had signed Nick Collison.

Oladipo, the former Indiana University star, was understandably the featured attraction. Sabonis got his share of attention for being a raw, promising lottery pick with just one season of experience, as well as for being Arvydas' son. Collison, meanwhile, was just kind of there, a seemingly known quantity who had played two seasons with the franchise from 2010-12. The lasting memory of most Pacers fans was that he had lost his starting position to George Hill late in the second of those seasons and then gone on to become a journeyman in the Western Conference.

Nobody could have predicted what was to follow. Collison led the NBA in the unlikely combination of assist-to-turnover ratio (.4.28-to-1) and 3-point percentage (.468), setting franchise records in both categories. He also was in the running for much of the season to join the elite "50-40-90 club" of players who hit 50 percent of their field goal attempts, 40 percent of their 3-point attempts, and 90 percent of their free throws over the course of a season.

Only seven players have accomplished that feat: Larry Bird, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, and Mark Price. All of them are in the Naismith Hall of Fame or headed for it, with the possible exception of Price. Miller is the only Pacers player to have done it, having shot .503 from the field, .421 from the 3-point line, and .908 from the foul line in the 1993-94 season. Miller's career-high 3-point percentage, by the way, was .429, meaning Collison shot better than Miller ever did in his 18 seasons, although Miller's accuracy was challenged by more attempts than the 205 Collison took this season.

Missing three foul shots against Toronto on March 15 took Collison out of the running for a 90 percent free throw percentage, but he responded by hitting all 13 of his remaining attempts in the regular season to finish at .882. He was relieved more than anything, believing the 50-40-90 feat to be too outrageous to even consider as a goal.

Besides, his primary role wasn't to shoot. He was a quarterback, and therefore focused on keeping turnovers to a minimum. His assist-to-turnover ratio had been 2.7-to-1 the previous season in Sacramento, the best of his career at the time. His improvement in that area was a testament to his maturity and the team's chemistry, of which he was a vital part.

"That's the beautiful thing about it," Collison said late in the season. "This year I'm figuring out ways to be effective, even as a 30-year-old. To be playing this long and be doing what I'm doing, I give a lot of credit to myself and my peers around me."

As impressive as all that might be, it takes a dive into advanced stats to fully appreciate Collison's season.

He had the second-lowest usage rate of his career, meaning he didn't have the ball in his hands nearly as often as in previous seasons. In fact, he played off the ball nearly as much as he played with it, which wasn't a bad thing considering his shooting percentages. He also had a career-best Player Efficiency Rating (18.8), which measures a player's per-minute production, standardized so that the league average is 15. It gives credit for all the positive things a player can do, subtracts for the negatives of missed shots and turnovers, and incorporates minutes played and pace of play. Only Oladipo (23.1) was better among the Pacers who were part of the normal playing rotation. Collison had 7.6 Win Shares, a statistic derived from a formula which measures the number of victories a player contributes to a season. He also was second to Oladipo (8.3) and comfortably ahead of third-place Thaddeus Young (5.5) in that category.

And while we're at it, he tied his career high for blocked shots in a season, with 15.

Given the landslide of stats in his favor, it seems apparent Collison was the Pacers' second-most valuable player this season, and rivaled Oladipo as their most surprising player, too. It probably isn't a testament to the Pacers' offense that Collison, their best shooter by field goal percentage, averaged the fewest shots per game (9.2) of all the starters.

He also was a solid defender. Not as good as his younger and bigger backup, Cory Joseph, but more than adequate. He ranked third on the team in steals on a per-minute basis and set an example for his teammates by embracing the intellectual side of it.

"He takes great pride in his D," Pacers assistant Dan Burke said. "He's always had that.

"He's playing against younger guys with great talent but he's shown that fierce competitiveness I thought he had when he was first here. He always asks what he can do on defense. 'What do you see out there?' He's inquisitive. That pride and competitiveness will rub off on these younger guys."

It wouldn't be difficult to find a more dynamic point guard in the NBA than Collison, but not many could have fit this team as well. He kept the offense flowing with his understanding of tempo and balance. He didn't force passes or shots. He had the speed to make things happen in transition but knew when to tug the reins and execute a halfcourt offense.

"I knew he was a guy who could defend and run a team," coach Nate McMillan said during the season. "He's been exactly what we needed, a veteran point guard who could establish our style of play."

He and Oladipo combined to give the Pacers their swiftest backcourt in franchise history. Both are the offspring of world class sprinters who could outrun virtually everyone, although Collison claims to have lost a step from when he entered the NBA. The sore left knee that eventually required surgery shortly before the All-Star break and kept him out of 11 games didn't help, but he finished the season virtually pain-free.

Their style of play and personalities meshed, too. Collison didn't mind letting Oladipo initiate the offense, and his low-key personality offset Oladipo's more flamboyant nature.

"It's great working with somebody like that," Oladipo said during the season. "He's great, man. He looks for us, he pushes the pace. We feed off his pace. He gets me going, I get him going. He believes in me, so it's great to have somebody alongside me like that."

Collison was a quiet leader who injected confidence into teammates in subtle ways. By making sure everyone was involved in the offense when he was at its controls, by a few words here or there during a game, or by a few encouraging texts to Bojan Bogdanovic after Bogdanovic had thrown away a pass that led to a homecourt loss to Boston.

Collison's performance in the playoff series with Cleveland was uneven. He shot poorly in Games 1, 3, 4, and 5, combining to hit 9-of-35 field goal attempts and 2-of-12 3-pointers. He bounced back to play well in Games 6 and 7, though, hitting 15-of-22 shots, including 4-of-7 3-pointers. His quarterbacking remained consistent throughout the series.

Kevin Pritchard will have to decide whether to honor the second season of Collison's contract or pay him a small guarantee and move on. But to whom? The only point guards who graded out better last season were All-Stars who are likely unavailable in the marketplace — and some of those are ball-dominant players who might not fit the Pacers' current chemistry.

Collison doesn't need to be the star and doesn't need the ball as often as most point guards to be effective. On this team, that might be the best kind of point guard.

Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com and you could be featured in his next mailbag.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.