Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| December 13, 2007
When Seattle SuperSonics big man Nick Collison
donned a protective facemask last week in his return to the lineup after fracturing his right nasal wall on Nov. 27, there was some question as to whether the mask would affect his play. Collison quickly dismissed those concerns with his performance in his first game back against the L.A. Clippers at KeyArena. Collison's 18 points and 17 points off the bench, both season highs, were critical as the Sonics defeated the Clippers 95-88.
Beyond his overall stat line, however, the performance by Collison also demonstrated the growth in his midrange game. Amongst his seven field goals in 12 attempts were three jumpers of at least 17 feet away from the basket - shots Collison rarely took or made last season. On the sidelines, Sonics Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo was pleased with what he saw from Collison.
"I think Nick can establish himself as a guy you've got to really guard on the perimeter."
"I think Nick can do that pretty consistently," said Carlesimo. "I think he can establish himself as a guy you've got to really guard on the perimeter and another guy we can pick-and-pop with and feel comfortable that he's going to make the shot."
While at Kansas, Collison showed a budding midrange game, and he wowed the Sonics brass with his shooting ability during a pre-draft workout for the team at The Furtado Center. Collison has worked tirelessly on his shooting and has been a good free-throw shooter for a big man, hitting 77.4% of his attempts from the charity stripe last season, but something was missing when he sought to translate that performance to live action outside the paint: confidence. Collison was hesitant to shoot the ball from the perimeter, fearful of missing the shot.
"It's making the transition from not getting a lot of them to taking a bunch of them every night to where you feel comfortable if you miss two or three in a row, it doesn't bother you," explained Carlesimo. "You know you're going to make the next one. It's not easy when you're not getting volume shots. The more shots you get, the more consistent you can be.
"He just has to make that next move to doing it consistently in a game. Some guys don't show you that. He does show us that in practice and in shooting drills, and he's shown it enough in games that I think he can do it more consistently or do it with more regularity."
So far this season, Collison seems to be making that transition.
"I feel a lot more comfortable," he confirmed after the win over the Clippers. "I'm trying to realize when I'm open before I catch the ball and I'm just shooting it, letting it fly, not worrying about misses. I feel more confident this year than any year past."
The numbers confirm the subjective observations. NBA.com's Hot Spots feature tracks how every player shoots from 14 zones on the court. Contrast Collison's shot chart from 2006-07 (top) with his performance so far this season (bottom):
Collison has improved his performance in the two perimeter zones he shoots from most frequently, the top of the key and the left elbow. Overall, his shooting in the five midrange hotspots - approximately between the 15-foot mark and the three-point line - has improved from 32.4% last season to 38.0% this year, solid for a big man.
More striking is that, in just over a quarter of the season, Collison has already made 19 midrange jumpers, as compared to 24 all of 2006-07. After attempting 11.6% of his shots from midrange last season, Collison is now taking these as 33.1% of his shots.
As Carlesimo explains, the upside for the Sonics is that teams will begin to include Collison's ability to shoot from the perimeter on their scouting reports, opening things up in the paint. Greater respect for Collison's jumper will also allow him to utilize his ability to pass the ball down low from the high post. He has averaged a career-best 1.6 assists per game this season.
Collison's broken nose caused him to miss three games just after the Sonics got center Kurt Thomas back in the lineup. Over the past week, the Sonics have been able to establish an effective rotation up front that features Collison, Thomas and starting power forward Chris Wilcox. Collison has averaged 9.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game in that span, and the trio has combined to average 28.4 points and 24.6 rebounds, shooting 50.9% from the field.