Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| January 22, 2008
For Seattle SuperSonics big man Nick Collison
, there's something special about the month of January. Since turning the calendar to 2008, Collison has been playing his best basketball for the Sonics. Over the team's 10 January games, Collison is averaging a double-double - 11.8 points and 11.5 rebounds per game - and has posted four double-doubles, giving him a team-high nine for the season.
That performance might not be that unusual - except for the fact that Collison put together a similarly strong stretch in January 2007. Last January, Collison averaged 15.0 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, posting seven double-doubles.
"It's an opportunity to play. I guess I've been playing well."
What's so special about the month of January?
"I don't know what it is," Collison said recently. "It's an opportunity to play. I guess I've been playing well. With me a lot of times it takes a lot of time to get a comfort level playing with guys. I'm playing pretty good right now. I'll try to keep it going; hopefully we'll get some wins."
Each of the last two years, Collison's strong January performance has coincided with a chance to move into the starting lineup. Last year, that came when the starting lineup was shaken up and Collison became a full-time starter at center for the first time in his career. This year, an injury to Chris Wilcox opened up a starting spot for Collison at power forward. With Wilcox returning to action last week, Collison has retained his starting job alongside center Kurt Thomas, sliding into the middle when Wilcox comes into the game.
Last season, Collison had struggled coming off the bench over the first two months of the season before getting a chance to start. A 29-point, 21-rebound game in Phoenix on Jan. 9 in which Collison set career highs in both categories proved the catalyst for a strong stretch.
"It definitely got me going last year," Collison said this January before the Sonics returned to Phoenix. "Before it was kind of up and down, some games I would play and some games I wouldn't. I got some momentum going and had a pretty good year and I feel like I have had a pretty good year this year, too."
The turnaround has not been quite as dramatic this year because Collison played well off the bench as part of a three-player rotation up front with Thomas and Wilcox. Over the first two months of the season, he averaged 8.7 points and 8.0 rebounds, solid numbers. Starting with a double-double of 15 points and 11 boards on New Year's Eve, however, Collison has taken his play to the next level.
Despite Wilcox's injury, Collison's playing time has not actually changed dramatically. He is playing 29.7 minutes per game in January, up from 26.6 a night over the first two months. On a per-minute basis, Collison has been much more productive. He's scoring 15.9 points and grabbing 15.5 rebounds per 40 minutes, up from 13.1 and 12.0 early in the season. Collison's shooting percentage has also taken a step forward from 49.0% to 52.1%.
The most obvious area where Collison has added to his game in January has been on the glass. Over the course of the season, only five players have grabbed more rebounds per game than the 11.5 Collison is averaging in the month of January. He's grabbed double-figures rebounds six times in 10 games.
In addition to his rebounding, Collison has been doing a better job of finishing around the basket. This season, NBA Hot Spots presented by NBA Live 08 indicates he's hitting 60.3% of his shots at the rim, up from 56.9% a year ago. That number has skyrocketed over 64% since mid-December. Collison's finishing ability and his rebounding came together in his performance against the Los Angeles Lakers last Monday, when he put up 24 points and 18 rebounds, shooting 10-of-16 from the field. In that game, Collison displayed his underrated athleticism by skying for a tip dunk and coming out of nowhere to block a layup attempt by Javaris Crittenton.
Performances like that attest to Collison's confident play.
"It's hard enough to play in the NBA without worrying about things," Collison said early in the month. "When I first started, I worried about how I was playing and if I wasn't playing well, it got to me. Now, I'm ready to play the game. If I'm open, shoot it; if I'm not, pass it. Try to get every rebound. It's a lot simpler for me than it was earlier in my career."