2017 Summer Feature: Nick Collison

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

“The teams that can just continue to play the next play - and the next play - are the ones that do the best.”

There may not be a better quote to encapsulate Nick Collison’s approach to the game of basketball – a mindset that has been in lockstep with the Thunder’s outlook ever since he was drafted by the organization back in 2003.

His 2016-17 season was not as productive on the stat sheet in comparison to previous years – he played in 20 games and averaged 6.4 minutes per contest. But when he was in there, particularly in specific matchups, he displayed how he can be impactful on the court.

The grit, hustle, sacrifice and toughness of Nick Collison. #ThunderBasketball

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Eleven bruising minutes in a February home win over Memphis. A 7-point, 5-rebound, 2-assist, 1-block performance on perfect 3-for-3 shooting in an efficient 8 minutes in a home win against Philadelphia. Another battle with Zach Randolph in a 103-100 road win against the Grizzlies. Then over the course of two games to close out the season at Minnesota and then at Chesapeake Energy Arena against Denver, a combined 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting, five rebounds and two assists. In that final Game 82 against the Nuggets, he received a massive ovation from the Thunder faithful.

The fans in OKC are students of the game. They notice what Nick does. A buzz rises in the building when Collison side-shuffles to the scorer’s table. When he hits a teammate with a backdoor bounce pass or slides in and takes a charge, the arena erupts as if he’s just hit a game-winner.

Humble, honest and genuine, Collison admits that not every matchup is for him. The game has changed, even just over the course of Collison’s career. More than ever, the NBA is more guard-oriented, predicated on speed, quickness, ball-handling and three-point shooting.

Still, despite the league going away from the center-oriented style of previous decades, Collison has managed to be a player who has helped the Thunder win on the margins. Through intelligence, study and experience for sure. But also through his ability to pass the ball, move it on the dribble when necessary and play with physicality around the bucket.

“I've always had a positive effect on my team when I've been in the game,” Collison noted. “Communication, figuring out what we're trying to do, what we need, what the other team is trying to do, I've always had a good feel for that stuff.”

“It's a little bit more of an art than a science, I think, but I still feel like I'm capable of having a positive effect at times and helping the team,” Collison continued.

Collison explained that his mental technique is to “see a picture on the floor,” and to attack each and every possession with the same mindset – to do his job based on that cerebral image of the court. That’s what has allowed him to be a player who can come in and change a game, even after sitting on the bench from the end of pregame warmups, through the first half, through halftime and even into the second half.

One of the most difficult things to do in the NBA is to come in and play a four-minute burst after sitting on the bench for an hour or more of real time. But that’s the reality of professional basketball for role players like Collison, who train themselves to adjust to those crucial moments. Part of his leadership role with the Thunder has been to school younger players on that challenging aspect of 48-minute contests.

“We all have our ideal playing conditions, but reality is we don't always get those,” Collison explained. “The players that adjust to smaller minutes, smaller roles, the ones that are the best at it are the ones that are able to play the play in front of them and learn to do that, learn to do just the next thing even within a play, within a possession.”

Collison is 36, and will turn 37 in October. Early in his career, he put up gaudier numbers, averaging a career-high 9.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in the 2007-08 season. He divulged on the team’s Roar of Thunder podcast earlier this season, however, that he felt his best years as a player came in the early days in Oklahoma City, particularly the 2011-12 run to the NBA Finals. That’s when he was most in tune with how to impact the game while still in the later stages of his physical prime.

“It's just too bad that we can't jump as high when we learn the most and know the most, but that's the way life is,” Collison quipped.

Each time his contract has come up with the Thunder, Collison and the team have worked out an extension together. He’s been in Oklahoma City for all nine years of the team’s history. This July will be the first time he’ll be a free agent in his career, an extreme rarity in today’s NBA. It’s nearly unheard of for a 13-year veteran to stay with one team that long.

Collison said at his end-of-season interview that he would like to stay in the NBA, and play minutes, in the 2017-18 season. It remains to be seen whether that will be possible with the Thunder.

“Everybody knows how we feel about Nick,” Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti said. “If there's a way to make that happen on our end of things, we're going to look to try to make that happen. That's just how we feel about him.”

It’s not just his work with youngsters like Steven Adams and Domas Sabonis, his calming influence on the locker room or his presence in film study that sets a tone for the organization. It’s the way he lifts up his teammates in both private and public, embraces his role on the team and injects his sense of humor into the group. Look no further than his featured role in the ‘Stache Bros videos hyping Russell Westbrook for MVP as evidence that Nick’s personality is a part of the Thunder’s fabric.

For his part, Collison has loved every minute of his time with the Thunder, and for good reason. The team has shown their affinity for #4, and leaned on his example, guidance and leadership for over a decade. No one knows what the future holds for both him and the team, but to Collison, OKC will always have his NBA heart.

“It's just first class,” Collison said when reflecting on the Thunder. “The organization will always try to figure out the best way to do something, and they'll put in the work, the effort to try to do it the best way. That's all you can ask for as a player. The people that work here enjoy it and they're treated well.”

“I've been treated great here, and I've had great experiences here, and it's been the best basketball years of my life for sure playing here,” Collison said.

Nick! Nick! Nick! Nick!

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