OKC Thunder 2010-2011 Final Player Grades: End of Season Profiles; Nick Collison

Today we look at the hardworking post player who has become a Thunder fan favourite, Nick Collison.

History:

Nick Collison is the classic American basketball story. A small-town boy from Iowa working his way up through the ranks and eventually playing in the NBA. But, rather than make a dramatic movie about him, I'll just give you the basics of his career.

His college career was spent on the perennial championship challengers known as the Kansas Jayhawks. In his four years there, he improved consistently and took on a larger role as his career went on. During his final two years, his team reached the Final Four, and his career climaxed with a national championship loss to Carmelo Anthony's Syracuse Orangemen. During the summer of 2002 (in-between his Junior and Senior years of college), he was a part of Team USA. Back then, the FIBA World Championships weren't taken seriously, allowing more minor NBA players and college stars to line the roster. As a result, the team lost to eventual champion Yugoslavia (now Serbia) in the Quarter-Finals, and wound up in sixth place.

During college, Nick had developed a reputation as a refined post player who wouldn't wow you in any area, but was seasoned enough to start playing immediately. Unfortunately, he was in the talent-laden 2003 draft that featured superstars like James, Wade, Bosh, and Anthony, so he fell down to the 12th draft spot, where he was picked up by the Seattle Supersonics.

Below: More history, the rest of the profile and grades!

When first arriving on the SuperSonics, he arrived on a team that had just suffered a down year because of injuries to Ray Allen and Brant Barry. But the team had playoff talent, so Collison spent his time buried on the bench, being too foul prone and not effective enough in any area to get starter's minutes. Nate McMillan jumped ship and went south the next season, resulting in the franchise going under just enough turmoil to push them out of the playoffs. They also went under a period of terrible mismanagement, drafting busts like Johan Petro, Robert Swift, and the unheralded Saer Sene while also making horrible trades resulting in them losing guys like Reggie Evans and Flip Murray. 

During all of this turmoil, Nick Collison stayed. His numbers steadily improved as the team got worse and his minutes went up. He peaked from 2006 until 2008, when he averaged nearly a double-double and started on a semi-consistent basis for the Supersonics. Of course, while he was doing this, Presti was hired in 2007, the youth movement started, and the team moved to Oklahoma City in the summer of 2008.

He continued in a similar role during his first season in Oklahoma City, but his numbers were never quite good enough to justify him as a consistent starter, and his rebounding numbers suffered because the Thunder would always throw out big lineups (especially under Carlesimo). By the Thunder's second season, they had found more viable paint options in Krstic, Etan Thomas, and Ibaka, so Collisons minutes and numbers continued to decrease, and he was no longer a starter. However, he had found a niche on the team. And, however silly it may sound, it was by being a jack-of-all-trades. He never asked for a huge salary, and he proved invaluable to the team in certain situations, like when they needed a charge in the paint, a pick on the high post, or a garbage bucket. All of this led to him being a favourite among Oklahoma City fans, who like to see that type of hard-working player.

Pre-Season Expectations:

Nick Collison had been signed to a sizable contract over the off-season, so it was only natural for fans to expect more of him. Many were left puzzled by the move, because of his continually diminishing role and seemingly terrible box score numbers. But those on the inside knew why he was back. He has an extremely high basketball IQ, and he was the perfect counter-balance to a big man like Serge Ibaka, who would commit terrible errors in the paint. But, all in all, while some wanted a bit more out of Nick Collison, there were others who just wanted him to stay the course.

Regular Season Grade: C

It's hard to give him anything but a C here. His numbers continued to decrease when compared to last season, but he continued to do the little things that made him revered. He also missed 11 games this season due to injury, which hurt us early on.

The most aggravating thing about Nick Collison was his inconsistency. He did well against teams that had soft centers or had a fast pace, like Sacramento, Phoenix, Detroit, and Minnesota. But when he was on the big stage against a major opponent, he faltered, getting destroyed by guys like Dwight Howard defensively, and having 0fers against the Spurs twice.

Post-Season Grade: A-

However, the post-season was a different story. While many like to focus on the contributions and revivals of guys like Eric Maynor and James Harden, many also forget about the great performances put on by Nick Collison. He shot an amazing 63% from the field, had only 13 turnovers in 17 games, and he was easily the Thunder's best defender against Dirk Nowitzki in the Western Conference Finals.

The post-season also saw the unleashing of Nick Collison's jumpshot. Krstic was always the man for that, but once he was traded, the Thunder looked for another big man to hit mid-range jumpers. Perkins and Mohammed both auditioned, but their jumpers usually came off looking flat and rushed. Collison, however, was quick enough to get to his spot in time, and his jumper looked much better from a mechanical point of view. So, come playoff time, he got the nod to use his jumper, and his offensive production significantly increased.

Most Memorable Game:

It's kind of cheap to name the last playoff game as Collison's most memorable, but it's one in which he really shined. Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals was a capsule of the entire series for Nick Collison. Ibaka went to the bench early for foul trouble, and Collison earned his way in the game with his smart defense on Dirk, his way of keeping the offense moving, and his double-double numbers.

Collison had held Nowitzki to 17 up until the fourth quarter, and he had 5 turnovers in the game. But it was just one defensive lapse in the fourth that allowed Dirk's big three pointer, putting the Mavericks up by one. It was a valiant effort by Nick Collison, and one of his best games of the year. Unfortunately, it was just not enough.

Most Memorable Single Moment:

Nick Collison doesn't have a lot of "Oh WOW!" moments, but this was one of the rare ones. Sure, it wasn't flashy, but it gave the Thunder a two possession lead in a tight fourth quarter situation. He would go on to assist in a Cook jumper, block a Dirk layup, and hit two free throws (after missing two just moments earlier) that put the Thunder up by 6 with 47 seconds to go. All in all, it was just the beginning of a great quarter for Nick Collison in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, the Thunder's lone win of the series.

Future Expectations:

Before this season, I would have expected Nick Collison to stay on the team forever, but with his stock rising throughout the playoffs and his age due to hit 31 by the time next season rolls around, I wouldn't throw away the possibility of Sam Presti capitalizing on his value. I could totally see the converse happening, with the Thunder not wanting to change a good thing, but that's exactly what killed Seattle's previous GM, so a trade is not out of the realm of possibility.

Nonetheless, should he stay with the team, he'll be an asset for years to come. He doesn't rely on athleticism, so his production shouldn't decrease with age, as long as his role with the team stays the same. He does have some back issues, so that might be something to watch for, but his knees and feet are healthy, which is important when considering how long a big man will play. His role should also stay the same, playing backup power forward behind Ibaka and sometimes sliding into Center. If Cole Aldrich replaces Nazr Mohammed at the backup center spot next year, he could be a mentor to Aldrich and a nice dose of reliability as we test out the young center. All in all, while Collison's jersey will never hang in the rafters, he is nonetheless a huge part of the Thunder's successful young team, and, should he stay on the team, will be a huge piece moving forward.

Player Grades:

A: Far exceeded expectations
B: Exceeded expectations
C: Met expectations
D: Did not meet expectations
F: Fell far short of expectations

Previous Grades:

Cole Aldrich

Daequan Cook

Jeff Green

Royal Ivey

Nenad Krstic

Eric Maynor

Nazr Mohammed

Byron Mullens

Nate Robinson

Thabo Sefolosha

D.J. White 

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