OKC Thunder 2011-2012 Final Player Grades and Season-End Profile: Nick Collison

"If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine." Like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Nick Collison is a master at drawing the offensive foul. Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

Name: Nick Collison

Nickname: "Boog," "Los"

Player History:

Nick Collison is a bon vivant, an elder statesman, and is very, very good at standing perfectly still while impossibly large men run into him at a high rate of speed. A native of Iowa, Collison attended the University of Kansas after an impressive high school career that culminated with a spot on the 1999 McDonald's High School All American Team. During his time at Kansas the Jayhawks reached the Final Four twice and made an appearance in the national title game, losing the 2002-'03 crown to a Syracuse team piloted by Carmelo Anthony. Collison's numbers at KU were fantastic with an 18.5 points per game and 10 rebounds a game career average, impressive enough to have him named the Jayhawk's "Player of the Decade" by KUSports.com. In a star studded 2003 NBA Draft, Collison was taken by the then Seattle Supersonics with the 12th pick.

Having missed the 2003-'04 season to recover from shoulder surgery, Collison played respectable ball for Seattle but nothing that would catch your eye. The 2006-'07 would change that perspective for the better. Collison started in 56 games and would average 9.6 points per game with 8.1 rebounds. His success continued in the 2007-'08 season, grabbing an average of 9.4 rebounds a game to go along with his 9.8 points per game. Collison reached his peak during these two seasons, but has remained a steady presence in Oklahoma City with a high basketball I.Q. and preternatural ability to excel in the "hustle stats" arena.

Pre-Season Expectations:

Having a solid regular season and a spectacular post season (excellent defense in addition to shooting 63% from the field), much of the same was expected for the 2011-2012 season. Collison missed 11 games early on, but would return to have a good but not great year. He played well against the teams you would expect him to play well against, but was subdued with a violent ferver by the upper tier of big men like Dwight Howard. Collison would have a very difficult time against San Antonio, throwing up a pair of significantly bad games. Going into the '11-'12 season, the expectations were to build on the successes of the playoffs and continue to implement the midrange jumper on offense.

Regular Season Grade: C+

It's difficult to give a higher grade than this when looking at the stat sheet. Collison's minutes went down, albeit only slightly, from averaging 21.5 last year to this season's 20.7. The rest of the statistics are similarly close, showing that little had improved or worsened on the offensive end. Points per game remained steady at 4.5 after hitting 4.6 last season, but with a higher field goal percentage of 59.7%. The excellent ability to run the pick and roll with James Harden, along with knowing how and when to roll and the ability to finish the play when the ball is in his hands, stood out this year. The solid defensive and carnival of hustle stats shown in years past made no exception for this season. Collinson continued his reign of terror on NBA offenses with aplomb, falling down with all of the authority that Weebles (they wobble, but they do not fall down) so desperately long for.

Post-Season Grade: (B-)

Round 1 vs. the Mavericks: B-

The statistics were less than impressive, including an alarming 4.3 fouls per game while only averaging 18.5 minutes played, but Collison played well in spots. Having the unpleasant assignment of guarding Dirk Nowitzki, the fouls piled up early and limited both playing time and productiveness for Collison. That being said, he played smart defense against Dirk and proved to be clutch in the 4th and final game of the series. With 2:01 left in Maverick's season, Collison would draw an offensive foul on Nowitzki and proceed to hit both of his free throws, putting Oklahoma City up 100-95 in the eventual 103-97 win to sweep the defending champs.

Round 2 vs. the Lakers : C

Collison played well enough on offense, shooting 75% but only throwing up 2.4 attempts a game. On defense, things did not go as well. It was disheartening, like when you come home to find a clearly intoxicated camel in your front yard that seems to want to go inside to use the phone. Maybe not that unsettling, but it wasn't pretty. The effort was there, as it almost always is for Collison, but the matchups he was presented with proved to be beyond his control. With neither the size to body up with Bynum nor the mobility of Pau Gasol, the series agains the Lakers wasn't one to remember.

Round 3 vs. the Spurs: B-

Against the Spurs, Collison's 13.7 minutes a game were significantly lower than his playoff average of 16.6. This makes it difficult for me to give him a B, but he played well enough in spots to garner an argument. Unlike the Lakers series, the defense was up to par and offensive production, though limited, carried an impressive 71% shooting average.

Finals vs. the Heat: B

After a strong showing in game one of the series, going 4 for 5 from the field with 8 points and 10 rebounds on 21 minutes, Collison saw his playing time drop to an average of 15.5 minutes of playing time for the remaining 4 games of the NBA Finals. It was a curious decision by Scott Brooks and the coaching staff, with Ibaka having a lackluster series and Perkins playing with the obvious disadvantage of a torn groin. Collison's defense was mostly solid throughout the remainder of the series, but his offense would only show up again in game 4 with a 6 point contribution going 3-4 on the night.

Most Memorable Game: Thunder 108 Spurs 96 Jan. 8, 2012

With the Thunder going for their third win in 3 nights, Collison would arguably have his best game of the regular season. An impressive 6 for 7 from the field (the lone miss being a 21 foot jumper) along with 10 rebounds, Collison's double-double effort was second only to Durant's 21 points and 10 rebounds on the night. Notably, both Collison and the Thunder have had their difficulties against the Spurs in the 2010-'11 season, with their best showing coming from a 109-105 loss in their third and final regular season game against San Antonio. Beating the Spurs, and beating them soundly enough to rest the starters throughout the fourth quarter, would provide a boost in confidence against a team that had their number last year.

Most Memorable Single Moment:

There are a handful of memorable moments to chose from. I would argue that Collison's block of a Kevin Love layup with 1:46 remaining in the second overtime deserves consideration. Love was NBA Jam's "ON FIRE!" that night, scoring 51 points and grabbing 14 rebounds, and was looking to tie the game up at 140 a piece before Collison's block would help to seal the deal in an epic 149-140 victory. It was a huge play, but that's not the first thing that most fans will recall from the 2011-12 season. As alluded to earlier in the article, Nick Collison is a bon vivant. A true dilettante that calls to mind the various escapades of George Plimpton, but a variation of Plimpton greatness with the added bonus of athletic ability and with none of the ridiculously pompous accent. The 7 part series of articles, "The Nick Collison Guest Blog" for GQ, proved to be entertaining and enlightening. These articles gave birth to what will undoubtably remain in my mind as the single most memorable piece of Collison lore for this past season.

Dozens and dozens of NBA players have fan made YouTube videos, mostly featuring dunks and there can be the occasional highlight reel of blocked shots, but Collison is a man of subtle, artful character. Like the fat man in the orange jumpsuit from Star Wars, one can hear the phrase "stay on target…stay on target" being repeated until he is ultimately obliterated by an incoming offense player. Contrary to reason and self preservation, this was the intended outcome and it was achieved with the understated flair of Plimpton himself.

Future Expectations:

For the 2012-13 season, I would expect much more of the same in every category. The one area to look for improvement would be when the ball is in his hands. Collison has a nice mid range jumper and should look to take more shots when applicable. Otherwise, 2012-13 should look a lot like this past season.

***

Player Grades:

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

Other Player Grades:

X
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