The Thunder is up 2-0 in their first round series against their old teammate James Harden and his new team the Houston Rockets. The Thunder was able to survive a scare in game 2, when in all actuality the Rockets didn’t even play that great. Why did the Thunder struggle so more in the second game? There are a lot of reasons for this but I believe that the biggest was that everyone’s favorite undersized marginally athletic forward didn’t get enough minutes. That is of course the man, Nick Collison. Who doesn’t love Nick Collison? Anyone that loves and appreciates good basketball has to love Nick Collison, he does everything right and doesn’t say anything about it. He is the prototypical hard worker and scrapper that has really worked himself to where he is. Iit is Collison that is silently one of the most important pieces of the Western Conference champions.
But first, how awesome is Nick Collison? He is everything I would ever want to be in life. He plays for arguably the best team in the NBA even though his raw talent level might not suggest that he would get such major minutes, he is funny, and he is a terrific father. The man does everything right! I don’t know who couldn’t love this man. What other NBA player writes a blog for GQ? There is a seemingly endless list of what makes Collison so great, but that is not the point of this article.
The Thunder had the highest offensive rating in the league this year (offensive rating is an estimate of points produced per 100 possessions). They also averaged the third most points per game in the NBA. The Thunder was one of the best offenses in the NBA, if not the best. And who had the highest offensive rating on the Thunder this season? Who else but Nick Collison. He had a 123 offensive rating, beating out Kevin Durant, who had a 122 rating. His true shooting percentage (a measure of shooting efficiency that accounts for 2-pointers, 3-pointers, and free throws) is second on the team only to Kevin Durant. Nick Collison is more important for the Thunder than one might think. Possibly one of the most telling stats is Collison’s is his win shares per 48 minutes. I know that sounds confusing, but what that measures is the number of wins contributed by a player per 48 minutes. Nick Collison is 4th on the team with a .158 rating. Each of these numbers, like many stats, can be used to argue whatever you like. However, in comparison to other Thunder players, what they do tell us is how important throughout the season that Collison has been.
These numbers don’t even really do Collison justice because it could be argued that Collison’s greatest contribution is his intangibles. He was yet again in the top 2 of charges taken this season, finishing second to Jared Jeffries. He has been the Thunder’s veteran, the one that has been a leader for the young team. He has had bruises and cuts all over his body this season from all sorts of different altercations. But that doesn’t stop him from continuing to play hard. The team in a lot of ways takes on some of Collison’s attitude.
Getting back to the playoffs, let's look at how Collison was used. In game one Nick Collison, played 18 minutes and 39 seconds and the Thunder rolled to a 29 point win. In game 2 Collison played 12 minutes and 17 seconds and the Thunder squeaked out a 3 point win. I am not saying that Nick Collison not playing is the sole reason that the Thunder struggled more in the game 2, because the Rockets' 4th quarter zone and their small-ball lineup had a lot to do with that. What I am saying is that if Collison took some of Kendrick Perkins’ minutes, then the Thunder would be more successful. Perkins played 18 minutes and 58 seconds in the Thunder’s game one win and played 28 minutes and 39 seconds in their game 2 win. In game one Perkins played 19 seconds more than Collison. In game 2 Perkins played 16 minutes and 22 seconds more than Collison. The issue in game 2 was that the Thunder was spread out by the Rockets smaller lineup and had trouble guarding them and could have used Collison's better lateral and defensive recovery ability.
If the Rockets go small, then why would we keep one of our biggest players out there? Kendrick can guard Omer Asik but that pushes Serge onto Chandler Parsons or Carlos Delfino and it draws him away from the basket where he can do what he does best - block shots. So why when the Rockets went small would Scott Brooks decide to give Perkins so many more minutes? Many people (including our own man Zorgon) make the argument that the Thunder need Perkins to help them rebound, but that doesn’t seem to be the case thus far in the series. In game one Nick Collison’s total rebound percentage (an estimate of the percentage of a players rebounds that a player grabbed while he was on the floor) was 15.1%, which was 2nd on the team, while Perkins’ average was 11.9, which was 5th on the team. So Nick rebounded significantly better than Perkins did when he was in the game, in game one. Game two was a similar story; Perkins’ average was 10.4 while Collison’s average 12.1. So all those numbers to say, Collison has rebounded at a better rate while on the floor against the Rockets. That can’t be a reason to play Perkins.
I don’t write this to try and say that Kendrick Perkins isn’t valuable for the Thunder and doesn’t deserve playing time, because I think he can be very valuable. I just think that Nick Collison really deserves more time, and Perkins is just the one that is going to have to see his minutes decrease.
The Thunder are in the driver’s seat going into game 3, but that doesn’t mean that the series is over. The Rockets very easily could have won game 2 with their best two players going 16-47. To think that the Thunder have this completely in the bag might be thinking a little too far ahead. The one thing that could help them combat the changes the Rockets are making is to give everyone’s favorite player Nick Collison some more run.
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