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Debunking the myth of Nick Collison's demise

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Calls of 'finished' and 'washed up' have dogged Nick Collison this season as his field goal percentage has taken a nosedive into wasteland territory, but that doesn't tell the full story.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Rumors of Nick Collison's demise abound through the first trimester of the season. Always a player regarded for his hoops savvy rather than athleticism, age has yet gradually sapped what athleticism and skill he still had, pushing him to the outer fringes of Scott Brooks' rotation.

It's true that Collison is getting older, and it's true that he's been bad this season, mainly on offense. His field goal percentage has plummeted to .398 from .556 last season, which spans the difference from 'efficient' to 'toxic.' Collison is hardly carrying the Thunder with his scoring, but for a player who was scrapping for minutes to begin with, the plunge is doing him no favors.

The injury absences of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook through the early portion of the season haven't helped the shooting efficiency of any Thunder players. But even in the all-too-small nine-game sample of games with Durant and Westbrook in the lineup, Collison shot a disappointing 7-for-20 (.350), picking up two DNP-CDs along the way.

What stood out most from those seven games? Collison took nine 3-pointers without a single make, attempting at least one 3 in all but one game. Without the 3-point attempts, he would've had shot 7-for-11 (.636).

Of course, the 3-pointers are something new this year. He attempted 17 last season, while this season he's at 44 already. The idea was that Collison, historically a pretty reliable midrange shooter, would join the ever-expanding list of rangy big men that could shoot from 3-point range where the makes are more efficient and the spacing provided is more emphatic.

It hasn't worked out yet. Collison is shooting .250 from 3, and defenses haven't really been compelled to stay tight on him out to the arc.

But that's really it. The fact that he can't efficiently make 3s but is being asked to shoot them is almost entirely the problem here. Check out Collison's shot distribution from last season compared to this season (information from Basketball-Reference):

The main thing that gets me is that Collison's shot distribution is really only dramatically changed in two areas: at the rim and behind the 3-point line. His percentage of attempts at the rim is down 31.7%, while his percentage of attempts from 3-point range is up 32.8%.

That matters because Collison hasn't actually been shooting that much worse from those spots. Sticking with Basketball-Reference's data, his shot-making percentages have mostly held steady by range; there's been a slight drop-off across the board, but that's most likely the result of playing without Durant and Westbrook or even a cold streak prompted by missing more shots on the whole. The only exception is in the 10-16 feet range where there's been a more dramatic drop-off, but that accounts for just five percent of his shots this year (and half of that last year).

That all might sound complicated, conceptual and math-y. An easier way to look at is this: if we took Collison's field goal percentage by range from this season and cross it by last season's shot distribution, he'd be shooting 51.8% – still a clear step down from 55.6% last season, but nowhere close to the drop-off this season, and still efficient.

To reiterate: shot distribution is the problem for Collison, not shot-making. And unlike the latter, the former is more dictated by a coach's whim than by Father Time. Scott Brooks' decision to spread him out to 3 has had a more averse effect on Collison's efficiency than his own shot-making ability has.

If we took Collison's field goal percentage by range from this season and cross it by last season's shot distribution, he'd be shooting 51.8%.

Now, is that to say that Collison shooting 3's is a bad thing? Probably not, or not yet anyway. For a declining veteran (who hits free agency after the season, though he may retire) like Collison, adding a 3-point shot might be the best way to remain relevant in the modern NBA where the ability to space the floor is increasingly more a 'need' than a 'want.' Next to Durant and Westbrook, the ability to space the floor is invaluable. Even if Collison isn't knocking them down efficiently yet, it'll be worth it if he's ready to drill them come playoff time and Brooks can call plays like this.

Instead, this look-in was purely to debunk the myth that Collison is washed up. In fact, he's trying to expand his game to hang around longer! His shot-making skill, in a vacuum, hasn't dropped off due to old age. And though this isn't the place to go into it in greater depth, his screening and defensive ability remain terrific. Collison's tank isn't empty yet.

(In my opinion, it's a bit silly to doubt Collison because of something like age when he's going to be in the NBA forever.)