If the Oklahoma City Thunder was a car, then, of course, Russell Westbrook would be the engine that keeps the thing going. But if I had to pick a player to represent the chassis of the car, it would definitely have to be Nick Collison. The foundation upon which the Thunder was built was started around Collison, Westbrook, and Kevin Durant. Every other player was a supporting beam. That is the importance of Nick Collison. With Durant’s departure, the Thunder need Collison’s veteran presence now more than ever.
While Collison’s impact on the court may be in decline, his impact off the court is still sky-high. He’s done wonders for the development of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. And he will likely do the same in the development of Domantas Sabonis and Joffrey Lauvergne. Player development is one part playing time, one part mentoring. If either of those two things are lacking, then the player likely doesn’t develop to his full potential. Just look at the young players on the Sacramento Kings or the Philadelphia 76ers. They’ve had plenty of playing time over the past 3 seasons, but the people mentoring have been subpar, which has led to below average player development.
Once a position of weakness for the Thunder, the big man position is now one of the Thunder’s biggest strengths. A lot of that has to do with Thunder big man coach Mark Bryant. But a lot of that development is probably rooted in those young big men working with Collison in practice day in and day out. While Collison certainly has a future in coaching, let’s not put his career to bed just yet.
Although his athleticism may be waning, his basketball IQ is not. On the offensive end of the floor, Collison still remains one of the best passing big men and one of the best screen-setters in the game. His bounce passes to Durant or Westbrook on the baseline are things of legend. Defensively, Collison is one of the best on the team at positional defense. A lot like the recently retired Tim Duncan, Collison has a penchant for being in position to make the right play defensively or to dole out a little punishment in the form of a hard (legal) foul.2015-16 Statistics
59 GP, 11.8 mins, 2.1 pts, 2.9 rebs, 0.9 asts, 0.3 stls, 0.3 blks, 45.9% FG, 69.7% FTBest-Case Scenario
The best-case scenario for Collison for this upcoming season is for him to continue on the current trajectory that he is on. Act as a player-coach for the young players and give quality, consistent minutes whenever asked. Collison’s minutes per game will likely hover around 10 minutes per and he’ll probably receive a good amount of DNP-CDs throughout the season as the Thunder try to develop Sabonis and Lauvergne. When he does get in the game, look for him to get involved in a two-man game with one of either Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, or Cameron Payne.Worst-Case Scenario
If Collison is playing more than 12 minutes a game, something is amiss in regards to the front court. Collison is not the same player he was 2-3 years ago and no one should expect that from him. He’s never been a consistent outside threat and he’s a bit slower in getting to his spots. In short bursts, Collison can still be effective. But the more he’s on the floor, the more his age shows.Percentage that he will be traded sometime this season:
.000000001% – You don’t trade Old Man Thunder. Unless it is absolutely necessary (i.e. you need his exact salary to make a blockbuster work), you don’t trade this organizational pillar. The only way the Thunder would ever trade Collison, would be to trade him back to Seattle to end his career where he started it. But alas, there’s one big thing missing from that equation.Collison’s Season Preview
I expect Collison’s season will look very similar to last season, but with a slightly reduced role. At media day last season, Collison mentioned that he feels like he can still play. But Father Time loses to no one, and Collison is no different than any other opponent Father Time has faced. One of the qualities I like about Collison is his pragmatism. His ability to look at any situation and call it what it is. Well, the end is near, Old Man Thunder. Hopefully he realizes this and rides off into the Oklahoma sunset with his head high.