Just before the Sonics left on their recent 6 game road trip I took a moment to ask Sonic Reggie Evans about the manner in which he had won the starting power forward position each of the last 3 years.
Iâ€™ll spare you Reggieâ€™s long and unfocused comment (Reggie is a great guy, but speaks in about 30 word sentences most of the time). What I will say is that I may have been off base with the question.
Watching last night's game it suddenly became crystal clear to me that Reggie Evans did not win the starting spot so much as several other players failed to step up and claim it from him. While I do not intend to slight Reggie, and his effort and energy bring a lot to the table, it is obvious to me that the team has not only wanted a more multi-dimensional power forward, but that they have been simply desperate for one. Since the days of Vin Baker coaches and management must have been just desperate for Vladi Radmanovic or some other 6â€™ 10 giant to step in and lay claim to the position. One after another they failed to grab hold of the spot and the team was left with the serviceable, but limited Evans.
Enter Nick Collison.
Collison was inserted as a starter alongside rookie Johan Petro 3 games ago and has responded by taking firm hold of the position. In his three games as a starter this season Collison has not only averaged 37 minutes, 10.6 rebounds, and 15.6 points but he has displayed increased confidence and making a huge impact defensively.
â€œI feel good out there. It seems to be a lot slower out there, which is a good thing,â€ Collison said when asked about his improved play.
Perhaps the most impressive stat of the week for Nick came against Boston when he played 38 minutes without a single foul. After being foul-plagued for most of his professional career Iâ€™ll assume Collison is happy to have the refs cut him a little slack.
â€œI never feel like theyâ€™re fouls. No one does,â€ Collison said with a laugh when I asked him about his foul problems.
Nick Collison comes across as a pretty normal nice guy. When I first met him I introduced myself as usual and he did something no other athlete has done. He reached out to shake my hand saying â€œIâ€™m Nick Collison, nice to meet you.â€ As if I didnâ€™t know who this 6â€™10 giant in the #4 jersey might be.
Nick makes a point of giving the media fairly bland, clichÃ© answers that donâ€™t make for great copy. Conversations with him are very reminiscent of the scene in the movie Bull Durham where players practice answers such as â€œI just take it game by game.â€ Still these answers do not hide the fact that he knows the game. If you have any doubts about that check out his career numbers:
4 years of high school: 101 wins, 1 loss
4 years at University of Kansas 113 wins, 29 losses (including postseason)
2004 Olympic Qualifier with Team USA 10 wins, 0 Losses
The guy is a winner. Before hitting the pros he had already amassed an 87% winning percentage and led his college team to back-to-back Final Four appearances. I asked Nick about what it takes to win.
â€œ(You have to) realize what the point of playing the game is. That is winning the game. It seems pretty simple really but so many guys get worked up about other things and forget the most important part.â€
Collison has always been described as a guy whose contribution does not show up on the stat sheet. In the past he has had to rely on blue collar effort to get involved in the game.
â€œWe donâ€™t have lot of plays to throw the ball inside to the four or the five. I just go out and play the game," he said. â€œThe way we play you only have so many opportunities to make something happen offensively. I try to defend well and rebound well.â€
Finally, Nick Collison has gotten an opportunity and he has made the most of it. Not only has he taken over the starter's role, but he has grabbed hold of the position so emphatically that the coaches have had no choice but to leave him in the game.
â€œHeâ€™s been tremendous because heâ€™s getting 19-20 points without getting a play called for him,â€ said coach Bob Weiss, who indicated Collison is slotted for 35+ minutes a game. â€œThat takes a bite out of the 4 spot where we have a logjam.â€
He may even start seeing the ball a bit more.
â€œIf he can get 12-14 points a game it takes a big load off things,â€ said Weiss. â€œNick's not finished yet either. You may see us start running plays for him. He can post up and score, he can pick and roll, he can pass. Heâ€™s a terrific basketball player.â€
This is the Nick Collison I expected coming into the season. A guy who is an influence on the final outcome of each and every game, a guy who has locked down the power forward position in a way that this franchise has needed for the last 4 years. Nick did not get the position by default -- he earned it.
Nice to finally meet you, Nick.