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What about Nick?

Once again guest Joe Newell makes a push to take over one of our writing spots by providing a nice guest column about Nick Collison's season to date:

The Sonics drafted Nick Collison with the 12th pick of the 2003 draft, which makes him our Lottery pick that year. Seattle needed the Power forward for the future. That draft year, drafting in the twelfth spot, the only bonafide choices for the PF spot were Nick and Michael Sweetney. The dilemma (if there was one at the time) was solved when Sweetney was taken three spots before Seattle’s draft spot at number 9 by New York; this left Nick Collison for us at # 12.

Most of us know the story about the separated shoulder Nick suffered before his first regular season game. He eventually had double shoulder surgery, and rehabbed his entire rookie season. His second season (which was more actually his first) saw him get minutes behind and alongside Reggie Evans, Danny Fortson and Vladimir Radmonovich. In 17 Minutes per game he averaged 5.6 pts, 4.6 rebs., while shooting 53%. He contributed nicely in the playoffs scoring double figures 3 times.

Coming into this year, with a new coach, Nick was told he would again come off the bench because Coach Weiss liked the paring of Nick with Danny Fortson; also many of Nick’s minutes came at the Center position, where he is usually smaller than his opponent. Coach Weiss is gone now, and Seattle has transitioned to new coach Bob Hill. Reggie Evans and Danny Fortson have seen almost no playing time in Hill’s 16 games as coach. Coach Hill immediately placed Vladimir Radmonovich into the starting lineup as the Power Forward. In the meantime, Nick remains in the role of backup; still not seeing an abundance of minutes. His minutes, points and rebounds have just slightly elevated above those of last year. So what is the dilemma?

Being drafted in the lottery carries expectations with it; just as signing a big contract does. The fans, management and teammates would just naturally have great hopes for a player drafted that high; we equate star quality with the lottery. Has Nick not lived up to our expectations? Was he a wasted draft pick? Is he destined to be a role player? Coach Hill’s statements recently expressed his hope that he could get more production from Nick specifically, and the PF position in general.

In comparing the two Power Forwards that are getting playing time now with Coach Hill’s rotations, you get two dramatically different types of basketball player, with different skill sets. Vlade is an outside shooter, who can be very hot or very cold. When he is hot, he is a hard match up for the other team’s power forward. Vlade is a weak defender, but can hold his own in some matchups. Vlade wants to start, but he is probably more suited to play small forward, especially as regards his rebounding. Nick on the other hand is a true power forward who plays defense, rebounds and plays closer to the basket. He has shown a nice medium range jumper; a few post up moves and put backs are where most of his points come from, as plays are not usually called for him.

So what is the future at this position? I think the numbers may give us a clue. Like most players, production increases with court time. The law of cause and effect would show us that if more minutes were played, more production would result; I for one would love to see Nick get more minutes.

During Nick’s 1 ½ seasons of playing time, he has played at least 30 mpg a total of 14 times. That is not a misprint. If we look at the numbers with those 14 games (3 of which were last year) we see a production output that looks like this: 13 points per game, 8.5 rebs., on 64% shooting. I would argue that those are pretty nice numbers for a power forward with a season and a half of experience, under 3 different coaches. For comparisons sake, Vlade averaged 30 minutes a game last year (well, 29.5 to be exact, so this makes a nice comparison) and his numbers were thus: 11.8 pts., 4.6 rebs., 40.9% shooting. I realize that this is not scientific, but the point I think is illustrated: Production would probably not suffer if Nick were given 30 mpg or more, and Vlade was the one to get the backup minutes. Allowing that Vlade is a free agent after this season, and may very well be somewhere else next year, I see this as a great time to turn Nick loose.

It is interesting to note that Nick has only played 30 minutes one time under Coach Hill, while Vlade has done so 8 times. In Vlade’s eight 30+ minute games under Hill, he is averaging 15pts/6 rebs; in the other 8 he is averaging 6 pts/4 rebs. It is hit or miss with Vlade. It is possible that Coach Hill might be rethinking that power forward position as of late. Nick and Vlade have been splitting the minutes a bit more equitably the last 4 games, with neither of them getting 30+ minutes.

One other aspect that comes to mind is Nick’s propensity to take himself out of games by fouling. True, he has had some struggles, but in those 14 games where he got extended minutes (shall we say starter’s minutes), he has averaged 3.6 fouls; not a prohibitive number considering some of those game he played extended minutes as an undersized center.

Again, Vlade is a free agent after the season, Nick is not. Nick has not had the number of games with extended minutes to really show what he can do.

With the incredible growth curve that we have seen with Robert Swift (our other lottery pick) and his extended minutes, it is too soon to be down on Nick; I just don’t think he has gotten his shot yet. On, Nick is (at this point of his career) compared to former NBA player Bison Dele, previously known as Brian Williams; I like the comparison. Bison played between 11-20 mpg his first four seasons and averaged 7.4 pts/4.6 rebs.; Fairly similar to our Nick. But the following year, his fifth, when he was 26 (just about Nick’s age when next year starts) Bison averaged 33 mpg, 15.8 pts./7.6 rebs.; he also averaged 16/8.9 two years later when getting similar minutes.

I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect great production out of Nick when he is finally given significant minutes. So many players just need to get the vote of confidence from the coach, and the rhythm that comes from playing long stretches during the ebb and flow of a game. I think Nick can be our guy at the power forward spot. We don’t need a superstar there, just a solid, day in day out contributor that will do the dirty work, and play within the framework of the team concept. I think he can be a valuable member of the young core of Seattle Supersonics; much more than a role player.