INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 08: Darren Collison #2 of the Indiana Pacers celebrates in the fourth quarter while playing the Orlando Magic in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 8, 2012 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. Indiana won the game 105-87 to to win the series 3-1. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Providing the Indiana Pacers with some stability at the point guard position, a luxury they hadn't had with each additional Jamaal Tinsley injury, Darren Collison not only provided the stability, but upon his acquisition, provided hope for the position. Unfortunately, Collison's size, focus on scoring, and lackluster defense proved to be a lot for fans to take in, but when Collison played well, it certainly wasn't by accident.
The Pacers traded for George Hill on the draft night to provide some additional security at the point guard position, and despite the lockout shutting down any exciting camp talk regarding the two, that didn't slow down talk that Hill was being expected to take on point guard roles, despite playing a combo style and being a more accomplished shooting guard. Though not fair to Collison, it provided a deep backdrop to the season, for much of the season.
With Paul George intended to be a more focal point of the offense, with considerable work expected to be done inside with Roy Hibbert and David West, Collison was expected to shift his own game, taking away some of his scoring responsibilities, and asking that he run the offense as a pass first point guard. With numerous weapons on offense, he proved just that early in the season, scoring a double double in the second game of the season, while averaging over seven assists.
Despite his play as a point guard, defense proved to be a lingering issue, as too was his scoring touch. The early going in games seemed to have a 48-minute effect on DC any given night. If he began the night active on defense, he usually ended up with a solid defensive effort and if he had his running floater going, he was primed for a wildly efficient night on the scoreboard.
Unfortunately, the same held true on the opposite end as well. It wouldn't have been a huge problem if his confidence didn't appear shaken at points in the season, especially late in March, when he just looked out of sync all together, even being the scapegoat in a near choking a win away against Houston (an ironic claim given that stretch featured many "sure-handed" Pacers nearly losing a game on late free throws). A late season groin injury sidelined Collison, opening the door for George Hill to take the starting reigns. Slow starts under Collison's guidance disappeared instantly, and the team rolled through the month of April to solidify the third seed without Collison getting much time.
Even though Collison received considerable criticism for his play late in the season, he deserved ample praise for his play in the series against Orlando. With Hill struggling to contain Jameer Nelson, Collison, off the bench, handling the role alteration with professionalism, gave the second unit enough fuel to help labor them through their struggles. Collison was masterful with his 19 point effort to close Game 5 and the series, and in the five game stretch, he dished out 23 assists, committing just a single turnover.
The series against Miami proved to be another beast for Collison, who, like everyone around him, struggled to make a dent in the Miami defense. He had some nice plays, but ultimately, his inability to break the fronting Miami defense was as big a reason as anyone's that the Pacers were unable to hold onto their 2-1 series advantage.
Darren Collison continued to show improvement in his second year as a Pacer. He showed improvement in running an offense over his first year with Indiana, and continued to be a playoff caliber starter for Indiana. Collison still has some of the best speed in the game when he opts to use it and when he was playing confidently, he was a significant boost to the Pacers.
Collison's confidence was an issue, however. Perhaps his lack of size or the concerns in the back of his mind about his own abilities cropped up, but he often had nights where he just looked shell shocked at what was being tossed out by the opposing defense. He struggled considerably against the league's quicker point guards, and often shied away from responding in kind with his own skill set. Relying on DC as a scorer was rarely wise, given his on and off shooting nights.
And the Future
Above all else, Collison has proven to be starter quality for a playoff team. However, that doesn't mean he's necessarily a starter on a championship caliber team. Even though he'd be an upgrade for some playoff teams, without a serious increase in talent, he's likely not going to aid their success in a seven game series. With George Hill's future currently on hold, but expected to return as long as the money dictates his return, and the team's need to upgrade to a true play making point, Collison may be the odd man out in Indiana's point guard rotation.
He was originally traded from New Orleans on the grounds he was too good to be a backup, but wouldn't get any growth behind Chris Paul. Now, it may possibly shift to whether the Pacers want to keep him and whether he'd be too good to be a third string PG, which he definitely is. Collison seems like an easy addition in trade ideas to bring in a superior point guard, and could be a precursor to whether Collison remains in Indianapolis for next season, though I would hate to see him go.