Earlier in this season, hopes were high for Darren Collison. In fact, some member of the astute MMB staff even guaranteed that you would like watching him play based on no more than his preseason performances. Early returns seemed to confirm that impression, as he began the season averaging 16 and 7 in the first five, leading the Mavs to a 4-1 start.
As of three weeks ago, that Darren Collison seemed irrevocably gone. After going 1-10 in a crushing loss to the Lakers on November 24th, the 3rd in a four game stretch in which he averaged more than 4 TOs a game, he was replaced in the starting lineup by Dominique Jones, the basketball equivalent of being punched in the crotch by your pet dog. When Dominique Jones failed in predictable Dom Jones ways, Collison was not reinstated--rather, the cryptkeeper, or as he's currently known Derek Fisher, was plugged in.
Collison continued to receive consistent minutes, but he struggled. Over the course of 5 games, from Dec 14th to Dec 21st, Collison averaged 7 points and 2.6 assists. He looked, in other words, like the kind of player you could trade Ian Mahimni for.
On Dec 21st, Collison started the game but played only 10 minutes because of illness. He took one shot, which he missed, dished 2 assists, turned it over once and committed a foul. It was the nadir of his Dallas career, but what choice did Carlisle had? Derek Fisher had died of old age, and Dom Jones had forcibly reminded Carlisle that he was Dominique Jones, the only basketball player on Earth who has never actually made a basket.
Carlisle gave Dom Jones one more shot the next day, in which a scorekeeping aberration credited him with one basket on seven shots, 4 assists and 2 turnovers. Collison, coming off the bench, went 6-9 for 15 points and other stats as well. It must have struck Carlisle as good enough. And why not.
The next night, the Mavs took the Thunder, the best team in the Western Conference, to overtime, and it was all Collison. He scored 32 points (on 22 shots), dished 4 assists, grabbed 5 boards and swiped 5 steals.
Collison certainly hasn't blown the doors off the place since his return to the starting lineup. But, he's done what he didn't do even when he was scoring at such high efficiency earlier--he's played as a point guard. In the four games since his offensive explosion against the Thunder, he's had more than 1 turnover only once and 8 assists twice. He's averaged 13.5 points on 48% shooting. Three of the four were losses, but they certainly weren't DC's fault.
What is Collison doing differently, and will it last? I don't know the answer to that question. If it keeps up, it may be the only documented case in the history of man of Rick Carlisle's extremely trial-by-fire-and-not-very-much-trial approach to young players actually making a player perform like coach expects.
But the point is, the Mavs have 49 games left to play, they're only 4 games out of the playoffs, Dirk is rounding into shape, and if Collison can actually handle the starting point ,we really can't say for sure what will happen in Mavsdom this year. That's a good thing.