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Darren Collison, J.J. Barea and Why the Mavericks Offense Could Thrive Again

Darren Collison driving past Daren Williams? Why yes, I think I will use this picture.
Darren Collison driving past Daren Williams? Why yes, I think I will use this picture.

The Mavericks point guard situation in the Dirk Nowtizki era has never been truly solid. From Steve Nash's lack of defense and climbing age, to Jason Terry's inability to be a full-time floor leader, to Devin Harris' unfulfilled potential and Jason Kidd's many pros outweighed by physical deficiencies, there's always been a way to poke holes in for any Dallas point guard in the last 10 years.

Funny that the one with so many obvious red flags would end up being one of the most crucial. I'm of course speaking of the departed J.J. Barea. Despite his physical shortcomings (pun definitely intended) Barea's insertion into the starting lineup of Game 4 of the 2011 Finals help shift the series back in Dallas' favor.

Barea did something that no other Maverick point guard could do since Steve Nash -- work the pick and roll beautifully with Dirk Nowitzki, able to attack the rim, pull up for a jumper or pass to an open shooter or big man at the rim. Jason Kidd was allergic to layups. Jason Terry attacked sparingly, favoring a jumper and Devin Harris drove off a pick with blinders on. No Maverick point guard maneuvered as beautifully as Barea did during his time here with great effectiveness as Steve Nash.

Somehow Barea, despite being ludicrously listed at 6-feet, improved his field goal percentage at the rim to 61.2 percent in 2011. It fell of a little bit more in Minnesota last season, but that's mainly due to more attempts and less open lanes thanks to a Timberwolves team that was dreadful beyond the arc.

Which is why new starting point guard Darren Collison is so intriguing. Collison will enter his fourth year and first with Dallas after being acquired in a trade along with guard Dahntay Jones. Collison is clearly the most experienced and talented point guard on the roster and makes total sense too: he's seemingly a great pick and roll player with a good outside shot that will work the two man game with Dirk Nowitzki, while not being so overwhelmed defensively like Barea and at times, Kidd, because of physical limitations.

It should be a perfect fit. But unfortunately, while Collison isn't a bad pick and roll player, he just isn't the offensive dynamo in the set like his reputation and talents paint him to be. I'll even strike out last season's numbers, which Collison's were the worst to date, with low shooting percentages in pick and roll plays and high turnovers. We can chalk this up to Indy's system with Frank Vogel last year, which wanted to get the ball in the hands of Roy Hibbert and David West as much as possible, with Danny Granger playing off them and hoisting threes.

How about two seasons ago and the year before that with New Orleans, where Collison exploded in his rookie season after taking over for the hurt Chris Paul? Unfortunately not that much better. According to My Synergy Sports, In 2010-2011 and in pick and roll ball handler plays that ended in a shot attempt, turnover or free throws, Collison shot 39 percent in such plays and averaged just 0.72 points per possession, which ranked 130th in the league. In his rookie season? A shooting percentage a bit over 36 percent.

In fact, most of Collison's damage has been done out of isolation plays and in transition. Collison has been brilliant in transition, shooting over 50 percent in his three years in such plays and has very solid shooting numbers in isolation. Certainly, the Mavericks could use someone who can get up the floor and score and another player to create off the dribble with the shot clock winding down.

While the evidence points to it, this doesn't mean Collison will be a mediocre pick and roll player with Dallas. He's still a quality finisher at the rim, posses a nice jumper at the mid and three point range and has the ability to find people in traffic. In an offense more free-flowing, Collison has a chance to rack up eight to seven assists a night, much like Jason Kidd was giving the Mavericks, with of course, more offensive versatility. And of course, Collison hasn't worked in such an offense with capable roll men like Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman and Brandan Wright will be. In Indiana, he didn't work the pick and roll often enough with Hibbert or West and when he was given the reigns of a flowing offense, didn't have capable big men in New Orleans, other than, ironically, West.

And of course, we can't forget Collison's explosion in the final months of the 2009-2010 season. Here are Collison's monthly per-game stats once he became the starter in his rookie season.

  • January: 13 games, 21.6 points, 8.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 4.8 turnovers, 41.7 minutes (!!!) 49.6/37.8/82.7 shooting splits (that's FG%/3PT%/FT%)
  • February: 16 games, 16.9 points, 9.1 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 3.6 turnovers, 39.3 minutes, 50.9/48.5/83.9 shooting splits
  • March: Six games, 19 points, 7.7 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 3.0 turnovers, 37.3 minutes, 52.9/54.5/88.9 shooting splits.
And some video evidence:

Seriously. Holy shit. Insane numbers. I'm not saying Collison will be able to replicate that with coach Rick Carlisle's guidance and the steady hand of Dirk Nowitzki. But what I am saying is that Collison is capable of much, much more than his time with the Pacers. There's a talent there, that doesn't just go away.

Maybe Collison's rookie success was just an aberration, a momentary fluke that overvalued his status and led to his inclusion in the Pacer's deal for the Mavericks back up and one time third-string center. It's very possible that we all overrated Collison for a brilliant two and a half months in which teams had little scouting because of his rookie status.

But, then again, with more pysical gifts than Barea (and not to mention a more consistent jumper) why couldn't Collison at least do this:

The Mavericks have a chance to capture some of the spirit of the 2011 championship offense. At the very least, Collison will help Mavs fans who cursed every Jason Kidd skittish dribble inside the arc and missed Barea's fearlessness in the paint. The Mavericks have a penetrating point guard once again, for better or worse.