When evaluating the reasons behind the success of clearly one of the top teams in the country, UCLA, it would probably be wise to start with the play of their point guard Darren Collison
One of the steadiest floor generals youll find in the NCAA, Collison is a calm, poised and extremely unselfish half-court point guard who fits like a glove seemingly in UCLAs slow, balanced attack. He executes Ben Howlands offense to a T, never looking rushed and not concerned in the least bit with his own numbers, fully committed seemingly to the success of his team. He keeps all of his teammates happy with the unselfish manner in which he moves the ball around, always getting the ball to the right man and rarely making any mistakes.
Despite starting off the year slowly because of a bum knee, Collisons numbers are up almost across the board once again this season. His scoring numbers have improved, his shooting percentage from the field is up slightly, hes getting to the free throw line at a better rate, his turnovers are down, and his assist to turnover ratio is up from 1.95/1 to 2.16/1. His assists are actually down by a fairly large rate (from 7.1 per-40 minutes pace adjusted to 4.9), which has a lot to do with the fact that he is playing significant minutes next to an additional ball-handler in Russell Westbrook
, whereas last year he was almost UCLAs lone facilitator (next to Arron Afflalo
and Josh Shipp
Collisons physical tools are not ideal for an NBA point guard. Hes small, very skinny, and not particularly explosive around the rim. His quickness looked pretty average early on in the year, but has looked better as the season moved on as he gets into better shape following his knee problems.
Offensively, Collison picks his spots and finds ways to put the ball in the net, despite not being the most naturally skilled point guard youll find .Hes an excellent ball-handler with either hand (although he prefers to go left), and has a nice crossover move he likes to go to in order to create space for himself to shoot a floater or pull-up off the dribble from mid-range. He needs some time to get his shot off, though, but with the great deal of attention all his teammates draw, combined with the extremely high basketball IQ Collison possesses, hes finding ways to get his shot off, more than last year. Collison also gets a fair share of production in transition, where he makes excellent decisions, and is particularly effective utilizing the pick and roll. One clear weaknesses we can evaluate lies in his struggles finishing around the basket, as his lack of strength and explosive hinders him, and makes him more likely to pull-up from mid-range or attempt a floater instead. This will probably become more noticeable in the NBA.
As a perimeter shooter, Collison continues to knock down shots at an excellent rate for the second straight year, despite his awkward shooting mechanics, slinging the ball at the basket from over his head. He has a high, consistent release point, though, and doesnt take many bad shots, which has helped him again shoot the ball at over 40% from behind the arc. Hes mostly a spot-up shooter with his feet set because of the time he needs to get his shot off, but is hitting more shots off the dribble (just like with his mid-range game) than he did last season.
Defensively, Collison is very effective, as you would expect considering that he plays for one of the top defensive teams in the nation. He is a pesky, physical defender, who gets right in his mans grill and denies space extremely well, and also possesses good lateral quickness and a very good wingspan. He puts the effort in, but is also very intelligent in the way he approaches his work on this end of the floor, showing excellent timing and awareness in terms of contesting shots and bothering his opponents, both in man to man and team defense. His lack of size and strength is a bit of a hindrance for the next level, though, and its not hard to see how much hes effected by good solid screens, which he really struggles to fight through.
Collison continues to establish himself as one of the top floor generals in the country at the collegiate level, and looks like someone who will have a successful career in the NBA, even though he projects as a role player. The jury is still out regarding whether hell be considered starting material or more of a Chris Duhon
-type backup, but there is surely a lot to like here anyway you slice it.