Darren Collison was brought in during the offseason as the potential savior of this Indiana Pacers team. Backing up Chris Paul in New Orleans, Collison shined when Paul went out with an injury, even racking up a triple double against the Pacers. Last season, the rookie averaged 12.4 points, 5.7 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 27.8 minutes.
The pressure was on from the start, and I suppose in some ways you could say that Collison disappointed in his sophomore year. Most expected Collison to play heavy minutes right away, but Jim O'Brien shared his minutes with AJ Price and TJ Ford. As a result, Colliison only averaged 29.9 minutes per game as a starter, with O'Brien citing Collison's defensive shortcomings as the reason for him not playing more. When O'Brien was fired, Vogel gave Collison more reign to play to his strengths, and it showed in his re-energized performance.
In the playoffs, Collison had his hands full with Derrick Rose, but still put up semi-respectable numbers: 9.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4 assists. Unfortunately, after a big game 1 (17 points, 6 rebounds, 9 assists), Collison sprained his ankle in game 2 and was not the same after that. His speed had been giving Rose trouble but after the injury he lost a lot of that explosiveness he relied on to get by his defender.
Collison's regular season numbers were almost identical to his rookie year: 13.2 points, 5.1 assists, 2.8 rebounds. His shooting percentages were down a little but his free throw percentage went up a little. On paper, Collison didn't improve much from his rookie season, when the Pacers expected him to put up the sort of numbers he had when he filled in for Chris Paul (he averaged 21 and 8 in January).
So Collison was not the savior people wanted him to be, but I think the future is very bright. We were judging him by unreasonable standards. This is still a young point guard, a second year player, thrust into the starting line up with heavy expectations on his shoulders. It took him a bit of time to get accustomed to the Pacers' offense, which is centered more around team ball movement than point guard play. With another year under his belt, I am sure Collison will continue to improve and take his game up another notch next season.
That said, Collison does have plenty to work on. His defense was atrocious for the majority of the season. Even though he sometimes got the better of his man on the offensive end, defensively he struggled mightily against opposing guards, especially in pick and roll situations. Collison's small size and inability to fight through screens made him a target for opposing coaches. He showed significant signs of improvement towards the end of the season and in the playoffs, which is a great sign, but he will have to keep working on it.
Furthermore, while Collison can clearly put the ball in the basket, I could like to see him be more of a distributor for the team. Five assists as the starting point guard just isn't going to cut it. Provided he gets over 32 minutes a game, I'd like to see Collison raise his assists average to at least 7 next season.
Lastly, turnovers. Collison's 2.5 average does not especially stand out, but he made plenty of head scratching errors this season, and some of the worst mistakes came in crunch time when the game was on the line. This will hopefully improve with experience and confidence.
I have high hopes for Collison. With his blinding speed, ball handling and ability to create his own shot, he has the potential to be a big time player for the Pacers. His gutsiness makes me believe he can also be a reliable crunch time player. It's entirely up to him if he can be that guy.