Jason Collins? Here’s What He Provides

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There have been multiple rumors ablaze across Twitter in regards to the Jason Collins situation. Overall, reports from Sam Amick of USA Today, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!, and Marc Stein of ESPN tell similar stories. Glen “Big Baby” Davis appears to be leaning toward signing with the Clippers. And, with that, the Nets appear closer to signing their apparent second choice, Jason Collins. While the potential move has received some criticism, I think Collins can provide the Nets with sincere on court value, if only a little bit.

First, it must be said that the pool of players Collins is competing with is not exactly a murderers row of talent. Collins is competing with players that have been bought out, and players that are overseas or in the D-League because they went unwanted all summer and year long. If the pool of players he was fighting was so strong, those players would already be in the NBA. In reality, the field of who the Nets can add to their 2 roster spots is a weak one. So while Collins is limited, anyone out there is going to be extremely limited: they’re all not in the NBA for a reason.

Second, here is the key reason for the Nets to look at Collins: his skill set does match up with what the Nets need. If there is one issue the Nets should look to repair via signing a big man, it is their interior defense.  When KG sits, the Nets defense

goes in the tank, as I outlined here. Blatche and Mirza help offensively, but both have been bad defensively. Plumlee plays hard, and has energy, but he is not ready yet as an NBA defender. He makes a ton of mistakes positionally and struggles grasping NBA coverages – he has the upside, drive, and attitude to improve and I believe he will – over time. But not in time for the playoffs. The one dimension a new big could add is the ability to play interior defense.

And that’s the rub. Collins is limited, but he has 2 legitimate NBA skills. One is his good screen setting, the other: he is a legitimate interior defender. In 2011, when Joe Johnson’s Hawks upset Dwight Howard’s Magic, Collins’ defense on Dwight Howard was a key to making that upset happen. When the Celtics signed Collins just last year, his defense was the key reason, as he ranked in the 88th percentile of all NBA players in his ability to defend the interior and pick and roll, according to Synergy Sports. Collins has always been a player whose impact on a game goes beyond the box score, because defense is not quantifiable in the traditional boxscore: rebounds, steals, and blocks are not defense, as 95%+ of defensive possessions are about rotations, not a block or steal.

While Glen Davis is a better player on paper, he does not play defense and his primary skill is hitting the midrange jumper. The Nets already have 3 rotation bigs who do that.

There is some momentum out there that Collins will not help the Nets because of their rebounding: he is not a great rebounder. To that affect there are a few points to make. First, “rebounding” should not be a stat, but should be split into offensive and defensive rebounding when evaluated. Offensive rebounding deals with providing yourself an extra possession, defensive rebounding with finishing your defense. Many teams in the NBA forego the chance to grab offensive rebounds, in the hopes of getting back on transition defense. If those teams are good defensive rebounding teams – are they truly struggling with rebounding, or are the overall numbers skewed by the deliberate disregard of the offensive boards.

I am not worried about the Nets offensive rebounding because, with such a slow roster, the Nets’ have foregone that aspect of the game in order to get back on D. Focusing on the other end, the Nets’ defensive rebounding is 24th in the league, which is not good, but there are two points to be made which I think still err in favor of signing Collins, in that regard.

First, there is some statistical evidence out there which shows that good rebounders do not improve overall team rebounding. While that may seem counterintuitive, often, their high rebounding totals do not represent rebounds the opponent would have gotten, but represents their simply stealing rebounds from other teammates.

Second, more importantly, the Nets problem is interior defense based, not rebounding based. Here is the issue. When your rotations are slow, your interior defense shoddy, when a shot goes up, your defense is not in position. By virtue of not being in position, you are vulnerable to your opponent snaring offensive rebounds, as upon the shot going up you must scramble to find your man. However, if your interior defense, your ability to slow penetration and stay in front of bigs inside, is good, now you are able to box out more efficiently, and thereby increase your defensive rebounding percentage.

For that reason, I believe the Nets’ best chance at curing their rebounding issue is improving their interior defense so that they are in good defensive position, and therefore ready to rebound when shots go up – not to simply play a person who grabs more rebounds individually. After all, it’s not as though Reggie Evans positively impacted the Nets’ rebounding problem.

There are arguably players out there who would solve our top issue among our bigs: the fact that the defense tanks when KG sits – moreso than Collins. However, who that big would be, given the pool of players is guys not good enough to currently be on a roster – is unclear.

Do I expect Collins to make the Nets a materially better team? No. Do I expect that of anyone else available? No. And what I know is that Collins’ skills fit the Nets on paper.

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