Opponent: Memphis Grizzlies
When: 5 p.m.
Where: FedExForum, Memphis, Tenn.
TV: FSN (cable)
Radio: KJR (950 AM)
Probable starters: For Seattle – forwards Rashard Lewis (6 feet, 10 inches) and Reggie Evans (6-8), center Jerome James (7-1), guards Ray Allen (6-5) and Luke Ridnour (6-2). For Memphis – forwards Brian Cardinal (6-8) and Shane Battier (6-8), center Lorenzen Wright (6-11), guards Mike Miller (6-8) and Jason Williams (6-1).
Next game: Seattle at San Antonio, 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Collison steps up
One of the steadfast mantras in professional sports is that when somebody goes down, another player has to fill that role in order for the team to continue its success.
With the leg injury to Vladimir Radmanovic and the behavioral difficulties with Danny Fortson, that player for the Seattle SuperSonics has been Nick Collison.
Technically a rookie because he missed his first year with double shoulder surgery, Collison has provided a steady influence off the bench, so much so that his playing time and productivity have increased significantly over the past few weeks.
Averaging 5.1 points and 4.1 rebounds in 15 minutes over the course of the season, Collison has averaged nine points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes over the past six games, five of which have been victories.
“I just got an opportunity to play with injuries and everything that has been going on,” Collison said. “That increased time has helped me feel more comfortable. I am just starting to get it. I am starting to play better with that extra time.”
After a year off from his surgeries, Collison said it took him a long time to get back into the flow of a game, to feel like he belonged on the same floor as players who were zipping around him.
“Physically, I was OK,” Collison said. “But I would try to make certain moves that I could do before, and it was a little awkward, it would be a little bit off. My feet have gotten better. I was just a little rusty for a while. Sometimes I would do things and I would go off instinct, and it just wasn’t there. The quick moves here and there I didn’t have it.
“I would have good games and bad games. There would still be games where I would rush too much. I just feel so much more comfortable than I did at the beginning of the year.”
One sign of that was Collison’s tendency to get into quick foul trouble. For a while, he was – along with Fortson and Jerome James – among the top three in the league in fouls per 48 minutes.
That has abated somewhat. He still picks up his share, but he is not running to the bench almost immediately after he gets on the floor, which is what happened several times earlier in the year.
Perhaps the biggest sign of his growth is that coach Nate McMillan is confident enough to use him in the fourth quarters of games. Reggie Evans starts because of his energy and hustle, but Collison is a more refined version of Evans, the reason he often closes games.
“He is building confidence in me, and the coaching staff and his teammates, and when you feel comfortable with a guy, you put him out there,” McMillan said.
“He does the little things. He comes up with boards. He comes up with defensive stops. He gives help when the defense breaks down. We need a basket, he comes up with an offensive board. He will dive on the floor.”
He also is starting to improve his scoring. Against the Washington Wizards on Sunday, Collison had two straight interior moves in the second quarter that netted layins.
He leads the team in field goal percentage (.540) for players who have taken at least 50 shots, and it would be even better if it wasn’t for the occasional layup that he blows.
“I still rush sometimes,” Collison said. “Usually when I miss them, I am waiting for contact that doesn’t come and I rush. I have gotten better. But it still drives me crazy when I miss them.”
The one part of Collison’s game that he would like to expand is his outside shooting. When he was at Kansas, a regular part of his game was a jump shot that extended to 18 feet.
But Collison has been loathe to take that shot in Seattle, passing it off to teammates who have been more accurate from that range.
“I think my role is different here,” Collison said. “It is better that other guys take the majority of the shots. But also I went such a long stretch without taking any that I have lost a little confidence in my jump shot.
“In terms of just taking it and not thinking about it, I am not there yet. I can shoot it when I am in the gym by myself. But there is a certain barrier I have to break down to catch and shoot in games. With time and action it will come.”
Just like the rest of his game.
Frank Hughes, The News Tribune