Ready when the time comes
October, 20, 2012
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com
Jason Collins will enter the 2012-13 season as a situational player for the Boston Celtics, one of the less-glitzy additions to a completely overhauled bench.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesJason Collins said he'll be ready whenever he's called upon this season.
But that’s fine with the 12th-year veteran, a defensive specialist who’s more likely to impact the opposing team’s box score than catch your attention with his stat line. He says his job is to simply be ready when called upon.
That includes situations like Saturday night’s exhibition tilt with the New York Knicks in Albany, N.Y. With Boston holding out Kevin Garnett (rest), Darko Milicic (wrist), and Brandon Bass (knee), Collins got thrust into a spot start.
The soon-to-be 34-year-old quietly chipped in four points (hitting the only shot he took) and three rebounds over 9:49. He started both halves and watched as Boston rallied from as much as a 20-point deficit to top the Knicks 109-98 at the Times Union Center.
The Knicks, playing without Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Rasheed Wallace, and Marcus Camby, stayed small most of the night, forcing the Celtics to match and limiting Collins time on the floor.
Collins knows his minutes with come in that sort of sporadic chunks this season and will likely depend heavily on situational opportunities. But don’t let that diminish Collins’ potential impact. When you’re a 12th man on a championship-caliber team, it’s important to have a specific strength and be able to keep yourself ready.
Boston’s 2007-08 championship team had a couple guys like that, one of which was Brian Scalabrine. Which is appropriate for this Collins discussion. Allow Paul Pierce to explain.
“Scal always brags about [Collins], he thought he was the best post defender in the NBA,” said Pierce. “He always mentioned that. [Collins is a] solid veteran, he’s not going to be asked to play big minutes for us, but he’s a true professional. He’s in the gym, he’s staying ready in the weight room, keeping his body in shape. He’s going to be called upon at some point in this season to probably play some big minutes and we know he can be a solid contributor for us.”
Echoed bench leader Jason Terry: “[Collins is] an extra big man, a guy we're going to need, a big body, defender. Offensively, he's always in the right place. He's very smart and intelligent, so he's a guy that you're going to count on and depend on during the year."
Collins’ offensive limitations are well documented. Heck, he scored just 39 points all of last season in 30 regular-season appearances for the Atlanta Hawks (a third of which were starts). He averaged just 0.684 points per play last season, ranking in the 10th percentile among all NBA players, according to Synergy Sports data.
But Collins can defend. Last season he ranked in the 88th percentile, limiting opponents to 0.748 points per play and just 36.4 percent. The so-called Dwight Stopper can hold his own, particularly against some of the league's best big men, and Boston is likely to find minutes to him in an Atlantic Division that features potent front lines, most notably the 76ers adding Andrew Bynum.
"My role is to be ready,” said Collins. “I never know what night my name and number is going to be called, but my job is to go out there, be physical, play solid defense, and contribute on the offensive end whenever possible. We have a lot of scorers. I don't think they'll be counting on me for that. But as far as going out there and guarding the Dwight Howards, the Andrew Bynums in this league, that's my job."
The 7-foot Stanford product also brings smarts to the floor. Not only is he going to be ready when called upon, he’s not going to be a liability.
“He’s a solid pro, first-off,” said assistant coach Armond Hill. “When he comes out there he’s going to rebound, he’s going to set picks. He understands the plays, he knows all the plays already. So he’s a guy you don’t have to call anything for, but he’s going to do all the little things. He’s going to do all the dirty work, really. So, he’s valuable.”
If nothing else, Collins provides six hard fouls (and his unique No. 98 jersey will be no fun for referees to have to signal to the scorer’s table). But don’t sleep on his overall impact.
“Going into [last] season, I was the third center [in Atlanta], and then with injuries and everything, I'm the starting center against Kevin Garnett [in the playoffs] and just showed that I'm always ready,” said Collins. “For me, it's always about being a professional and always being ready."
A professional attitude for a player who said he’s here -- playing on a minimum contract -- for one reason: To help win a championship.
“It's an opportunity to play for Doc Rivers and playing with Hall-of-Famers, and this is my best opportunity to win an NBA championship,” said Collins. “We have a lot of depth on this team, so a lot of guys who could be playing a lot of big minutes some place else, are all buying in and sacrificing and trying to win a title."