That’s a backhanded compliment to a 25-year-old who entered the final season of his rookie contract determined to prove that he was a solid starter in this league.
That, however, is the reality of Collison’s role right now and most likely for the rest of the season. The Mavs are 5-3 since 37-year-old journeyman Mike James became the starting point guard, and coach Rick Carlisle has indicated on several occasions that he believes Collison’s game is best suited for coming off the bench.
Collison accepts his role. That doesn’t mean he embraces it – and it isn’t the ideal situation he’ll search for in free agency this summer.
“In my heart, I know I’m a starter,” Collison said. “I know what I’ve done. As of right now, I’m just trying to help the team win.”
Carlisle emphasizes that he still considers Collison, who was demoted for Derek Fisher earlier this season, to be as important to the team now that he’s a reserve than he was as a starter.
"Even though he’s an off-the-bench guy at this point and time, I view him as one of our starters," Carlisle said. “Much like Jason Terry was for four years here. Jet was one of our better players, but he came off the bench and gave us a lot in that role. We need Darren to do the same thing."
J.J. Barea is probably a better comparison, but you get Carlisle’s point.
Collison’s minutes haven’t seen too steep of a drop since he stopped starting. He averaged 31.1 minutes in 51 starts, compared to 24.8 in the last eight games.
Collison’s production isn’t drastically different in the reserve role, either. He has averaged 12.1 points and 4.1 assists while shooting 49.3 percent from the floor in the last eight games. As a starter, Collison put up 12.6 points and 5.7 assists per game, shooting 46.7 percent from the floor.
The biggest difference: Collison's plus-minus has been plus-51 in the last eight games; it’s minus-101 in his 51 starts.
“I think he’s in his wheelhouse right now,” sixth man Vince Carter said. “He’s very comfortable. And I think he gets the opportunity to kind of analyze the game before he plays it now. The game slows down and he’s playing at a really high level.”
Collison acknowledged that there are some benefits to coming off the bench. He gets to study the flow of the game for the first five minutes, and he typically tries to use his speed and quickness to increase the tempo. Plus, he feels that he has a little more freedom as a reserve.
“As a starter, you kind of want to get everybody involved the first five minutes,” Collison said. “When you come off the bench, everybody’s kind of already had their touches. You want to be a little bit more aggressive coming off the bench.”
Given the choice, Collison wants to be a starter. But that’s not an option in Dallas right now. Whether it is somewhere else will be determined in the free-agency market this summer.