It was fairly obvious to everybody that Darren Collison was the best player involved in the four-team trade that sent him to Indiana last summer. Trevor Ariza was absolutely awful for the Hornets, Courtney Lee wasn’t much better and I can’t recall Troy Murphy making an impact play also season long. Sadly, Collison was only the best player involved in the deal because of who else was in it, not necessarily because he flourished as a starter for the Pacers. Prior to the season, Adam pegged Collison for .460/.845/1.5 3pt/17 pts/4 rbd/8 ast/2 stl/0 blk/3 tov and I predicted that Collison would average 20 and 9. But instead of developing into one of the top 10 point guards in the league – something many expected him to do coming into the season – Collison only saw a two minute increase per game, while seeing his FG/3PT percentages drop from .477/.400 in his rookie year to .457/.331 in his sophomore year. Additionally, Collison only raised his scoring average 0.8 ppg (from 12.4 to 13.2) and he actually averaged fewer assists with the Pacers (5.7 apg as a rookie, 5.1 apg with Indiana) despite playing in the fifth fastest offense (the Hornets played in the 16th fastest in 2009).
Having to adjust to a new coach midway through the season certainly played a role in Collison’s shortcomings but a lot of blame has to be on him for underwhelming us. Now, from an organizational standpoint, you’re usually not going to be all that disappointed in a season like that from Collison because he’s just 23 years old, so natural progression is almost a certainty. He’ll also have some stability with Frank Vogel going forward as the permanent head coach. But Indiana wasn’t happy, or at least it doesn’t appear that way. On draft night they dealt the rights to Kwahi Leonard, who, though not a fantasy asset, could help an actual basketball team like the Pacers, to San Antonio to get local product George Hill. The Pacers have said they made the move because they want some more experience/leadership in the locker room. While Hill is certainly a great presence, I have a hard time buying the leadership argument for a 25-year old who has been in the league just one more season than Collison on a team that required him to do absolutely no leading.
Collison had a hard time getting 36 mpg last season with A.J. Price and T.J. Ford, who was in the doghouse for half of the season, as his back-ups, so having Hill come over from San Antonio should put a bit of a scare into Collison. Though Hill’s per game numbers from last season weren’t any more impressive than Collison’s, you have to factor in the pecking order in San Antonio and how rarely Hill was asked to take over a game. Also, Hill has started 55 games in his career, mostly due to injury to Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili, and his averages in starts are 14.7 pts/3.1 rbd/ 3.6 ast with percentages of .477/.368/.775. Those numbers may not be substantially better than Collison’s but they are better (aside from Hill’s assists, which are lowered in part because he’s spent a lot of time as a two guard). Assuming the Pacers give each guy a fair shot at the job entering into the season, there’s a big chance Hill could win the starting gig. Aside from his base production, Hill also provides the hometown angle for marketing and he has one large non-Fantasy advantage over Collison: his defense. Hill can defend both guard spots well and that will give him an edge over Collison.
Hill also takes much better care of the ball (Two days ago I saw him play the dribble game with five 5-10 year old campers and he won every single time. Jrue story.), seems to have a better three-point stroke and is a better rebounder. It will take a lot of work for Collison to ever capture 35 minutes a game for the Pacers now that Hill is in town. He had a golden opportunity last season with Price and Ford trying their hardest to make Collison compete with Monta Ellis for the most complete games in basketball to seize the job but he had a disappointing season and the Pacers decided to sure up their back-up spot by acquiring Hill. Collison’s best shot at an increase in minutes next season is having Hill split 30 minutes a night between both guard spots, which is something he did in San Antonio. There’s a chance that Hill is what he is at this point: a combo guard that is most valuable filling in when needed rather than starting. Should that be the case, its fairly easy to see Collison maintaining at least 30 minutes per game while playing alongside Hill for stints every single night.
But this is certainly a wake-up call for Collison. If Indiana’s intentions are to allow the two guards to earn the starting spot, then Collison will be in an up-Hill battle for the spot that many thought he was going to flourish in last season. And his career path may go from Chris Paul‘s back-up to Chris Paul’s replacement that played better than expected to point guard of the future for the Pacers to George Hill’s back-up.