NBA 2009 Draft Sleeper Watch: Darren Collison, UCLA

June 25, 2009

With the NBA Draft only hours away, it appears that this year's class will not be filled with the same amount of rookie-year stars as last year's 2008 class. Once the Clippers nab themselves an excellent talent in likely first pick Blake Griffin, the draft pool then becomes filled with numerous question marks and late bloomers.

Take seven-footer Hasheem Thabeet of Connecticut for example. Thabeet projects as a solid shotblocking force defensively and on the glass, but nobody can determine with certainty whether he will ever emerge as a true polished go-to option offensively on the block.

Another uncertainty lies with Spanish lead guard Ricky Rubio. Rubio has good size and has demonstrated poise beyond his years at the international level, but the book is still out on whether he create his own shot in half court sets. In fact, nobody knows at this point if he will even be available to play this season, as he is still contractually obligated to his current team in Europe.

Still, the one aspect of this draft that does remain clear is that the point guard position has more depth than any other. And of those point guard prospects, one of the most intriguing is potential late steal Darren Collison of UCLA.

Here is our evaluation of his talents:

Athletic Ability

Strengths: Collison is the son of two world-class sprinters, and thus, is blessed with speed and quickness to burn. He also has long arms for a guard of his size.

Weaknesses: Collison stands only 6'1" and despite four years of college, still remains relatively slight of build. As a result, he can struggle against more physical opponents.

Offensive Skills

Strengths:Collison can break opponents down with ease due to his above-average acceleration. To get into the lane, Collison does not require any screen-roll action, nor does he need to execute so much as a crossover dribble move. Instead, Collison can often bypass his man with his initial step and just one dribble. He also has an excellent handle.

Around the rim, Collison prefers to finish with a series of floaters, runners, and tear drops, becoming fairly proficient at making such shots over the years.

Collison has proven to be an effective shooter from the collegiate three point line, particularly during his junior year when he hovered around 50% for most of the season.

Collison's pick-and-roll decision-making has been solid over the years, as UCLA coach Ben Howland has trusted his point guard's ability to execute this play in clutch scenarios.

Finally, Collison is an outstanding free-throw shooter, and an asset to have on the floor during tight games.

Weaknesses:Despite Collison's solid stroke, his release is a little slow, which could lower his percentage at the next level when facing aggressive closeouts from taller perimeter defenders. However, because Collison releases his J high and somewhat behind his head, his slow release might not be as problematic as anticipated.

Collison is not an aggressive or powerful finisher at the rim, preferring to make his buckets with finesse floaters. As a result, his shooting percentage could suffer.

Collison's mid-range game also is questionable, partly because he has chosen to keep it under wraps. Throughout his UCLA career, Collison has dutifully ran his coach's offense, initiating half-court sets and spotting up outside when necessary. What he has not done too often is go on individual scoring binges outside the confines of the offense. Thus, his pull-up, mid-range game has not been on full display.

Again, this too might be overstated, since he does appear to have an accurate stroke, and could eventually develop this aspect of his game, should he lack it at this point in time.


Strengths: Collison's speed, long arms, and defensive commitment can make him a genuine defensive pest to any team's opposing point guard. He is an excellent man-to-man defender with the ability to keep his man in front of him and contest shots with his reach. A prime example of this was seen during the NCAA Tournament, when Collison's tight D forced VCU's Eric Maynor into a missed shot at the buzzer.

Collison has been tutored under Ben Howland for four years, so he also has a solid understanding of defending the pick-and-roll and playing defense within a team concept. With his speed and reach, he will shoot the passing lanes, often coming up with steals and easy transition buckets.

Because Howland's UCLA squads rarely play zone, Collison's defensive abilities have not been hidden, and thus, are relatively easy to evaluate.

Weaknesses: Collison's lack of height and strength could make him vulnerable to bigger point guards such as Baron Davis and Chauncey Billups. A clear indication of this problem was seen in his junior year against Memphis' Derrick Rose in the Final Four. In that game, Collison was able to keep Rose in front of him for much of the game, but Rose simply countered that by using his strength and leaping ability to shoot over the top of Collison for high percentage looks. Hence, more physical lead guards with low-post skills could present him difficulties in the half court.

Intangibles and Mental Approach

Strengths: Collison is a loyal, unselfish, team guy, who stayed all four years in the UCLA program despite being in the running for a first round selection last year. He is competitive, plays well in crunch time, and is a true pass-first lead guard who will listen to his coach and execute the offense.

Collison generally will make good decisions, as he is a selective shooter who takes quality shots.

Weaknesses: Sometimes it seems as if Collison views himself as just another link in the chain, rather than as a star. Earlier in his UCLA career he occasionally would outplay starter Jordan Farmar, but with Farmar one could tell that he just knew he was a great player. Collison might not have that same level of confidence.

Too often, Collison would play tentatively, passively running the offense during troubling times, instead of trying to take over ballgames himself. Such conduct might have been understandable when star big man Kevin Love was on the team 2 years ago, but last year, when Collison was the unquestioned star of the team, it was unacceptable.

Perhaps that passivity is a product of Ben Howland's conservative system which limits possessions and touches. After all, ex-Bruin Russell Westbrook seemed to blossom ahead of rookie-year projections once he was freed from Howland's ball control offense and put into a more uptempo setting.


Collison will go late in the first round, or early in the second round. In either case, he is a lock to earn a roster spot, and could very well crack most rotations, at least in a backup role.

With his pass-first mentality, defensive potential, and work ethic, Collison is sure to endear himself to most coaches at the NBA level. He is a team player and a winner who will be an asset to the team that drafts him.

However, much of Collison's future development will depend upon finding the right "fit." His skills and athleticism give him more upside than last year's late steal, Mario Chalmers, but Collison might not have the requisite star mentality needed to become an elite point guard.

In other words, much depends on which coach or system he will play for in next few years. Should he get into an organization which gives him the green light to create and shoot on offense -- think Mike D'Antoni or Don Nelson -- than he might realize his potential and become a truly special late find in the draft.

On the other hand, a coach with a tighter rein could put him on a much different path -- that of a solid, dependable, by-the-numbers, NBA-average backup point guard who will run the offense, and get the stars their touches.

Other Point Guards Prospects (In No Particular Order)

1. Stephen Curry, Davidson
2. Jrue Holiday, UCLA
3. Ricky Rubio, DKV Joventut
4. Brandon Jennings, Lottomatica Roma
5. Tyrese Rice, Boston College
6. Daniel Hackett, USC
7. Jonny Flynn, Syracuse
8. Tyreke Evans, Memphis
9. Ty Lawson, North Carolina
10. Patrick Mills, St. Mary's
11. Eric Maynor, VCU
12. Toney Douglas, Florida State

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

1 comment:

  1. no matter where jrue holiday gets drafted, he will never equal collison in the hearts and minds of bruin fans. holiday didn't do jack when he was here.


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