Mavs At Point: Through Collison's Eyes

'I let my team down.' Five words. 'I let my team down.' Five words, combining to signal the leadership mantle that's been handed to and grabbed by Darren Collison. 'I let my team down.' Five words that speak to the responsibility and accountability of a point guard who, through some ups and downs, Dallas still hopes will look like a trade steal.

When we glance back East to observe the Pacers early-season struggles, there is no denying that they obviously have a whole lot to do with the absence of Danny Granger. But if you were a Pacers fan last season you were quite possibly a Darren Collison. And if you are a Dallas Mavericks, you have quite possibly become a DC fan, too.

By playoff time last year it seemed apparent that at some point in the offseason the Pacers would choose between either Collison or George Hill. Hill, who Mavs fans remember as a functional Spur, was a free agent who might demand a decent pay raise and neither player seemed to thrive while having to split minutes. At times, it felt like Pacer fans had to be a part of either Team Hill or Team Collison and they had to be willing to defend their stance.

The Pacers went with Hill. They gave him a $40 million contract and shipped Collison to Dallas (along with Dahntay Jones) for backup center Ian Mahinmi).

Remember, this was an "afterthought'' sort of deal at the time in the sense that Ian was going to sign with Indy as a free agent. The Pacers were not required to throw pieces back Dallas' way.

But they threw. Or, rather, threw away.
The problem with Collison in Indiana seemed to be inconsistency and sometimes an inability to stay involved. He gave good effort and seemingly had a good attitude, but sometimes he just didn't have a huge impact on the game. He was a capable scorer, but when he tried to play the role of facilitator he looked more like a bystander.

Rick Carlisle is not having the same problems with Collison, however. Of course, we are still working with a small sample size, but so far Collison is on the verge of thriving in Dallas -- and granting him full permission to drive the car is the reason why. you can't be a bystander if your hands are on the wheel.

Before the Mavericks played the Raptors last Wednesday night, Carlisle talked about what he has seen from Collison since he's been a member of the Mavericks:

"(He's) even-tempered. He's been aggressive. He's made good decisions. He's developing a feel for attacking and being aggressive offensively."

The feeling around those watching Collison for the first four or fives games of the year is that he is beginning to be that the point guard he's meant to be because the leash is finally off. Is it because Jim O'Brien -- who used DC well as the head coach in Indy before Frank Vogel took over -- is now an assistant coach under Carlisle in Dallas?

Either way, Collison is the man for the Mavericks and he started out orchestrating an offense that has been surprisingly efficient without Dirk Nowitzki. Before the 104-94 loss in New York on Friday, he'd scored at least 14 points in each of the Mavs' first four games.

Early on, the hopes expressed by Donnie, Rick, Darren himself ... and even Fish! ... were being realized:

But now? A larger sample size. A few more questions.

Collison took the blame for a loss on Friday in New York as he shot 1-of-8. He was the biggest culprit in the final minutes at Charlotte on Saturday, making multiple mistakes on the break, missing easy layups early in the shot clock, and committing costly turnovers.

And it happened again Monday, Collison, 25, boldly stepping into the leadership role demanded by the PG position ... and then failing to seal the deal in crunch time.

This loss to Minny isn't just about DC and it isn't just about the closing moments, when he missed a handful of chances to make it a game. But it starts at point guard. And if we're prepared to celebrate the acquisition of DC for what he did in the first weeks of the season ... well, we have to also point out that it's not working right now.

In the final minutes Monday at the AAC, he got to the rim almost at will. He went skyward for a dunk and missed. (At 6-1, he should've just laid it in.) Then he drove inside for a layup but it spun out. Finally, he caught a pass inside and patiently waited for a defender to foul him as he made the acrobatic layin ... but DC's body language immediately after the

"It's how you win and how you lose sometimes,'' Collison said. "And I don't think we're satisfied with our effort."

Collison is putting in the time. He's putting in the work. That story of him rolling into Dallas immediately after the trade to collect film on his new teammates and their favorite plays and even their pet places to receive the ball from a passer? That is not apocryphal; he really did that. He still does do that.

"One of the things I'm most impressed about with Collison when I talk to him and here him talk,'' says Bob Ortegel, the former coach and long-time Mavs TV analyst, "is that he is truly a student of the game.''

Darren Collison is a student and a scorer, the latter certainly true in comparison to Kidd. Coming into the week, DC was averaging 14 points a game on 51-percent shooting. He upped that as he scored a team-high 21 Monday. Darren went 11-for-12 at the line, posting new career highs for free throws made and attempted. He led Dallas in scoring for the third time this season (he scored a team-high 17 points in each of Dallas' first two games).

But he failed on two layup attempts in the clutch.

And the Mavs team he's in charge of just reached a season-low with 82 points.

He's been better than Hill in Indy. He's been vastly different, but about as effective as, Kidd in New York. Hill is the comparison to Pacers fans. Kidd is the comparison to Mavs faithful.

Fine. Let's keep it at DC vs. Hill.

In addition to out-producing Hill in every major statistical category except rebounds, Collison also has had two double-doubles (points and assists). He had three all of last year for the Pacers. Hill has recorded one such double-double in his five years in the NBA (and that was back in 2009). It was the only double-digit assist game of his career.

While Collison logs heavy minutes for the Mavericks, Carlisle made it clear that, at least until Nowitzki returns, the Mavs would get out and run as much as possible. With Collison leading the break, the Mavs entered last weekend having scored the sixth most fast-break points in the NBA. The Pacers, on the other hand, rank 17th in that category.

Even more impressive, within this run-and-gun offense, Collison is currently ranked third in the NBA in terms of assist/turnover ratio.
After the Mavericks defeated the Raptors, Carlisle said that he expects constant energy and aggressiveness from Collison. In fact, he explained that at one point in the second half, Collison looked like he had tuned back a little bit of his aggression, especially on defense, and he pulled him out of the game. He said that he put him back in and it was "no longer a problem."

Then came the loss in New York. It was turnover-marred, and it was also marred by DC's 1-of-8 shooting.

"I let my team down,'' Collison said in the Madison Square Garden locker room afterwards.

That's leadership of a type. Accountability, too. It comes from the type of freedom given to Collison ... freedom to lead and responsibility when that leadership falls short.

We will all likely keep an eye on Kidd in NY and make that comparison. Many will do the same with George Hill in Indy, and maybe it's worth seeing how the Mahinmi part of the swap works out, too.

But the Mavs are pleased that in the 25-year-old Darren Collison, they have a point guard who doesn't shy from taking the shot and who they doesn't hide from admitting to the letdown of the miss. They are serious in believing that the one-and-done "Plan Powder'' approach doesn't have to limit DC ... that he has a future in a Dallas uniform.

The next step: Continue the progress. Live with the comparisons. Keep running the offensive show at a high-octane pace. And maybe make a couple of those point-blank-range layins.

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