Darren Collison piloting the Indiana Pacers once again: How’s the fit?

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 27: Darren Collison
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 27: Darren Collison /

The Indiana Pacers needed a point guard and found one in an old friend, Darren Collison. How will he fit into this new batch of Pacers?

It turns out that, if you’re Darren Collison, you can go home again.

News broke on the eve of Independence Day that the point guard-needy Indiana Pacers had signed Collison to a two-year deal, five years after he was traded to Dallas for Ian Mahinmi.

It was a different time then. The Pacers hadn’t yet faced the Miami Heat in back-to-back Eastern Conference finals. Paul George’s leg was unbroken. Frank Vogel was still an assistant coach. Only one Pacer currently remains on the roster from 2010-11 (Lance Stephenson).

Collison’s changed too. He’s no longer the hot-shot youngster who filled in spectacularly for an injured Chris Paul. He’s struggled not only to find a role since he left Indiana, but it’s been hard to find a home (three teams in five years) too.

The question now is has he found a home back here in Indiana?

It will be impossible to know for sure until the Pacers take to the court, but Collison does have the traits of someone who can run the point on a team that wants to allow its young players to develop and not play terribly in the process.

He has done it before.

Pacers power pack 1
Collison (2) doing it before. That’s Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts in the background. Remember them? /

In 2010, Collison was given the keys to a Pacers team that hadn’t been to the playoffs in four seasons and saw its core completely change, becoming much younger. During Collison’s first season, Indiana won 45.1 percent of its game and returned to the playoffs. Indy improved to 63.6 percent the next year, advanced to the Eastern semi-finals, and saw Roy Hibbert make his first All-Star game.

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The reason he was successful then, and can be once again, is because Collison pushes the pace in transition very well and does a good job at setting up his teammates and

getting out of the way

spacing the floor.

Those are two traits that are going to be essential on the Pacers. Collison can create some easy baskets for Indiana by using his speed to burn other teams’ transition defenses off of missed baskets and turnovers.

Collison’s passing — and offensive deferral — will provide more crucial opportunities for Indiana’s young primary options like Myles Turner, Victor Oladipo, T.J. Leaf and Glenn Robinson III.

Collison’s signing doesn’t make the Pacers a contender, but he should help them develop more quickly and be competitive. Indy does have several important pieces to an effective team.

Turner blocking Gortat
Myles Turner rejecting a Marcin Gortat lay-up. /

Turner gives the Pacers a versatile offensive threat — who’s spending his offseason further developing his post and perimeter game — and is a force in the middle of the defense. Oladipo provides agile perimeter defense and the ability to create his own shot and attack the basket on offense. Robinson moves well off the ball and has improving range from deep (He’s a career .376 3-point shooter, but shot .392 last year). Leaf (.466 from 3 in college) provides range and has flashed some ability to drive during Summer League games. Lance Stephenson doesn’t provide much accuracy from downtown, but does offer that unique Lanceness that makes him an ideal 6th man.

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The Collison-signing, and projected move of Stephenson from the starting PG to 6th man, should spell the end of Monta Ellis’ tenure in Indiana. Better suited, at this point in his career, as the top guard off the bench, Ellis, finds himself with no room left in the inn. And, truth be told, there’s been no room since Stephenson returned at the end of last season. Whether Ellis is gone now, or Rodney Stuckey-style after midseason, his days are numbered.

Speaking of “no room,” unlike last year, the Pacers have a surplus of frontcourt players and a derth of backcourt and wing players.

From Ike Anigbogu to Thaddeus Young, Indiana has 8 PFs or Centers currently on the roster. Even with Anigbogu sidelined for the near future as he recovers from an injury, there’s some culling needed in the herd. When healthy, Anigbogu will join Turner, Leaf and Damantas Sabonis as the most important bigs on the roster. They will need the most playing time.

The most likely to go is Young. Teams like Boston, Utah, MIlwaukee or Houston could be in demand for a glue guy like him.

Indy also has work to do on the perimeter, in the form of a marksman off the bench. The Pacers don’t really have one yet, not from the wing anyway. Indy certainly hopes that Leaf will help fill that void, and he should, but more help is needed. Players like Golden State’s Ian Clark (.374) and Sacramento’s Arron Afflalo (.411) both shot well from 3 last year and are still unsigned (at this writing). Although another in-house fix could be Collison (.401).

Which brings us back to Darren.

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What this roster will end up looking like is still unknown. The sake-up is not yet complete. But, if Indiana wants to simultaneously develop the young players and play competitive basketball in a brittle Eastern Conference, they’ll need a pilot who can both attack and lay back to let the children grow. They’ll need someone with experience. Someone like Darren Collison.