There are some unfortunate and inescapable truths about Mardy Collins, and they can be seen in numbers like these: In his nine games as a Los Angeles Clipper, Collins has taken 29 shot attempts from the floor. Only ten of them have been successful, while 13 of the 29 haven’t drawn iron. Despite his anemic offensive skill set, Collins isn’t shy about trying to create shots for himself, and that hurts his team, because airballs have this way of producing really good opportunities for the other side.
Even though Collins is a very good defender, he’s a player who has little business being on the floor during crucial moments of a game. Unfortunately, the Clippers’ depth on the wings was woeful before Ricky Davis went down, and it’s much worse now. The situation is even more dire when the Clippers need to find someome to stop a freakish shooting guard like, say, Brandon Roy. In the past, Mike Dunleavy would turn to Quinton Ross as his defensive stopper in these instances — with mixed overall results. On Friday night, we saw that Collins can be very helpful in this capacity. The questions going forward for the Clippers are how often and to what extent should Mike Dunleavy rely on Collins when faced with a matchup like Roy?
In order to measure Collins’ value in this context, you have to determine the cost. Generally speaking, when you put a player like Ross or Collins on the floor, your opponent will slough off that guy defensively, and effectively go to a 5-on-4 game in the halfcourt in which double-teams present low risk and high reward. A coach has to ask himself if the defensive upgrade he gets by having his stopper on the floor is enough to warrant compromising the offense. The answer to that question has to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Take Friday night: Nate McMillan never sent a double-team at Randolph — even though the Clippers had a guy on the floor in Collins who practically invites the opponent to double off him. If a team like Portland won’t make the Clippers pay for having Mardy Collins on the court, then there’s no reason not to take advantage of that allowance. Why not have a superior defender out there if the Blazers are going to cover him off the ball like he’s Ray Allen?
If Collins doesn’t try to create shots for himself — and that’s a big if because he’s demonstrated a inexplicable need to shoot the ball –it can potentially work for stretches. Remember, this Clipper team has more potency in the halfcourt on a matchup-by-matchup level than the Cassell-Mobley-Brand-Kaman team. The current squad has two guys in Baron Davis and Zach Randolph who demand disproportionate attention, and two wings who can legimiately spread the floor. That means there will be times when the offensive matchups are favorable enough to warrant having Collins out there to slow down an opposing wing. Friday night was one of those instances, and the gamble paid off.
Having said that, the Collins experiment needs to be monitored closely because there will be times when Collins won’t be worth the cost. If opponents are making the Clippers pay for having Collins in the offense, and sagging off him, then Dunleavy needs to revisit the argument of having him on the court. The same holds true if Collins continues to insist that he has anything whatsoever to offer the offense besides a decent pass and a solid screen. But if Collins can control those impulses and opponents never make the Clippers pay for having an offensive cipher on the floor, then it buys the Clips 15-20 minutes worth of solid defense on a nightmare like Roy.