Is Darren Collison as good as he looked as a rookie?
In tackling this issue, the first thing we should probably figure out is just how good Collisonactually was as a rookie. Since he's going to be starting for the Indiana Pacers this year, we'll look at his numbers from the 37 games he started for the New Orelans Hornets last season: 18.8 points, 9.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 1.0 3-pointers, 48 percent shooting from the floor and 85 percent shooting from the line.
Clearly, those are tremendous numbers. The problem with those numbers is that it took him just over 40 minutes per game to accumulate them, and he was getting all those minutes because Chris Paul was injured. He had no backup, unless you count Marcus Thornton (another rookie) sliding over to play the point (definitely not the ideal position for Thornton). Other guys who played 40 minutes per game last season? Monta Ellis and Gerald Wallace. No true point guard played more than 37 minutes per game last season.
This year, Collison will have a backup (A.J. Price, who also had a surprisingly decent rookie campaign last season) and a coach who likes to push the pace, so while Collison may be fresher while he's on the court, it's hard to imagine him coming anywhere near 40 minutes per game again this year. A much more reasonable estimate would be 35 minutes. In some ways, this could be a positive. Collison averaged 4.1 turnovers in the 37 games he started, but given his production that's not quite as bad as it looks. If Steve Nash, for example, had played 40 minutes per game, he would have been up around 4.4 turnovers per game.
Collison's numbers last season, adjusted for 35 minutes per game, would have looked like this: 16.5 points, 8.0 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals. Still great, but not quite as stellar. I don't want to come off like I'm knocking Collison's game, because I like him. I just think it's a little risky to expect major production out of someone who put up big numbers in 37 games in which he was allowed to basically do whatever he wanted for 40 minutes every night.
Having said all of that, Collison looks extremely promising. Jim O'Brien hasn't had a point guard of this caliber in his entire coaching career (Allen Iverson was a different sort of player altogether), so I'm not sure we know what to expect, except that the Pacers should continue to be among the top teams in the league in pace and continue to jack up a lot of 3-pointers. Add to that the weapons Collison will have around him -- an elite perimeter scorer in Danny Granger, a good post scorer who can pass in Roy Hibbert and great outside shooters like Mike Dunleavy and Brandon Rush -- and Collison should remain extremely productive this season.
Given a little improvement in his second year (in particular, I'd expect that the fast-paced offense should help him get a handle on his turnover rate), Collison probably will be among the top 10 point guards, no matter what statistical measures you are using. I'm putting his numbers at 17 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 1.3 3-pointers, 46 percent shooting from the floor and 85 percent shooting from the line. All other things being equal, I'd rather have him with those numbers in fantasy this year than Aaron Brooks, Tyreke Evans or Russell Westbrook. I would put him somewhere behind Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups and Rajon Rondo in the point guard rankings.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.