HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — After another Dallas track meet Wednesday night netted the surprising Mavericks a third consecutive victory, pace-setting point guard Darren Collison was asked if he’s looking forward to a mano-a-mano showdown against Jason Kidd when Dallas visits the Garden on Friday night.
After all, Collison replaced Kidd, who had agreed to a three-year deal to stay in Dallas only to suddenly abandon ship and swim to the Big Apple. Kidd’s about-face so hissed Mark Cuban that the Mavs owner vowed not to hang Kidd’s No. 2 next to Dirk Nowitzki’s No. 41 one day as an expected shrine to the tandem that delivered Dallas its only championship.
“Nah,” Collison said sheepishly. “Come on, man. It’s just a team thing. New York has got it going; we’ve got it going.”
Both teams are arguably the surprise of their respected conferences, entering the game with a collective 7-1 record. Dallas is 4-1 despite playing without Dirk Nowitzki (arthroscopic knee surgery) and other injury snags that have bounced key players in and out of the lineup.
The truth is, Kidd’s change of heart actually did himself, the Knicks, the Mavs and Collison all a colossal favor.
Kidd, who turns 40 in March, is the wise, old on-court voice of calm and reason the forever dysfunctional Knicks desperately need. He’s playing a lot of off-guard alongside a motivated Raymond Felton (and Collison’s true matchup), averaging a splendid 22 minutes and burying his 3-point attempts, which account for nearly 80 percent of his total shot attempts. Kidd, No. 2 on the league’s all-time assist list, is averaging a career-low 3.7. Felton is averaging 6.0.
Bringing Kidd back to captain a re-tooled Mavs team that demanded younger and quicker legs, particularly on the perimeter, made little sense. Kidd’s departure allowed Dallas to complete a steal of a trade, acquiring the waterbug Collison from Indiana (for backup center Ian Mahinmi) where he had fallen out of favor running the Pacers’ methodical, low-post offense that, frankly, cramped Collison’s style.
“We had two very good post players and we played through them and helped us win a lot of games,” Collison said. “In Dallas, (coach) Rick (Carlisle) kind of gave me the keys to run the offense, play my style of play and it’s worked out for me.”
In his first five games running the Mavs’ so-called “flow” offense that involves few play calls from Carlisle and constant movement and improvisation from the five on the floor, Collison has averaged 16.2 points on 56.1 percent shooting and 7.2 assists. Numbers that if they continue through April will rank as far-and-away career bests.
Whereas Kidd is now best suited to spot up and pop from beyond the arc, the 6-foot, buck-75 Collison is encouraged to attack at will. According to NBA.com stats, more than 61 percent of Collison’s shot attempts have come in the paint and more than 43 percent from point-blank range. Only seven of his 57 shot attempts are 3-pointers (he’s made four), leaving those opportunities to players like red-hot O.J. Mayo (63.6 percent on 3s), who is benefiting from Collison’s bursts into the lane.
“We need playmaking from that position, but we also need him to facilitate team ball movement,” Carlisle said. “If he holds it too much he’s going to wear himself down. … We need him to move it, when he gets it back try to make plays and he’s doing a good job of it.”
A stellar job. Collison’s offensive rating — his team’s efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) while he’s on the court — is an off-the-charts 114.1. Consider that LeBron James‘ rating is 120.4; Chris Paul‘s is 111.0; Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook are right at 105; Rajon Rondo‘s is 100.3 and Deron Williams, Dallas’ free-agent target last summer, sits at 99.3, just above the league average of 100.4. (Collison’s defensive rating is on the lower end, but that’s a different discussion.)
Dallas, a disjointed offensive team a season ago, ranks second in scoring per game behind Miami, averaging 108.4 points.
“Last year we had trouble cracking 90,” Mavs center/forward Brandan Wright said.
It starts with Collison as the Mavs are one of the better teams distributing the basketball and taking care of it. Collison’s assist ratio, the percentage of a player’s possessions that end in an assist, is a lofty 33.9. His turnover ratio, the percentage of a player’s possessions that end in a turnover, is an excellent 5.66.
In more basic stats language, Collison already owns two points-assists double-doubles in five games — he had three in 60 games last season — and has no more than two turnovers in any game while playing a minimum of 32 minutes. He had no turnovers in 35 minutes in Wednesday’s 109-104 win against Toronto.
All-in-all, the offseason moves are paying dividends for all involved. The Knicks are 3-0 and the Mavs are off to a fast start that maybe only Collison could have predicted.
“I think we’re a very good team, an underrated team at that,” he said. “But I expected us to have a good start.”