The Los Angeles Lakers currently have a 33-8 record, occupying first place in the Western Conference. It’s been an amazing season for the team, and with the success they’ve had up to this point, you’d think they’d be comfortable with their roster enough (barring injury) to run with these guys all the way into the NBA playoffs. However, this is the time of the year where teams try to improve as much as they can, as the trade deadline comes on February 6th. The Lakers somewhat have their hands tied, as nearly all of their first-round picks in the next four to five years belong in some sort of way to the New Orleans Pelicans. They may get lucky though, getting the chance to sign a free agent who would have been very coveted last summer if he was available. That free agent is, of course, Darren Collison.
Darren Collison was to be a free agent last summer, but instead of signing what was possibly going to be a large contract for him, he retired. The decision was based on Collison’s faith, as he wanted to spend the rest of his time focused on his family and being a Jehovah’s Witness. However, from a recent report from Adrian Wojnarowski/ESPN, it sounds as if Collison will be trying to come back to the NBA. Wojnarowski also stated Collison’s two preferred destinations, with one of them being the Lakers. The second team was that other L.A. team but let’s not talk about them.
Instead, let’s talk about how, and to what extent, Collison could help the Lakers. He presents quite the unique opportunity for Rob Pelinka, as the prospect of signing him came out of nowhere. I’d say it’s just like manna coming down from heaven to the Israelites, but Pelinka has already used that analogy for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
The Lakers need a playmaker
Many people probably scoff at the idea that the Lakers would need a playmaker, as the Lakers have arguably the best one in the entire NBA in LeBron James. The thought of that idea becomes even more silly when you consider the fact that the Lakers added Anthony Davis this year, one of the best scoring big men in the NBA (if not the best). All of that is true, but almost every NBA championship team has at least two perimeter players who can almost get a bucket at will. The Lakers have LeBron James, but who is the other?
The easy answer is Kyle Kuzma, but we have yet to see if he can really blossom into that type of player with this team due to a myriad of reasons. Rajon Rondo is another possible answer, but he seems to be falling behind the new age game of basketball more and more. Other than that, Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Alex Caruso, and others just don’t have the necessary skillsets to create for themselves and others off the dribble. Darren Collison can do both of those things, and at a pretty high level, especially for the role he would fill on this team.
Let’s just take a look first at Collison and how he can improve the Lakers through pick-and-roll plays, as well as working out of isolation. Other than LeBron James, the Lakers have Rajon Rondo, Quinn Cook, Alex Caruso, and Avery Bradley doing the most PnRs while handling the ball. Below you can see Collison’s statistics as the PnR ball handler compared to those four players. In the clip below the statistics, Sam Mitchell puts it best regarding how Collison can help in this area.
- Collison (2018-19): 72nd percentile of all NBA players, 43.6% score frequency (percentage of plays where the team scores at least one point from the play)
- Rondo: 39th percentile, 34.6% score frequency
- Cook: 49th percentile, 39.6% score frequency
- Caruso: 32nd percentile, 33.3% score frequency
- Bradley: 35th percentile, 35.3% score frequency
Sam Mitchell on the Lakers' point guard problems pic.twitter.com/d1UawSSxys
— pickuphoop (@pickuphoop) January 3, 2020
As for isolation plays, Bradley and Caruso haven’t even done enough out of isolation to show up on NBA.com’s statistics, while Cook has only had 10 possessions of isolation this season and Rondo is in the 14th (!!!) percentile. Collison, on the other hand, was in the 69th (nice) percentile in the 2018-19 season, with the Pacers, scoring 44.6% of the time on his isolations.
Imagine a lineup where Collison comes off the bench while LeBron gets some rest. Hello, Collison and Anthony Davis PnRs. This year, the Lakers are scoring 1.14 points-per-possession with Davis as the screen-setter in a PnR, putting him at the 56th percentile in the NBA. Collison’s main screen-setters on the Indiana Pacers included Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, two of the better big men in the entire NBA. Still, they were a little behind Davis with respect to the 2018-19 season when being screen-setters for Collison, as they were at the 50th and 41st percentile, respectively. And although Turner is a viable threat from the three-point line, Sabonis is nowhere close to producing like Davis from beyond the arc.
Replacing some of the Lakers guards’ possessions off the bench with some possessions for Collison is sure to increase their offensive output as Collison can call some screens from the likes of Davis, as well as JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard. He also does something else far better than the other ball-handling guards that the Lakers have, and that’s shooting threes.
Darren Collison – marksman from deep
Although it’s been somewhat low volume (between 2.6 and 3.0 attempts per game), Darren Collison has shot at least 40% from three in each of the past four seasons. He even shot 46.8% in the 2017-18 season on three attempts per game.
Although he would get plenty of work as a ball-handler for the Lakers, he might get even more spot-up three attempts given the fact that he’s on a team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
- Collison (2018-19): 94th percentile, 48.6% score frequency
- Rondo: 33rd percentile, 31.9% score frequency
- Bradley: 8th percentile, 25.5% score frequency
- Caruso: 58th percentile, 41% score frequency
The Lakers have definitely improved this season from three with the addition of Green and the rise of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but no one ever said you could have too much quality shooting on a team. In addition to becoming arguably the Lakers’ best shot creator other than LeBron James after potentially joining the team, he could also become a top-three shooter on the team.
As I said previously, it’s the time of the year when the contenders buy and the lottery teams sell. The Lakers are obviously in the buying market, without many options to trade. Kyle Kuzma has already been floated around in trade rumors, as he is one of the few young and tradeable pieces on the team. However, his salary is probably too low to even find a player out there that could be seen as a sizeable upgrade over him, so that route might not be viable. Andre Iguodala is still doing nothing while on the Memphis Grizzlies, but they seem adamant that they want to trade him as opposed to buying him out. If they end up going that route, it’s nearly guaranteed that another team will have more and better assets to trade for him.
Darren Collison though? The Lakers wouldn’t have to give up anything for him. They could just sign him to the roster. It’s an absolutely unforeseen, low cost, low risk, high upside move for the Lakers that might arguably help them more than any other trade could.