When he catches the ball at the high post, just inside the crown of the 3-point arc, Nick Collison reads the defense before making a decision.
Ideally, he wants to hand off the ball to an approaching Kevin Martin and immediately use his body as a shield to create space for the sharpshooter. But every now and then, Collison will catch the defense cheating, overzealously jumping out too much to block a pass. That's when Collison attacks, faking a pass to Martin before taking two dribbles for an uncontested dunk.
Without fail, the crowd inside Chesapeake Energy Arena eats it up.
And Collison loves it, too.
“It doesn't happen very often,” Collison said, “but that's a fun play.”
It's one of the many wrinkles Collison and the Thunder have employed in recent weeks, taking advantage of the nine-year veteran's savvy and passing skills to shore up shaky scoring in the second unit.
“I have a lot of fun with it,” Collison said. “I like passing the ball. I feel like I've always been a pretty good passer, but I haven't been in those opportunities as much. We've found some nice offensive action with that. So it's been fun for me.”
Coupled with his consistently rock-solid defense, Collison's added responsibilities offensively have taken his game to new heights. He's making himself more of a threat to score, either as a midrange shooter or by slipping to the basket out of pick-and-rolls, and he's setting up other teammates simply by making the extra pass.
On the first possession of the second quarter Friday at Minnesota, for example, Collison set a ball screen for Reggie Jackson before diving to the basket. When two Wolves defenders collapsed onto Collison, he hauled in the pass and in one motion fired the ball to Hasheem Thabeet, who cut baseline for a thunderous one-handed dunk.
“They're putting me in positions now where I'm handling the ball in those (free-throw area) situations,” Collison said. “And all year we've been working off pick and rolls, catching the ball in the pocket, which we call it, and then making plays on the weak side after drawing the defense.
“We've gotten better at that, just being in those situations and getting more comfortable with it. And our spacing's better so the passes are easier. It's kind of a progression with our team.”