On May 11, 2010, Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Nick Collison underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
On May 11, 2011, Collison held arguably the league's premier low-post scorer to nine points in the Thunder's 99-72 domination of the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals.
In between, Collison took an interesting ride to what some consider to be the apex of his career.
"I wouldn't say it was a roller-coaster year, because it mostly just went up," said Collison, holding his arm at a 45-degree angle, "but I went through a lot this year, for sure."
Collison went from rehabbing his right knee throughout the summer; to injuring his left knee in August; to missing training camp; to missing the first eight regular-season games; to signing a four-year contract extension that came with a $6.5 million thank-you card; to becoming an integral component with the arrival of two new centers; to being perhaps the team's most valuable player in the second and third rounds of the playoffs.
On a team featuring All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Collison commanded the playoff spotlight with his physical enforcement while defending Memphis power forward Zach Randolph and Dallas uber forward Dirk Nowitzki.
Collison's defense on Nowitzki was so sound, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle suggested it was illegal and should be reviewed by the league.
Carlisle eventually lightened up and gave Collison his due. “It's phenomenal,” Carlisle said. “You're talking about a guy that's one of the best post defenders really in basketball. He's proven that in three playoff series now.”
Collison signed through the 2014-15 season and is the lone original franchise member since Sam Presti became general manager four years ago.
Presti is a numbers guy, a man with stats that help put a player's worth into its proper context. Quantifying Collison's value is an all-encompassing study.
Presti's appreciation for the seven-year man out of Kansas became clear when he included a $6.5 million signing bonus eight months before the NBA's expected work stoppage. “I don't think you can boil it down numerically,” Presti said of Collison, “but I think efficiency is a very, very important part of the game.”
Collison has had better seasons statistically. He nearly averaged a double-double the final season in Seattle (2007-08) at 9.8 points and 9.4 rebounds. Collison averaged roughly half that this season at 4.6 points and 4.5 rebounds, both career lows.
During training camp, Collison spent more time in a rehab pool than he did on the court.
“I didn't know what to expect,” Collison said. “I think you're always a little apprehensive if you have surgery and (you're) not being able to do training camp and those kind of things. In the back of your mind you're always wondering, ‘Am I able to come back the same?'
“Early in the year, I didn't feel great, but I felt I was probably going to be OK. By the end, my body felt better. I think that helped me play better in the playoffs. I had some more spring in my legs. I was able to jump better, basically.”
What made Collison so valuable this year was his impeccable timing. Whenever the Thunder needed a presence – defensively, or on the offensive boards, or in the huddle – he would rarely disappoint.
Collison had 42 steals and took 57 charges. James Harden was next on the team in charges taken with 12.
“You can't underestimate the fact this is a player who's improved,” Presti said. “He's not 21 years old, but he's found crevasses to fill with improvement through preparation. We're proud to have him.”Collison is the son of a coach and is known as one of the league’s smartest players. Perhaps the arrival of his 30th birthday last Oct. 26, plus the fact he initially was forced to stay on the sideline, made Collison become even more cerebral this season. “I think he’s become a student of the game,” Presti said. “He’s one of the guys on our team who really, really embraces preparation. That helps him a great deal because a lot of his game is predicated on seeing things before they happen and doing things that — I hate to be cliché — don’t show up in a stat sheet.” Collison’s career has been wide-ranging. He experienced a 20-win season with the Seattle SuperSonics and this year enjoyed a 55-win season that ended with an appearance in the Western Conference Finals. Asked if this was his best season as a pro, Collison looked at it in terms of team achievement, not personal stats. "Yeah, for sure," Collison said. "There’s no doubt, with the success we had and being part of the team that won as many games as we did. That’s the first thing that pops into my head." Just two seasons ago, Collison sat in front of his locker during the Thunder’s 3-29 start and admitted, ’This is the worst year ever.’ " "It’s been really fun to be a part of this turnaround," Collison said. "We made another step forward. Now we know we have the ability. We have most of our personnel in place. Now we have to get better at the little things, winning games and executing. All the stuff, going from losing to winning, as much fun as that was, now we’re at a point where we really need to focus on our level of play. I think that’s the biggest thing coming into next year is we always have to be concerned with how we’re playing. Are we getting better at our weaknesses?"
NICK COLLISON'S NUMBERS
GP-S; MIN.; FG; FT; REB.; AST; BLK; STL; PTS
525-169; 23.5; .532; .729; 6.4; 0.9; 0.6; 0.5; 7.4
2010-11 regular season
71-2; 21.5; .566; .753; 4.5; 1.0; 0.4; 0.6; 4.6
17-0; 24.3; .632; .783; 5.8; 0.9; 0.9; 0.9; 6.7