Dallas is now three-and-a-half games out of the Lakers for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoff race, with a brutal homestand coming up with games against Boston, Utah, Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana and Chicago.
If in fact the Mavericks end up missing out on the playoffs, it will be the first time in 13 seasons that Dallas has failed to make the postseason.
It will certainly not be a year to remember for the franchise, and it has not gone down in the way that many thought it would. However, there has been Mavericks players who have stepped up and given their all to the team this season.
Deservedly so, much of the attention this season has been paid to O.J. Mayo for his play in his first season in Dallas, as well as former NBA MVP Dirk Nowitzki, who is still playing at a high level despite coming off a knee injury.
Vince Carter has also been getting high praise for his work coming off the bench. He is in the conversation for NBA Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 13.2 points per game.
However, one player who has been playing well for the Mavericks this season but doesn't seem to be getting the credit he deserves is Darren Collison.
Collison is playing in his first season in Dallas after coming over in free agency in the offseason.
While many fans were expecting Deron Williams to be the Mavericks' primary point guard in 2012-13, Collison has been an admirable replacement. He's a young player who shows tremendous upside. Collison's stats have been eerily similar to his career averages in his four seasons in the league.
Collison is getting 30.1 minutes per game, compared to his 29.7 career average. He is scoring 12.3 points per game, compared to 12.2 in his career. His assist numbers are identical at 5.2, and his rebounds are too at 2.8.
Seeing that Collison has been so even with his numbers, it may indicate to some that he isn't improving his game much in his fourth season.
However, for those who have watched him, that has not been the case.
Collison has had to deal with several moments of adversity this season, but he has been able to bounce back from all of them and prove his worth to the team.
First and foremost, like the rest of the Mavericks roster, Collison had to adjust his game a third of the way through when Dirk Nowitzki returned from injury.
This stopped Dallas from being as much of an up-and-down team. The Mavs began to play more of a half-court style that utilized Dirk's strengths.
Collison is a player that would play the whole game in transition if he could. He is lightning-quick and is great at changing speed and direction. It has been a long while since the Mavericks have had a player who is as good as Collison at getting to the basket off the dribble in a fast break.
Collison's speed is evidenced by this play against the Bobcats earlier in the season. Collison receives the outlet just past midcourt, and then needs only one dribble to get to the rim before posterizing Gerald Henderson.
To go along with the change in tempo, Collison has been in and out of Rick Carlisle's good graces this season.
Although his poor play at times is partially to blame, Collison had to deal with making the adjustment from being the team's starter, to coming off the bench in favor of Derek Fisher, to going back to being the starter, to now coming off the bench again (albeit for very different reasons this time around).
Although Collison was understandably upset with his initial benching back in December, he remained professional throughout the entire ordeal and eventually worked his way back to being the starter.
Make no mistake about it, Collison has proven himself a worthy starter plenty of times this season.
No Mavs fan can forget this acrobatic shot Collison hit against Oklahoma City in December to tie the game as time ran out in regulation. That game was also the game in which Collison had his season high of 32 points.
Collison has gone over the 20-point mark six times this season, and has been over 15 over a dozen times, showing that he has the ability to be a consistent scorer in this league.
The former UCLA star does have weaknesses in his game that have prevented him from cementing his spot in Dallas for the future. He still struggles at times with turning the ball over. He averages 2.2 turnovers per game, second most on the team.
He also does a poor job defensively against elite point guards. Collison is quick enough to stay in front, but he isn't strong enough to match up with the Deron Williams and Chris Pauls of the world on a consistent basis.
While those are certainly two aspects of his game that Collison needs to improve upon, the pros of his season have outweighed the cons. Collison leads the Mavericks in assists at 5.2 per game. He ranks in the top 25 in the NBA in that category. He also leads the Mavericks in steals and is one of the best free-throw shooters in the NBA, knocking freebies down at just under 90 percent.
Dallas will be forced to make a decision on Collison when the season ends. Collison will be a free agent after this season after signing just a one-year deal in 2012. The good news is that Collison will be a restricted free agent, and if the Mavericks want him to come back, he will.
Dallas likely won't be bringing back Rodrigue Beaubois or Mike James next season, which means the door could be open for Collison to return and be the starter.
However, there are other point guards out there that the Mavericks may be considering. The wise move in my opinion would be to re-sign Collison, as well as signing another veteran free-agent point guard such as Jose Calderon or Jarrett Jack.
Not only would this give the Mavericks insurance if Collison weren't to work out as the starter, it would also improve the team's depth at that position while pushing Collison to continue to improve.
While Darren Collison's season has been very under the radar for the Mavericks, he should continue to make strides to improve his game in the offseason. If he returns to Dallas, he could be a focal point of the team's turnaround effort next season.
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