Jason Collins is currently on a 10-day contract for the Nets. Brooklyn isn't asking for very much from the 35-year-old but for him to be a rim protector, set hard screens, and contain fellow big men, among other things.
Sunday night is an extremely small sample size, but for a guy that had one of the most important pre-game press conferences in recent history less than an hour before the game, and was signed to the team about an hour before that, Collins played fairly well.
In the very first offensive set he was in, Collins did what he does best: get in the way.
Collins sets three screens on Jordan Farmar in five seconds both on and off of the ball. The third screen was so successful that it forced the much smaller Farmar to switch onto Collins, creating a massive mismatch. Deron Williams didn't take advantage of either mismatch; however, Nick Young has to help out more than usual, leaving Alan Anderson open from beyond the arc. With the focus being on Williams, Anderson gets open for an uncontested three.
A smiling Collins said after the game that his favorite part of his short time on the court Sunday was "Farmar ... complaining to the ref that I was setting an illegal pick."
Collins' high basketball IQ is also on display in the prior play. He recognizes that he, a seven-footer, is matched up with a 6'2" Farmar. Sure, he could demand the ball and force his way to the rim, but Collins instead leaks out to the corner to give Williams the possibility of taking Kaman off the dribble on the left side. Williams doesn't use the lane, but the fact that Collins can recognize the situation is great.
Defense is what Collins' prides himself on, and he showed us Sunday night that he could still play some.
Chris Kaman is trying to get position on the low block during this sequence, but Collins is patrolling the paint and won't let Kaman get his way. As Kaman is calling for the ball, Collins pushes him to in between the paint and the three-point line. After forcing Kaman out of his comfort zone, Collins gets in a low position to prevent a drive and Kaman has to turn his back to the basket. With nowhere to go with the ball, Kaman tries to get rid of it, but can't find an open teammate. He tries to throw across the entire length of the court through the Nets defense, but it is easily stolen for a transition opportunity the other way.
Collins has fine defensive fundamentals which force big men out of position, who, unlike guards, can't deal with pressure well and will usually turn the ball over.
While talking about Collins' defensive fundamentals, see this play in the midst of a Lakers comeback during the fourth quarter.
A lost art in the NBA is help defense. Many players on defense "hug" their man and don't follow what is going on with the ball. However, Collins knows he can recover to guard Pau Gasol as the ball gets passed around the hardwood so he sags off of him; Collins is in position to help Williams if Farmar decides to drive.
Farmar does indeed drive past Williams, but doesn't plan on having Collins waiting for him in the paint. Collins doesn't need to move all that much to get into position and Farmar coughs the ball up just as he approaches Collins. Collins' great help defending saved the Nets from giving up an easy basket, something that was happening way too often in the fourth quarter. Maybe Collins could have an influence on the team's defense with his fine work off of the ball.
One game is too early to rule Collins the Nets' secret weapon, but when Kevin Garnett is out of the game the Nets lack a rim protector. Andray Blatche is a putrid defender, Mason Plumlee is too raw to be depended on to defend on a nightly basis, and past that, the Nets lack a real big man. Like I alluded to earlier, Collins has been brought in to do what he specializes in, protect the rim and set some screens, not much more. If he could play around 10 minutes per game (he played 11 on Sunday), then the Nets can take even more pressure off of Garnett and deepen their already deep bench.