Jason Collins was one of the greatest defensive players ever to take the floor in an NBA game, a perpetual stay-away shutdown guy who wasn’t a great rebounder, wasn’t a great shotblocker, and put up cover-your-eyes box score stats but who continually altered opposing game plans by going full “you shall not pass” Gandalf on walling off the restricted area.
In that sense, he was like a great NFL defensive back who doesn’t get a lot of pass deflections or interceptions for the sole reason that quarterbacks are terrified to throw the ball to his side of the field; guys like that show their greatness not with their own stats but with the fact that the other team’s best receiver usually has his lowest total catches and targets of the season on the day his team plays the defensive back’s team.
Collins never made an All-Defensive team, but considering that his prime was between 2004 and 2007, when the NBA was mired in the Dark Ages and analytics weren’t a thing yet, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Back then, you needed gaudy rebounding and shotblocking or just a reputation—deserved or not—and Collins didn’t have that.
But we’re not here to talk about the defense Collins played for his own team. We’re here to talk about the defense Collins played for the other team in the form of being one of the most glaring offensive liabilities in the history of professional basketball.
And it doesn’t matter how you carve up the data, whether traditional counting stats or advanced stats, because Jason Collins in 2006-07 put up the single worst offensive season by a starter in the entire history of the NBA. And then, just for kicks, he followed it up with one that might have been even worse but for the fact that he played 700 fewer minutes and thus limited the damage he could do.
Collins played in 80 games in ’06-07 for a Nets team that had by then become a shell of the team that made the NBA Finals in 2002 and ’03. He started 78 of them and played 1844 minutes.
His counting stats? 2.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.5 steals, and 0.5 blocks per game, while committing a mind-blowing 5.3 fouls per 36 minutes, part of the reason he only played 23.1 minutes per game.
This was a Nets team that still had Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson, but Mikki Moore was their starting center and Collins played power forward. Even Dennis Rodman, who with the Chicago Bulls took just 4.8 shots per game, still scored 5.2 points on those shots.
Collins couldn’t even find five shots to put up, averaging just 1.9 attempts from the field (and shooting a vile 36.4 percent as a big man, hitting 46.1 percent of his shots from three feet and in.
Collins is seven feet tall. A 7-footer has no excuse for not hitting even half of his shots that close to the basket. That’s the sort of incompetence you expect from a guard who drives into traffic and attempts ill-advised layups, not a guy who was nearly always taller than his defender.
The guy was so bad at offense that he posted an 83 Offensive Rating, -1.3 Offensive Win Shares (only his 1.9 DWS saved him from the inglorious fate of being a negative-wins guy, but a team full of Jason Collins-level players would be expected to go 6-76, somehow winning six games on defense alone), a brain-exploding -5.5 Offensive Box Plus-Minus, and a worse-than-the-G-League -0.7 VORP.
He was still a great defender, but when you’re scoring two points a game on 36 percent shooting and committing enough fouls to let the other team’s best free throw shooters paralyze your guards, who can’t play aggressive on-ball defense for fear of sending an 80-plus percent free throw shooter to the line…well, do the math. You score two points a game and a guy you’re not even guarding gets an extra 1.6 points plus whatever the other team’s offense creates with more space to work, and this was back in the day when 90 points was usually enough to win.
But that’s not even the most glaring “are you kidding me” number in Collins’ stat line.
Collins had a PER of 3.0 in 2006-07.
How bad is that? The next-worst season by PER for a player with at least 1844 minutes in the 3-point era belongs to…Jason Collins, who hit 5.5 in 2005-06.
But beyond that, Trenton Hassell posted a 6.0 in 2002-03 for a joke of a Bulls team in 1999 minutes.
The other offensive stats for Collins that year are…well…offensive.
Keeping the search (and a thousand thanks to Basketball Reference’s Play Index for making this possible) to guys with at least Collins’ 1844 minutes, he was…
5th-worst in 2PT%.
Worst in eFG%.
31st up from the bottom in FT% (Collins shot just 46.5 percent from the line.)
And third up from the bottom in TS%.
He was also second-worst in Offensive Rating and dead last in Offensive BPM.
There are plenty of great defenders in NBA history who were not exactly forces to be reckoned with offensively. Rodman leaps immediately to mind, but it wasn’t his job to shoot, it was his job to pull down an offensive rebound, pass the ball to Michael Jordan, and let His Airness make the shot.
Bruce Bowen is another guy who didn’t scare people with his offense, but Bowen was also a career 39.3 percent three-point shooter who existed in that weird statistical nexus where he’d post a sub-10 PER but a VORP over 2.0 and—with the sole exception of the 1999 lockout year and the 2002 season, a positive OWS number.
And Mark Eaton was the all-time king of the guys who provided massive plus value to their teams while being dreadful offensively. Of the 20 seasons since 1979-80 where a player posted an OBPM below -2.0 and a VORP over 2.0, Eaton has eight of them, with the rest of the list being populated by the likes of Ben Wallace, Dikembe Mutombo, Marcus Camby, and Rick Mahorn.
Not Collins. In a three-year stretch between 2005 and 2008, his offense was so putrid, his counting and advanced offensive stats so bad, that it didn’t matter how good a defender he was, if he was on the court, it was like playing hockey with a guy in the penalty box whenever his team had the ball.
And that 3.0 PER is the worst not only for players who started 78 games but for even the garbage-time guys—you have to set the minimum minutes played at 458 before finding another guy in the 3-point era—John Duren of the 1980-81 Jazz—with a lower PER (2.6).
For the Play Index explorers and connoisseurs of the grotesque in NBA statistical history, Jason Collins truly had the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad season in 2006-07.