When Atlanta signed Jason Collins to a contract for the 2010-2011 season I wrote that the move felt like a "rounding out the roster move" and that I would have "preferred someone with a little more upside". Little did I know that it would be Collins who probably had as much to do with the Hawks reaching the second round of the playoffs again and helping erase the bad dream of a playoff beat down suffered at the hands of the Orlando Magic just one season ago.
It was very apparent at media day before the season that we were dealing with a much slimmer and in shape Jason Collins. It was Collins presence that Larry Drew used to shift to a bigger lineup to combat the bigger centers in the league like Dwight Howard. Collins is never going to fill up a stat sheet but the impact he had in games is undeniable. He essentially allowed Atlanta to play teams straight up and single cover an opponent without forcing a double team. That was important particularly as Atlanta's perimeter defense improved with the acquisition of Kirk Hinrich and the emergence of Jeff Teague.
Under Mike Woodson the Hawks were predictable. Rarely changing lineups or rotations no matter how bad of a mismatch they were faced with. Drew's use of Collins introduced a new dynamic to the argument of whether or not Al Horford should play the power forward position full time. Defensively we have seen what kind of effect it can have. While Atlanta might not want to start Collins full time, they may choose to look for a similarly sized center and go that route on a full time basis.
Collins will be a free agent this season and would be a good bet to be back with the Hawks to add size to the bench. He seemed like a good fit in the locker room and his staying in shape will be the key to him keeping a job in the NBA. That wasn't a problem this season as his conditioning was a priority as Collins was seen after many games getting his running in.
After playing in just 24 games during the 2009-10 season, Collins started 28 of 49 games that he appeared in this season. He also appeared in all 12 of Atlanta's playoff games. His minutes per game nearly tripled to 12.1. He finished the season with averages of 2.0 points and 2.1 rebounds per game.