Making sense of Olympiacos’ signing of Mardy Collins

by Rafael Uehara

By Rod Hig

Mid-season signings in European basketball are usually a triumph of results over process. With no real framework for trades in place, no salary cap and huge financial discrepancies among teams and national leagues, looking for reinforcements after late October, when a few interesting players get cut by NBA teams, is in many ways a random endeavor. This is not to say that successful additions shouldn’t be attributed to the connections, scouting network and overall competence of a team’s front office; it’s just that, more often than not, this type of signings is a matter of being at the right place at the right time.

Take Olympiacos’ back-to-back Euroleague championship run. In early 2012, the Reds added Acie Law, who had left Partizan after they failed to reach the top 16, and Joey Dorsey who was let go by Baskonia. Both of them were crucial to Olympiacos winning an improbable title at the Istanbul final four. Right place, right time. The following season Dorsey imploded and was replaced by Josh ‘Painful Lineup Data’ Powell. A few months later, Doron Perkins replaced the injured Vangelis Mantzaris with very little success. Wrong place, wrong time. In-between those signings, the champs took advantage of Maccabi dropping the ball and cutting Giorgi Shermadini in favour of Darko Planinic – the Georgian center made up for Powell’s shortcomings, especially at the London final four.

That’s a 3-2 record in mid-season transfers which Olympiacos are hoping to improve through Mardy Collins. The American combo guard comes in from the Italian club Sutor Montegranaro as a replacement to the injured Acie Law. What remains unclear, however, is whether he will be used in the same role as last season’s Euroleague final MVP. Olympiacos acted quickly when it became apparent that Law could need knee surgery and miss up to eight weeks – after all, they had a January 1st deadline to meet if Collins was going to be available for the first round of the top 16. And when teams are in a rush, they tend to settle for a guy that can give them the rotation minutes they need, as opposed to the best possible fit.

With that in mind, it is worth asking whether Olympiacos actually had to make a move. At his best (and fittest) Law is a valuable source of creativity at the weakside and in transition, while also providing solid defense. With Mantzaris recovering nicely from last season’s torn ACL and Vassilis Spanoulis dominating the ball as usual, a scenario without any new faces would include a bigger role on offense for Kostas Sloukas (not a bad idea, given his assist numbers) and more consistent playing time for Dimitris Katsivelis, a raw guard, who nevertheless had a positive impact in the Euroleague playoffs and the final four, mainly thanks to his defense.

Such a workload distribution could still be feasible if Collins sees most of his minutes at small forward, where he spent a considerable amount of time for Montegranaro. But whether he plays at the backcourt or at the wings, there are some question marks about the compatibility of his skills with coach Giorgos Bartzokas’ playbook. Collins’ post-NBA numbers say that he is a high usage/low efficiency (in both shooting and passing) player. John Hollinger says that he is not a fan.And game tape indicates that the newest Olympiacos member could struggle with playing off the ball.

In Olympiacos’ offense, guards playing alongside Spanoulis are expected to run side pick and rolls with limited time on the shot clock if the initial option for the Olympiacos captain doesn’t pan out. Collins tends to treat those situations as an opportunity to get his own shot off. He can’t hit the roll man with consistency and often settles for a simple pass to a third player that barely forces the defense to move. Even worse, his own forays to the hoop are not exactly a paragon of efficiency. Collins has a nice spin move that he deploys in the middle of his drives. Other than that. he struggles with changing directions and creating separation from his man – his hesitation moves and crossover dribble are nothing to write home about. At the same time, his limited shooting range allows defenders to go under the screen. And even though he can finish through contact and draw fouls, his poor free-throw shooting numbers tend to diminish the value of this skill.

Small forwards, on the other hand, are expected to contribute to spacing – Kostas Papanikolaou, Stratos Perperoglou and Matt Lojeski have all been solid and even spectacular shooters for Olympiacos. Collins should get much better perimeter looks compared to his previous teams in Europe, but will probably have a hard time knocking down enough of those. His shooting mechanics are flawed (low release point; a shooting motion that doesn’t form a 45-degree angle when the ball is in his shooting hand as he rises up; erratic follow through motion) and his career numbers are not exactly promising. In short, he could become a marked man for Olympiacos’ opponents, whose number one priority is to send as many help defenders as possible toward Spanoulis.

Of course it’s not all bad news. Collins has a strong post-up game against smaller guards and Olympiacos run a couple of plays – initially designed for Law – which can accommodate him. As a small forward he can be a more effective defender compared to Lojeski and Perperoglou, thanks to his solid build and quick hands. The likes of Christian Eyenga and Robin Benzing gave the champs trouble in the regular season, so any help in this area is welcome. More importantly, Collins could free up Perperoglou to play more minutes at power forward, where he has turned into a devastating offensive weapon.

Like most mid-season signings, Collins could fill some holes while giving rise to new problems. This is why his success will depend on the foundation of the structure he will become a part of. Regardless of their individual traits, the success of Law and Dorsey or the failure of Powell and Perkins did not happen in a vacuum. There was already a system in place, which either had some use for their skills or didn’t know what to do with them. The incorporation of Collins provides yet another test for this system.