Oscar Robertson famously averaged a triple-double during the 1961-62 season. Jason Collins finishes his much-celebrated 2014 campaign not even averaging a triple-single.
The openly-gay center ranks 454 of 482 NBA players in scoring for the 2013-2014 season. He averaged just 1.1 points per game, the only one of the big three statistical categories in which he achieved a whole number. Significantly, all of the players scoring fewer points per game played fewer minutes per game than Collins.
The seven-footer barely registers in setting up scoring opportunities. He averaged .2 assists per game. As in the points category, Collins came in 454 out of 482 NBA players in assists.
Predictably, the center does a little better in grabbing rebounds. He averaged .9 boards per game. That’s good for 442nd in the league.
Collins’s stats line ranks as one of the worst in the NBA among players who regularly log minutes during games. His jersey, nevertheless, remains a brisk seller and for a brief period outsold all others at NBA.com. Sports Center even included Jason Collins checking in to a game as a “highlight” several games into his stint with the Nets. People clearly want him to succeed.
Prior to Collins signing with the Nets in February, well-wishers speculated that bigotry blocked his path to landing with a team. “The market for Collins would be bigger if he weren’t openly gay,” Kevin Arnovitz maintained at ESPN.com. “Is disqualifying a gay player not because of his sexual identity but because he’ll attract attention to the team a distinction without a difference? By definition, isn’t that discrimination, if not with a capital D, then a small one?”
But at the end of a regular season in which Jason Collins exhibited some of the most anemic production in the entire NBA, Arnovitz’s question might be reversed: Would the market be smaller, or even nonexistent, for Jason Collins if he weren’t openly gay?
In fact, both the attitude that Arnovitz argued against and the argument that he advanced appear disproved in the wake of Jason Collins’s not-quite triple-single-of-a-season. Collins neither imbalanced his team’s chemistry nor proved that, at 35, he still belongs on the NBA hardwood.
Collins’s stats make the case that he doesn’t still belong in the NBA. But as a big man on a team that largely went without one and as a veteran presence in a locker room led by an inexperienced coach, his value perhaps can’t be judged by the stats sheet alone. Even when he showed up more conspicuously in box scores earlier in his career, the center’s real talent fell on the defensive side of the ball. That skill set doesn’t always translate well through numbers. For instance, a stats geek who looked at a quarter century of NBA play in 2011 discovered that Collins owned one of just 31 triple-zero performances–no points, rebounds, or assists despite playing twenty minutes or more–during a game. So the Nets knew they weren’t signing a stats monster when they picked up Collins off the scrap heap. To the extent that he brings anything to a team today, Jason Collins brings intangibles.
And despite speculation of how a gay player might adversely influence locker-room chemistry, the Nets played their best basketball after Collins joined the team. Brooklyn started the season 5-14. They finished by dropping four of five. But in between they played the impressive hoops that their high-profile signings, and budget-busting payroll, indicated that they would prior to the season’s start. Significantly, the Nets improved their record from 25-28 to 44-38 since Collins joined the team. Is this the direct result of a guy who plays eight minutes a night? No, but it’s also the case that Collins has not disrupted the team in any way or facilitated a downward spiral. Brooklyn may not be better because of Jason Collins. But they’re certainly better since they signed Jason Collins.
“Get me on the court and I’m trouble,” Ice Cube memorably rapped. “Last week, f—ed around and got a triple double.” It’s doubtful that Jason Collins, who couldn’t even manage a triple-single this season in the NBA, could get a triple-double playing against a fortysomething NWA. But two days away from taking on the Toronto Raptors in the playoffs, the Brooklyn Nets enjoy a postseason life that seemed a questionable proposition before Collins joined their roster.