For the past several years, BYU's jack-of-all-trades point guard Kyle Collinsworth has been one of the most criminally underappreciated players in the country. But with the senior captain fresh off posting an NCAA record-breaking six triple-doubles last year, and with the opportunity to serve as the unquestioned leader of a young but talented team laying ahead of him, this may be the season when Collinsworth finally receives the accolades he so richly deserves.
Ranting about insufficient appreciation for Collinsworth isn't a new thing for me — I wrote a nearly 2,000-word opus on why he was (quietly) one of the best players in the country prior to last season. But even for me, a committed booster for all things Kyle, there were still reservations:
So what does it all mean? It means that Kyle Collinsworth came back from the frozen Russian tundra, picked up a basketball for the first time in two years, and still proceeded to perform at an historic level only matched by five other players (all of NBA-caliber talent) in the past decade and a half.
Take a moment to process that. Let it sink in. Allow it to marinate in your mind.
Yeah. I told you I wasn't crazy. He was that good.
All of which leads us to the most pressing concern that should be weighing on the minds of the Cougar faithful: It's entirely possible that Kyle Collinsworth may never be that good again.
Injuries suck — and major injuries, like the one that Collinsworth suffered at the end of the 2013-14 season, have the potential to derail entire careers. So there was no guarantee that Kyle would be able to return from ACL surgery and play at the historic (and I don't use that word lightly) level he did as a sophomore. He could have been completely forgiven if he had come back rusty, constantly a half-step behind, using the entire season to round slowly back into form.
But if you know anything about Kyle Collinsworth, you know he wasn't about to let that happen.
Not only did the Provo native overcome that devastating knee injury, but he somehow got even better in the process. He somehow took a statistically incredible sophomore season and found a way to improve upon it.
While holding his scoring virtually steady, Collinsworth increased both his rebounding and (especially) his assists as a junior, placing him in rare company. Since 1997, only two other players have posted season-long stat lines comparable to or better than Kyle's 2014-15 campaign.
|Evan Turner||2009-2010||Junior||Ohio State||20.4||9.2||6.0|
If you haven't noticed already, both of those players were first-round NBA draft picks after the season in question. That's some great company — and Collinsworth still has one more season of college ball to figure out how to top himself again. And with the graduation of BYU's all-time leading scorer in Tyler Haws, he'll have plenty of opportunities to do so.
But all of this begs the question: As great a collegiate player as Kyle Collinsworth is — with all the NCAA records and all the insane stats and all his obvious physical tools — why can't he get a serious look from NBA teams? Currently, he's not even ranked in DraftExpress' top 100 prospects for 2016. What makes him somehow different from players like Turner and Anderson? What does he need to do to find a place in the league?
In a word: shooting. And more specifically, 3-point shooting.
As awesome as Collinsworth is in so many aspects of the game — and let's be clear, he is really awesome — his one remaining weakness is his inconsistent jump shot. While he matched Turner and Anderson in virtually every major statistical category, both players significantly outpaced Kyle beyond the arc:
|Evan Turner||2009-2010||Junior||Ohio State||51.9||54.0||36.4|
If it's not already apparent, 28 percent from outside (especially on the shorter college 3-point line) is not great — particularly for a player who wants to play point guard in the triple-happy modern NBA. For as virtually unguardable as Collinsworth can seem when he's using his significant size advantage to attack the rim and dominate the offensive glass, the answer to at least beginning to limit his scoring over the last two seasons has been pretty simple: back off, attempt to take away his driving lanes and dare him to shoot.
The danger of that strategy could be even greater this season, as Collinsworth will undoubtedly be asked to shoulder more of the Cougars' scoring burden in Haws' absence. He can't just pass up open looks to someone else like he did before — he's going to have to start taking and making shots to keep that BYU offense humming at its normally prolific levels.
To be sure, Kyle understands all this. He's as smart a player as the Cougars have had in quite some time, so it's safe to assume he's acutely aware of the areas of his game in need of improvement — and you can bet he worked all summer on extending his range and becoming a more lethal perimeter threat.
Only time (and real, honest-to-goodness game action) will tell whether he truly succeeded in adding that final blade to his already formidable basketball Swiss army knife — and if he did, every team on BYU's schedule and every college hoops fan better watch out. If you didn't fear Kyle Collinsworth before, you should now. It's his time to shine.