Jason Collins isn't a very good basketball player anymore. Jason Collins is absolutely essential to the Atlanta Hawks' playoff hopes.
Last season, the Atlanta Hawks scored 76, 81, 86, 86, 71, 98, 75, and 84 points in going 1-7 against the Orlando Magic. This season, the Atlanta Hawks have scored 89, 80, 91, and 85 points and won three of four games against the Orlando Magic.
The difference is Jason Collins and the difference is Larry Drew.
Collins has played just 79 minutes in the four games against the Magic and has committed almost as many fouls (16) as he's scored points (18) or grabbed rebounds (18), but his presence has convinced the Hawks that they can defend Orlando in a sensible manner as Drew has recognized that the Hawks have to drag the Magic down to their scoring level in order to have a chance to win.
Collins and the Hawks haven't shut Howard down compared to last season (He's scored 19.3 points a game this season versus 21 points a game against the Hawks last season.) they just haven't freaked out every time he touches the ball. However it is that Collins has convinced the Hawks they can defend the Magic with composure, it's proven greatly beneficial in terms of defending the three-point line and limiting dribble penetration, as well as in terms of keeping Al Horford on the floor.
Now, it doesn't hurt that the Magic aren't nearly as good as they were last season and, over the course of a seven-game series, I expect Stan Van Gundy is more likely to make profound adjustments than is Larry Drew. (That Marvin Williams was put in the game for Kirk Hinrich to guard Jameer Nelson on Orlando's penultimate possession does not inspire great confidence.) Nor do I expect that Josh Smith (5-10, including 3 three-pointers, from outside of 20 feet last night) will be a more effective jump shooter than Ryan Anderson (3-9 from beyond the arc) over time.
The Atlanta Hawks have a chance to win a playoff series against the Orlando Magic. Ten-and-a-half months ago that seemed a ludicrous notion.