Heading into the 2022-23 NBA season, Collin Gillespie seemed more than ready to battle for a spot in the Denver Nuggets rotation once training camp rolled around. Last week, those plans went out the window when the former Villanova point guard fractured his leg during a practice at his alma mater.
Gillespie signed a two-way contract with the Nuggets the day after the 2022 NBA Draft. The promising floor general practically fell into Denver’s lap as he went undrafted, despite a decorated college career that included back-to-back Big East Player of the Year honors.
After undergoing surgery on the injury, Gillespie will be out indefinitely with a target recovery timeline of five-to-six months.
While the injury clearly puts a huge damper on Gillespie’s rookie season aspirations, the Nuggets should keep him as a two-way prospect and allow him to prove himself when he returns to action.
After all, this isn’t the first time Gillespie has dealt with a significant injury.
As a senior in his fourth year at Villanova, Gillespie tore a ligament in his left knee during a game against Creighton. This injury forced him to miss the remainder of the season, including the NCAA tournament.
In turn, Gillespie put his plans of going pro on hold and chose to return to Villanova for a fifth year.
After several months of recovery, the fiery playmaker bounced back with the best season of his college career. Gillespie averaged a career-high and team-high 15.6 points per game (16.4 points per game in conference play) and won Big East Player of the Year for the second straight season, as well as Big East Tournament MVP.
On top of Gillespie’s individual success, the Wildcats made a run to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament.
All in all, Gillespie is as tough as they come. The Nuggets would be unwise to give up on him in the wake of his injury setback.
After playing five years of college basketball, Gillespie may already be closer to his ceiling than most rookies. However, he showed flashes of potential during this year’s Summer League play as he largely ran the offense for Denver’s summer squad.
Gillespie posted per-game averages of 11.3 points, 4.3 assists, and 5.3 rebounds while sinking 80 percent of his free throws at Summer League. While he shot quite poorly from the field (39.5 percent) and the 3-point line (28 percent), Gillespie consistently impacted the game in other ways.
Standing at 6-foot-3, Gillespie averaged the most rebounds per game in Vegas among rookie point guards and the 3rd-most among all point guards. He also averaged the seventh-most offensive rebounds at his position with 1.3 per contest.
In addition, Gillespie made his mark on the defensive end, notching 1.5 steals per game and finishing in the top ten among rookie floor generals in that category.
Despite his summer shooting slump, Gillespie’s numbers at Villanova indicate that he should rediscover his shot in the future. In fact, he projects to be a fairly lethal shooter once he fully adjusts to NBA-level basketball.
Gillespie was a certified sniper during his final season of college, nailing an absurd 41.5 percent of his 3-pointers on 7.2 attempts per game. Over the course of his five-year career at Villanova, he sank 38.7 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
Unless Gillespie completely forgot how to shoot after he graduated, the two-way rookie should serve as a deep threat upon his return to the court.
Along with his tangible basketball abilities, Gillespie offers something else of great value: leadership.
Dating back to his collegiate career, Gillespie has always been a natural leader. On top of leading his squad in points, assists, and 3-pointers during his final season, Gillespie displayed tremendous leadership as a voice in the locker room and a role model off the court.
New Villanova head coach Kyle Neptune, who served as an assistant during Gillespie’s time as a Wildcat, praised the point guard’s leadership in an interview with Tim Casey of Forbes:
"“I would say no one through my time at Villanova was a better leader than Collin Gillespie. Maybe guys as good, but no one was a better leader just from the standpoint of being willing to speak up and own that role and have the guys’ respect in that role.”"
Overall, Collin NugGillespie possesses the skills and poise to become an impact player in the league. While we won’t see him on the floor for quite some time, he could be a diamond in the rough worth waiting for.