So far, the story of the 2018-19 Atlanta Hawks has been one of a rebuilding team trying to find pieces to transform into a contender down the road. There have been flashes of brilliance among the 2018 draft class between Trae Young showcasing his transcendent passing ability (39.3 Assist %) and Kevin Huerter’s red-hot December (40% from 3). However, both of these young players have a long way to go before they can be considered to be legitimate NBA rotation players. Mainly both have struggled to adjust to the speed of the game, especially on defense, posting defensive ratings of 116 and 117 respectively. However over the Hawks’ last ten games the team has managed to post a respectable 5-5 record, taking them from the absolute cellar of the NBA to the fifth worst record in the league. This small surge in overall team play is closely linked to the return and emergence of second year power forward John Collins, who right now is playing as well as any 4 in the NBA.
When John Collins was drafted at 19th overall out of Wake Forest, he was projected to be a prototype for the modern NBA big man, aside from his lack of three-point stroke. Last year, his value was shown in his ability to play above the rim and run the floor, rebounding at a high level (10.9 rebounds per 36 minutes) and scoring efficiently around the basket (62% True Shooting). Collins ranked second among qualified rookies in player efficiency rating (18.33), behind Rookie of the Year winner Ben Simmons. While efficient in his time on the court, his counting stats were hindered by limited minutes and not being the focus of a Dennis Schroeder-led offense, only posting a usage rate of 17.9%.
Since returning from a foot injury on November 17th Collins has started in 20 games and produced double-doubles in 13 of them. While double-doubles are impressive, what has been most impressive has been in his expanded role, there has been no drop-off in his efficiency. Collins’ shot attempts per game have nearly doubled from a year ago (7.4 to 13.3), while his field goal percentage has only dipped 0.4%. What makes this more impressive is that Collins has begun to incorporate a three-point shot regularly into his offensive game. It is certainly a work in progress, as he only buries them at a 30.2% clip, but his willingness to take the shot (up from 0.6 to 2.4 shots a game) is a welcome dimension adding to his already explosive game. If Collins can improve his three-point percentage to somewhere in the 34-35% area, while maintaining his athleticism at the rim, we could see him impact the offense similarly to what Brook Lopez is currently doing for league-leading Milwaukee.
Collins’ presence has also greatly benefited Trae Young, who has instantly shown strong chemistry with Collins. Collins has been assisted nearly twice a game over the last 15 games by Young, and is shooting 55.4% off of Young’s passes, both numbers leading the squad in that span. While Collins is still a project on the defensive end, struggling to record steals and blocks and fouling at a worrisome rate, his ability to maintain efficiency while beginning to shoulder more of the Hawks’ offensive load shows that he should be considered the Hawks’ big man of the future and should certainly garner consideration for an All-Star selection in the near future.