The NBA season is barely a week old and story lines are already taking shape across the league. The Atlanta Hawks are getting potentially as little national attention as any team. As rookies taken as lottery picks are getting attention both good (Ben Simmons) and bad (Markelle Fultz), John Collins, taken at No. 19 overall this year, has quietly had a very productive first week in his professional career.
The most encouraging part of his play thus far is that he really has not had any moments where he has looked out of place. He doesn’t get pushed around and when he is on the court he is typically involved in the primary offensive action.
For example, on this play late in the first quarter in Monday’s loss to the Miami Heat, Collins and Isaiah Taylor are on the court with three established veterans. But you can see Marco Belinelli direct Collins to work with the Hawks’ newest point guard to attack the Miami defense. He does so with a dribble hand-off into pick and roll action. They execute the play with precision and Collins finishes strong with the left hand at the rim.
The Hawks front court unit struggled as a group in Friday’s loss to the Hornets. Ersan Ilyasova dealt with foul trouble in the game just as Collins did. And the rookie will need to reduce his overall foul rate to be as productive as the Hawks need him to be this season. But if that is the most significant issue during the first week of professional basketball for a big man that is barely 20 years old, that is easily acceptable.
The Wake Forest product is third in minutes played among the Hawks rotation bigs and leads the group quiet easily in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and trips to the free throw line. That’s not to say that the other members of the group deserve criticism. There should be little doubt that Collins is benefiting by practicing with and playing along side a group of professionals that have cumulatively played more than 25,000 minutes in the league.
Among his peers in the rookie class, Collins and Ben Simmons are the only two players to amass multiple double-doubles. On a per-36 minute basis, he leads the group in rebounding, field goals (players with 36+ total minutes), and blocked shots. He is second in points scored, fifth in field goal percentage, and fifth in steals.
Among all players in the league (still on a per 36 minute basis) he is tenth in rebounds, fifth in offensive rebounds, sixth in points in the paint and 12th in second chance points. His ability to convert points on put back opportunities already has him in an elite class of players.
Almost any way you slice the numbers, an irrefutable outcome is seen. John Collins during his first week of professional play has been one of the most productive big men and one of the most impactful rookies in the league.
Still, a full NBA season is long and taxing. And as the schedule plays out young players like Collins will see more variation is the class and profile of big men against whom they are competing. On Friday night during the Hawks season opener, Collins will have to mix it up with former Atlanta all-star Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic. Next week he will encounter the likes of Giannis Antentokoumpo, Joel Embiid and Kevin Love.
There will surely be ups and downs. But if he can maintain something near the level of production he delivered during his first week of professional play, rewards such as an appearance in the Rising Stars Challenge, during all-star weekend, and an appearance on the NBA all-rookie team could be in his future. If either or both of those thing come to fruition, he will have leaped over some number of the 18 players that were taken ahead of him in the 2017 draft. And that would be a point of encouragement for an organization looking to identify a young core of players with which to start building towards future success.