John Collins is on the short list of bright spots for the Atlanta Hawks this season and everyone seems to agree that the franchise unearthed a gem with the No. 19 overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft. Obviously, it is (very) early to discuss what other teams should have done with their picks but Chris Johnson and Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated gave it a shot this week and, predictably, Collins rocketed up the chart.
At the end of the process, Collins landed at No. 12 to the Detroit Pistons with the following explanation.
Collins might be the Hawks’ biggest selling point as a viewing proposition this season. For a franchise that waited way too long to detonate its Horford-Millsap core and take the plunge into rebuild mode, Collins was a nice grab outside of the lottery, not to mention the early answer to the question of which of the two 2017 first-rounders surnamed Collins (along with Portland’s Zach, at pick No. 10) will enjoy a more fruitful career. Pre-draft questions about John Collins’s positional fit and defensive shortcomings have been put to rest by his sheer production. No qualifying rookie is rebounding more on a per-possession basis, and only one, Golden State’s Jordan Bell (more on him below), has converted a higher percentage of his shot attempts.
If anything, this will feel too low according to Hawks fans. On one hand, Collins would be rising ahead of Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo and others but he is also jumped by Kyle Kuzma and OG Anunoby while falling behind other rookies that have not performed as well.
Through 27 games (and 22.9 minutes per contest), Collins is averaging 11.7 points (on 61.9 percent shooting) and 7.1 rebounds per game. Beyond that, he has produced encouraging defensive awareness and, as the rest of the Sports Illustrated write-up notes, he may still be underrated nationally as a result of Atlanta’s team struggles.
It would require an unexpectedly rapid ascent from the East cellar to prevent Collins from spending the next couple of years, at minimum, treading water out of the national spotlight, but Atlanta’s lack of urgency to push for a playoff spot should free up coach Mike Budenholzer to let Collins play through his mistakes while he smooths off some of the rougher edges of his skill set. In the process, he’ll give East frontcourts fits with his activity on the glass and reliable interior finishing while giving Smith a run for his money as the most entertaining dunker in this class. Collins’s fit into the Hawks’ future plans is difficult to discern, in large part because this roster feels stocked with short-term rentals who won’t be around the next time they’re playing meaningful spring basketball. Collins looks like a keeper, though.
It could certainly be argued that John Collins should be ahead of top-five picks like Josh Jackson or even Lonzo Ball but, even if skepticism seems to reign to some degree here, the Hawks have a big-time steal in the rookie from Wake Forest.