When the sun rose on July 7th — the day the Atlanta Hawks’ 2017 Summer League journey began — many, myself included, weren’t quite sure what to expect from the 19th overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft, John Collins. There were legitimate questions to be asked of Collins heading into Las Vegas, by fans, writers, coaches and executives alike.
How high of a level could he play at? Would his skill-set immediately translate to the (semi, if we’re being honest) professional level? Could he provide Hawks fans — and NBA fans alike — excitement? Could he provide dunks-on-dunks-on-dunks?
The answer to those questions are: A high level, and yes, yes to all — especially to that last one.
Collins — along with the likes of Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith and Donovan Mitchell (to name but a few) — was one of the standout performers from all of Summer League, as he averaged 15.4 points per game on 59% shooting from the field and 9.2 rebounds per game and was named to the All-Summer League First Team.
In addition, Collins also provided fans with a number of highlight plays, such as these:
But, as we saw at Summer League, there’s obviously much more to Collins than just his ability to put players on posters and throwing down rim-rocking jams.
We’re going to take a look at the different aspects of Collins’ game that he showcased in Las Vegas (in case you missed it, for whatever reason), so that you’ll have an idea what to expect from John Collins heading into his rookie season — what he does well and areas where he could be better.
Collins was the Hawks’ second leading scorer in Vegas, averaging 15.4 points per game, only trailing DeAndre’ Bembry who averaged 17 points per game. Collins shot 59% from the floor which would be impressive coming from any power forward in the NBA, and extra impressive when you consider the range from which Collins was taking his shots, with a number coming from the mid-range.
Getting to/scoring at the rim
Collins proved himself capable of getting himself to the rim with opportunities to score, and he did so in multiple forms.
Here, Collins takes his man off of the dribble, takes the ball inside and his strength is just too much for his defender.
Collins was best able to get to the rim in the pick-and-roll situations where his athleticism and touch posed a constant and legitimate threat around there rim (or anywhere remotely near the rim when it comes to Collins’ athleticism).
Here, Collins does a great job of squeezing through two defenders and drawing the foul on the up-and-under scoop.
The fact that Collins can throw down ‘sick dunkz’ might mislead you into thinking that he can’t finish softy at the rim but he can, and then some.
Next season, you’d imagine that Dennis Schröder — since he’s now the best player on the Hawks — will command a lot of the defense’s attention when opposing teams play the Hawks, and some teams might decided to put pressure on him off of the pick-and-roll. This is where Collins could help with his ability to put pressure on the rim in pick-and-roll situations.
Off of the double team on Bembry, DeAndre’ delivers a great pass to the rolling Collins and he shows nice touch around the rim, laying the ball off the glass and in.
Alternatively, Collins could use his athleticism to charge down the lane off of the pick-and-roll and hammer a dunk home.
Collins’ pick-and-roll threat will probably the aspect of his offense that will translate immediately to the NBA.
Collins’ jump shot is a work in progress and it’s not something that might not immediately translate in Game 1 when October rolls around, but rolling to the rim? That’s a much easier skill to translate because a lot of the time it’s just hustle and determination.
“I think the things that are going to translate for John Collins in his first couple games, his first year as a Hawk is just playing hard”, Hawks assistant coach — and Summer League head coach — Charles Lee said.
“The pick-and-pop three threat, we’ll work with him on that, see where he gets to. But the biggest thing for him from day one is he has got to play hard — on defense and push pick-and-roll, he’s got to rebound like a monster and offensively just play with great pace, get to the next action. I think all the shooting stuff will come as he gets more comfortable.”
The difficult part for Collins on day one will probably be actually finishing at the rim but with his ability to get to roll hard and put pressure on the rim, he should see plenty of opportunities to get to the rim. And, as we’ve seen in Summer League, Collins can take off so far away from the rim and finish/draw a foul and this should serve him well. The Hawks run a lot of pick-and-roll action too, so there should be opportunities a-plenty.
Mid-range game and an expanding shot
Not only did Collins show his touch at the rim, but he also showed a nice touch when it came to his mid-range shooting.
Initially, those opportunities didn’t find their way to Collins and he didn’t force the issue but was confident in himself — and knew the coaches had confidence in him — to take that shot when the opportunity presented itself.
“The coaches definitely have confidence in me,” Collins said. “They’ve seen that I have a solid stroke and, when it’s open, I definitely will let it (the mid-range shot) go. If not, I’ll be a smart player and make the right basketball play.”
But the mid-range opportunities eventually came and Collins was more than happy to make the defense pay.
The more and more defenses refused to guard Collins’ mid-range threat, the more and more confident he became in taking and making those mid-range shots.
Collins also showed his potential from three-point range as he swished one in the tournament game against the Pelicans.
“That’s another gripe of my game is that I haven’t been able to stretch the floor, shoot any threes, was able to come in and comfortably knock one down”, Collins said afterwards. “Today the defence was playing off me. (I) made them pay.”
This will be an aspect of Collins’ game that will develop over time but the foundation for that shot is there, and the Hawks will work hard with Collins to make the three-point shot a part of his game. But for now, his mid-range shot will ensure opposing teams respect his offense, meaning that can’t just sag off of him to defend the rim in pick-and-roll situations.
Second chance scoring
Here’s where Collins did a lot of his damage in Summer League.
Collins was relentless attacking the glass, especially on the offensive end. Unlike some NBA players who can’t really do much with the ball once they come up with the offensive rebound, Collins is able to make plays once he snatches the offensive rebound.
That is a terrific finish at an awkward angle after somehow coming up with the rebound.
Collins described himself as “relentless” and that’s exactly what he is when he’s fighting for a rebound. He’s strong, tough, a hustler, enjoys making contact and athletic — that’s a deadly combination. He had defenses all hot-and-bothered all game long with his ability and unrelenting effort on the glass.
This — similar to the pick-and-roll threat — will also translate in the NBA very quickly. Sure, he’ll be scrapping with stronger bigs for rebounds and that’ll be a tougher test for him, but — as Charles Lee said — it’s all about the hustle. And if he hustles and plays hard, the rest will follow. It’s going to be fun watching Collins crash the offensive glass and make plays for himself and others.
One thing Collins does really well is run the floor. He’s a great moving big who’s fast and athletic, a dangerous combination.
Collins’ ability to put pressure on the rim will also be an asset for the Hawks, whether it’s a lane pass or as a lob target.
But Collins doesn’t need his teammates to do all of the work for him in transition, he can work on his own in transition if need be.
Collins’ ability to run in transition and put pressure on the rim will translate straightaway to the professional level — all it is, is athleticism and hustle, traits that always have a place in the NBA. Collins should receive plenty of opportunities to score in transition, but part of that will depend on the Hawks’ ability to get stops and/or force turnovers.
Passing was not something that many draft experts pegged as a strength of Collins’ game but Collins showed flashes of an underrated passer.
Here, Collins — in traffic — finds Richard Solomon with a nice no-look pass and he draws the foul.
The little inside pass was one we saw often from Collins in Vegas, and in this clip he used it great effect to find Solomon for the score.
It’ll be interesting to see how Collins connects with his 5-man, whether it’s Mike Muscala or to Dewayne Dedmon.
Obviously, Collins isn’t Dennis Schröder or Paul Millsap when it comes to passing the ball, but he certainly showed a passing touch and vision that many weren’t expecting, and that’s encouraging for the Hawks and head coach Mike Budenholzer going forward.
This is the one area Collins will have to improve on as Summer League highlighted and many aspects need improving, so it’s going to take time.
Collins will have to do a better job protecting the rim at the next level. His length is average (certainly compared to some of the other bigs selected near him like Jarrett Allen and Bam Adebayo) but his athleticism should help make up for that somewhat.
On the defensive end, he’s inconsistent at times. For example, when it comes to his vertical defense near the rim sometimes his arms are raised and sometimes they aren’t.
He’s certainly more than capable of defending, but it’s all about consistency.
There’s other defensive fundamentals Collins will have to improve on, but this will come in time.
OK, so his defense isn’t great right now, but there’s already solid signs of progress. Collins struggled defensively in the Hawks’ first game against the Brooklyn Nets but did a much better job as Summer League progressed and became less of a liability — still not fantastic but nevertheless...progress.
And Collins himself knows he has to work on his defense or he’ll become a target for opposing teams.
“It’s something I’ve been seriously working on a lot,” Collins said after the tournament game loss against New Orleans.
“I know it was one of my knocks coming out, that ‘he can’t play defence’, whatever the case may be. I’ve been working on it. I’m going to see the improvement myself as I continue to play but it’s all about getting those reps, because at the next level if I’m a defensive liability they’re going to continue to go at me overtime I go down the court. (The) big thing for me to get better on that end.”
Collins is by no means the finished article yet but he seems to be a steal at 19th overall based on the Summer League evidence.
His offense looks good, he works hard, shows great hustle, runs the floor well, shoots the mid-range well, rebounds fantastically and passes pretty well too. The defense and the expanding shooting range are the things that Collins will need to continue to work on, and he’s already showing great attitude when it comes to improving those facets of his game.
It’s important not to get too far ahead of things at this early stage. Yes, he had a great Summer League but so have many other players and things haven’t worked out.
That’s not to say Collins won’t succeed, it’s just to say the true hard work has yet to begin yet. But if Collins plays with the same mindset, brings the hustle, continues to be coachable (as Charles Lee praised him for being), continues to work hard (etc.) there’s no reason why Collins won’t succeed in the NBA.