With a spectacular and impressive performance in the Las Vegas Summer League, John Collins quickly became one of the more popular players on the Atlanta Hawks roster. The 2017 first round pick has plenty to prove, of course, simply because he has never stepped on an NBA court. In the same breath, Collins brings a great deal of excitement to the table and Hawks fans are salivating at the thought of his potential.
Before arriving in the NBA, Collins starred as the centerpiece of Wake Forest’s basketball team and SB Nation’s Blogger So Dear had an up-close and personal view of his college career. Riley Johnston agreed to answer a few questions about the now-former Demon Deacon and those insights are here.
Q: Hawks fans were captivated by Collins' athleticism in Las Vegas. Were there signs of this kind of burst while he was at Wake?
A: He was always pretty athletic, but it was clear that his athleticism took off in games during his sophomore year (last year). He had a couple of explosive dunks, and once our point guard Bryant Crawford figured this out there were several big times transition slams against ACC opponents.
Since Wake Forest didn't run a lot of pick and roll with him, there weren't as many opportunities for slams like the kind you saw in the Summer League. He has always been pretty athletic for his size, and that should continue to develop and mature as his body gets a big older and stronger.
Q: Collins famously produced off-the-charts efficiently and incredible stats in college. Would you say that production translated to impact at a similar level?
A: I believe that Collins will be efficient at any level of basketball that he plays in because his game translates so well regardless of the level of opposition. It will be interesting to see if the Hawks want to develop his three-point shot and have that in his arsenal to keep opposing defenses honest.
At Wake Forest, he was so efficient inside that anything outside of shorter jump shots just didn't make a lot of sense. He was an elite rebounder on both ends of the floor (mostly due to his active hands and body when he was off the ball), so pulling him away from the basket to take threes wasn't something that head coach Danny Manning wanted to do a lot of. If he plays within himself and continues to get a high percentage of his points on put-backs and in the post then I don't see why he would decline much in the efficiency department.
Q: Defense is the big concern with Collins, at least on the surface. Was that end of the floor a disappointment in college and did you see signs that it could improve in the future?
A: The main thing for John Collins at Wake Forest was to stay on the floor and stay out of foul trouble. Overall, Wake Forest just didn't play a lot of good defense, particularly on the pick-and-roll, so that led to Collins being exposed in bad positioning and having to guard some really quick guards. Some of that was due to the poor hedging on the screens, but a lot of it was due to the Wake Forest guards just getting beat consistently, which puts a ton of pressure on the big men. Coupling that with his front court mate Dinos Mitoglou being slow on his feet caused Collins to pick up a lot of fouls in situations where he just didn't need them.
There is no doubt that he has some work to do defensively, but given his age, athleticism, and reasonable foot speed there is no reason to believe that his defense won't at least be at a replacement level in a couple of years. The key for Collins will be to work hard on staying on the court and not letting fouls keep him on the bench.
Q: There are some questions about what Collins' ultimate position will/should be at the next level. Where do you stand on that?
A: The NBA version of the stretch four seems to encapsulate all of his strengths, and if he can get the ball with a little bit of space in the half-court offense then he is an absolute terror to stop around the basket.
The good news is that since he has such a high motor and activity level he can get inside for rebounds quicker than some players who are content to watch a shot go up instead of acting on it. He is continuously looking to help make things happen on the offensive end, especially when the ball isn't in his hands. It would be under-utilizing him to just have him post up and grab boards given his athleticism and activity level.
Q: Frankly, Collins seems like a delight to cover and watch as a fan. Was that your experience?
A: He was really fun to cover and is just an outstanding guy. He is constantly willing to learn and listen to the coaching staff, and he learned a lot of humility and respect for others from his mother (who is also a joy to talk to). It became pretty clear early on last season that Collins was going to be a special talent, but that never changed his demeanor or attitude with regards to what he did on the floor.
A lot of guys would have let the success go to their head, but it actually fueled Collins' confidence level to be THE guy and lead by example. Those types of athletes are the best to watch and have on your team because they make everybody around them better. I expect big things from John Collins, and he was one of my favorite guys to cover and write about at Wake Forest. Enjoy having him!