When evaluating young talent for today’s NBA, many teams place the preference on profile over skill. In profile, teams are looking for players with length and athleticism that can defend multiple positions while bringing some level of production on the offensive end.
Players with great profile and elite skills get selected at the top of he draft. As the draft progresses, teams are left to select from a pool players that possess profile or skill, or a little of both. As the draft pool narrows, teams often lean towards profile with a little less emphasis on skill.
“Profile over skill” is precisely why John Collins was available when the Atlanta Hawks selected him at No. 19 in the 2017 NBA Draft. At a glance, one might believe that Collins doesn’t profile as a high end talent.
As a collegiate player, he demonstrated a very strong skill-set as an interior player on the offensive-end, but this set of skills does not necessarily translate into today’s NBA game. However, a deeper looks shows that both his profile and his skill-set might have been under-appreciated by NBA talent evaluators and that the Hawks might have landed a player that may yield both immediate and long-term high-end returns.
With Collins heading into his rookie season with the Hawks, the window of opportunity is wide open. The Hawks have substantially turned over their roster and are now without the players who accounted for 55% of minutes played and 56% of points scored last season. Some one will need to play those minutes. Hopefully, some one will score those point as well. Lets have a look at how Collins fits this team as well as what we can expect to see from him this season.
Coach Mike Bundenholzer is notoriously stingy when allocating minutes to rookies. However, there are no entrenched players ahead of Collins on the depth chart.
Collins is expected to split time with Ersan Ilyasova at the power forward position amidst a “bigs” rotation of Collins, Ilyasova, Mike Muscala and Dewayne Dedmon. A pretty even split of minutes among those four players is a reasonable expectation. Luke Babbit could also see time at the four.
If there is one thing Collins brings to this team, it is scoring potential. Elite NBA scorers have one thing in common — they can score at every layer (perimeter, mid-range, around the rim and at the rim). There is little question that Collins has the skills to be productive at and around the rim. But, in college, he displayed a very solid mid-range game that is almost a lost art in today’s NBA game.
During workouts leading up to the NBA draft and during action in the NBA Summer League, Collins looked comfortable shooting the ball from the perimeter. Is it certain that all of this will translate into a strong NBA scorer? No, but John Collins has the tools to do the work.
Regardless of Collins’ scoring prowess, Coach Budenholzer will require him to learn and play within the offensive system. His opportunities to be on the floor will certainly be aligned with how quickly he learns and how effectively he executes the system. Collins should be active in the high screen action which should produce scoring opportunities at ever layer. It shouldn’t take long to find out how prepared he is to score at the NBA level.
The passing and cutting decisions within in the Hawks’ offense should challenge him most on the offensive end. If he is to effectively to deploy his repertoire of offensive skills, he will need to make good decisions with the basketball and earn the trust of his teammates. Playing without the ball, he has to understand where he needs to be and where he needs to go. Getting to the spots his teammates expect him to be will be essential to Collins receiving the ball in a position to take high percentage shots.
Defense is the area where Collins certainly has the largest learning curve. At the collegiate level, Collins was a foul-prone defender with the athleticism to make plays but did not demonstrate strong fundamentals.
Collins will now be facing players who are bigger, stronger, more athletic and more skilled while playing a game that moves faster. It would not be a surprise to see him struggle on the defensive end, especially early in the season.
Coach Budenholzer demands that his players understand how to play within the team concept and to make excellent decisions decisions on the defensive end. In the NBA game, there is no time for cognitive decision-making. Decisions are made on instinct and preparedness. If Collins can demonstrate effort and aptitude on the defensive end, Budenholzer might be patient with inconsistent decision making.
While Collins will face some very difficult match-ups going to head to head against NBA bigs, he is not competing for playing time with a defensive stalwart. Ersan Ilyasova understands and executes well within the team concept on defense, but he is not known as strong one-on-one defender at his position. If Collins can quickly improve his fundamentals, his athleticism will allow him to make plays on defense that Ilyasova cannot make, especially when it comes to rim protection.
In addition to scoring, rebounding is an element that should come very natural to Collins. He is an explosive leaper with a nose for the basketball. He was a terrific rebounder in college and there is no reason he should not be a strong rebounder in the NBA.
If fitting into the offensive system is coming slowly, he can always create opportunities by hitting the offensive boards. On the defensive end, he will have to balance playing defense in space with getting to the boards. Elite NBA rebounders can defend in space and get to rebounds. Time will tell if Collins can do both.
While It is impossible to predict how quickly John Collins will earn Mike Budenholzer’s confidence, Collins can rely on the fact that he brings two things to the floor, perhaps better than anyone else on the roster. First, he has the most diverse set of natural scoring skills on the team. Second, he is the most athletic big on the roster, and perhaps the best athlete on the roster.
When a player brings things to the floor no one else can bring, it is tougher for a coach to keep that player off the floor. As he is learning this season, if John Collins can thrive in the areas where he is already strong, he can keep himself on the floor which will expedite the learning curve for the rest of his game.