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The rookie growth curve of John Collins, version 4.0

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Let’s take an updated look at the impressive rookie’s performance.

2018 Mountain Dew Kickstart Rising Stars Game Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Note: If you would like to look back at the previous installment, click here.

With just 23 games remaining in his rookie season, Atlanta Hawks big man John Collins has already done plenty to place himself on the NBA map. This past weekend, he was one of just nine players who were drafted in the 2017 draft to be selected for the 2018 Mountain Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game and was one of only three 2017 draftees to start the Rising Stars game. With just over one-quarter of his rookie season remaining, lets take an updated look at Collins’ progress this season.

Offense

It is no secret that the bulk of Collins’ scoring this season has come from catching and finishing around the basket or getting put-backs on the offensive glass. In our last installment, we highlighted two important observations (1) opposing defenses were sagging against the pick and roll forcing Collins do more pick/pop than pick/roll and (2) Coach Budenholzer seems to have turned off the red light on Collins shooting long jumper and threes.

Through Dec. 31, roughly 90% of Collins’ made field goals and 80% of his field goal attempts came within five feet of the basket. Since January 1, those numbers are 71% and 63% respectively. Without a doubt, Collins has expanded his shooting game beyond five feet.

One of the most exciting developments over the past several weeks has been Collins taking, and making, three point shot attempts. Through the end of December, Collins was 0/2 on the season from three point range. Since then, he is 6/17 for a clip of 35%. For a player who had the red light on three point shooting until recently, a three point shooting percentage of 35% is very good and is a terrific indicator that he should be a a reliable or even solid three point shooter moving forward.

January 26, 2018 — Collins receives the pass from Malcolm Delaney and knocks down the corner three versus the Hornets. Earlier in the season, he would have stayed near the block looking for a lob from Delaney on this play, but here works his way out to the corner which provides better spacing and floor balance for the Hawks.

It should be noted that all of his three point makes are from the corners, the shortest distance for an NBA three pointer. But, this should not be a concern as it can be reasonably expected that his three-point shooting game will likely extend to wing and the top at some point.

Now, one downside to Collins’ optimistic three point shooting is that he has struggled with his mid-range game in recent weeks. Prior to Jan. 1, Collins shot 8/17 on jump shots in the 15-20 foot range. Since Jan. 1, he is just 2/11 shooting in that range. Part of the issue is a challenge of rhythm. When shooting a corner three, Collins is typically standing as a spacer with his feet already set on the catch with plenty of time to get off the shot. In mid-range, it is more common for him to catch on the move and work to get his shot up with less time to get the shot off.

February 11, 2018 — Collins catches and shoots on the move and misses. This is a shot that has been a struggle for him as of late. His shooting at other layers of the offense has improved but catching and shooting mid-range jumpers while on the move will be an important shot for him to prove he can make consistently.

At different stretches of the season, Collins has proven that he can be effective shooting the mid-range jumper as well as shooting the corner three. The challenge for young NBA players is to prove they can be effective in multiple phases of the offense at the same time. It is not uncommon for NBA rookies to struggle to put all phases of the game together. So, one thing to really watch for the balance of the season is whether Collins can be effective both as a spot up corner three shooter as well as a catch and shoot on the move mid-range shooter.

As his mid-range shooting has hit a skid and his three-point shooting has just recently taken off, Collins has added another element of his scoring game. As a frontcourt player who projects as a player who will play the 4 (power forward), the 5 (center) or both, Collins needs to prove he has an inside scoring game other than making shots at the rim. He is starting to do that.

Through Dec. 31, Collins was just 1/13 on shots within five to ten feet of the basket. Since then, he is 6/13. Further, through December 31, Collins was 5/17 (just 29%) on shots in the 10-15 range, but since, he is 8/12 (impressive 67%) from that range.

February 11, 2018 — Collins shows great touch on a shot in the paint but not right at the rim. Making shots in this area of the floor will go a long way toward helping Collins be a more complete scorer and not just a rim runner or occasional three point shooter.

The reality is that, in recent weeks, the only part of Collins’ shooting game that has been a struggle is the mid-range jumper. If he is still scoring effectively at the rim, has improved his scoring inside of 15 feet and is now proving the can make the corner three, the only take-away is that his overall scoring game has taken very large step forward.

Now, a simple look at the stat sheet shows that Collins’ scoring per game and usage are down from where he was earlier in the season. But, as he spends less time around the basket, and as opponents pay more attention to him when he is around the basket, it is natural that his usage and scoring would be down.

Still, we have asserted multiple times in this series that elite NBA scorers can score at multiple layers of the offense. Collins is just starting to expand his game to shooting, and scoring, from multiple layers of the offense. While the short-term impact on the high level stat sheet might not be impressive, the impact on Collins’ ability to become a strong, or even elite scorer, for the Hawks is crucial.

Aside from his shooting, Collins has continued to be a strong offensive rebounder (consistently among top ten in offensive rebounds per 36 minutes) and a much better passer than anticipated coming into his rookie season. For a player with a strong prospect profile, there were questions coming into the season as to how Collins would fit the Hawks offensive system. Collins has, for the most part, erased those questions as he looks comfortable and is productive for a 20-year-old NBA rookie in the Hawks’ offensive system.

Defense

It is very difficult to assess a rookie’s defense when he plays on a team that has struggled on the defensive end (Hawks rank 24th in defensive rating). But, if we use a player’s defensive rating as a KPI, the metric shows that Collins’ has progressed on the defensive end. Through December 31, Collins had a defensive rating of 107.2 and since, his defensive rating is 104.8.

The important thing to note is his personal defensive metrics have been consistently better than the team’s defensive metrics across the season. If we add to this analysis the fact that spent a majority of his minutes on the floor working with second unit players, it is even more impressive.

If we break down Collins’ defense into multiple layers, as we did his shooting, we can first look at rim protection. In his rookie season, Collins has been the team’s best shot blocker. The Hawks run a defensive system that focuses on versatility and switching. The result is the bigs often find themselves defending on the perimeter.

Collins easily leads the team in blocks per 36 minutes (1.9). In the same category, he ranks 23rd in the NBA for players who have played more than 500 minutes. His mark of 1.9 blocks per 36 minutes is identical to that of former Hawks’ center Dwight Howard who is prone to stalk the paint and is less inclined to get on to the perimeter and help when his team needs him to do so.

Collins has been a reasonably solid on-the-ball defender this season. Early in the season, he consistently struggled with foul trouble, but after the first month of the season, he has only found himself in foul trouble on occasion. Through Dec. 31, Collins averaged 3.7 fouls per game. Since Jan. 1, that number is just 2.5 fouls per game.

The former No. 19 pick has also been very good at challenging shots this season. Though he is seventh on the team in minutes per game, he is second on the team in DFGA (defensive field goals allowed) at 10.0 per game and second on the team in DFG% (defensive field goal percentage) at 44.3%. Among Hawks’ bigs, he is first in DFG%.

The one area of his game that must get better on the defensive end is rebounding. His defensive rebounding percentage of 22.1 is not a high mark for a player at his position. The Hawks as a team has struggles to keep opponents off the offensive glass (27th in the league in opponents’ offensive rebounds allowed).

Rebounding is as much of a team skill as it is individual. Again, the Hawks’ defensive system of switching often results in their bigs defending on the perimeter. In their best seasons under Budenholzer, defensive rebounding was one of the weaker aspects of the team game. But, the combination of Collins’ individual defensive rebounding metrics and the team’s defensive rebounding metric shows both he and the team have a lot to do in this area.

Conclusion

As Collins heads into his final 23 games as rookie, it will be interesting to see if he can continue to get better in several areas discussed here. (1) Continuing to show he can make three point shots from the corner, (2) being an effective score at multiple layers in the offensive, (3) continuing his trend of getting better and better on the defensive end, and (4) being a strong individual rebounder on the defensive end.

Lastly, we’ll note that we have not yet seen signs of Collins hitting a rookie wall. Often rookies coming off college seasons when they typically play 30-35 games can run out of steam at some point in the NBA 82-game season. Collins seems to have plenty of energy in his game still at this point of the season, but it will be another interesting thing to watch in Collins’ play for the balance of the season.