By all accounts, John Collins’ rookie season was very successful. After being taken No. 19 overall in the 2018 NBA Draft, he earned a spot on the NBA all-rookie second team. Beyond that, his season was also validated by his invitation to participate in the Rising Stars challenge during all-star weekend.
The decision to have John Collins play during the 2018 NBA Summer League was widely viewed as a curious one. And observers quickly dubbed him as being too good for summer league.
With that said, the Hawks do have an new head coach and almost an entirely new coaching staff. As such, it is not difficult to defend the decision to allow Collins to participate given the opportunity it allowed him to get used to new schemes and terminology. In the end, he would be shut down after four games of action, much to the relief of Hawks fans. His aggressive play near the rim on both ends of the court resulted in an intense amount of physical contact.
The four-game sample did offer a glimpse as to how Collins has been working to expand his game individually, especially on the offensive end of the court. He was certainly productive, scoring 19 points per game on 49.2 percent shooting from the field, including 37.5 percent on 16 three point attempts. That is a significant increase in shooting volume from the beyond the three point line. He attempts just 47 total three points attempts last season in his 74 games of action.
A shooting size sample of 16 attempts has little if any value from a statistical standpoint, but we can break down what we saw to look for evidence of advancement in his his overall offensive game.
During summer league play, Collins demonstrated a confidence in his ability to create his own shot. Last season, he was almost completely dependent upon his teammates or his offensive rebounding to get good shot opportunities.
Over the course of the campaign, 450 of his 545 shot attempts came after zero or one dribbles. He shot 64.2 percent on those attempts. Only 95 shot attempts came after he dribbled the ball two or more times on which he shot just 26.3 percent.
Additionally, per NBA.com, Collins had only 19 isolation possessions, 35 post possessions, and only 55 drives last season. So any effective production in those areas of offensive play would be encouraging.
Let’s take a look at his stroke from beyond the three point line. It’s noteworthy that during summer league action nearly all of his attempts came above the three point break. Last season he took only eight three point attempts above the break.
His shot doesn’t look drastically different. But his release is quicker and he is now more consistently shooting the ball while he is still elevating as opposed to releasing just after reaching the apex of his jump.
This is a look at his shot in a game in early April versus the Heat. Notice a couple of things. He is still loading up his shot by taking the ball below his waste to gather for the shot. But that load up is not as deep (not close to knee level) and as such it has been sped up quite a bit.
Also, in the example from last season, it’s evident that he would reach the apex of his jump and there would be a slight hesitation and then the shot is released. During his summer play, he was releasing the ball as he was reaching the apex. The hesitation has been eliminated.
This play is encouraging as well. It is how naturally he finds the precise spacing on this play that is impressive. For a young player trying to add a perimeter shot to their game, finding the right spacing to stress the defense is not often there right away.
The effective spacing and his readiness to shoot the basketball before the defender closes out on him reflects a confidence he has developed in this area of his game.
The offensive aggressiveness he demonstrated is exemplified on this play. His defender, the rangy Frank Ntilikina, tries to front him as to deny a passing lane. But Collins uses his strength and athleticism to seal the defender and convert the basket.
This is something we saw very little from Collins last season. On this play, he uses his speed, maybe his best raw asset, apart from his vertical skill, to attack the slower defender with dribble penetration.
Last season, when Collins received the basketball he almost never looked at the basket. But we see a totally different mentality here. There is some aspect to bad summer league defense on this play. But the difference is just how aggressively he attacks the rim as soon as the lane opens up. Even among legitimate NBA teams there are few players at his position that are going to be able to match his speed and verticality on a play like this.
Another new piece of his offensive game can be seen on this play as well. Collins operated in little if any side pick and rolls last season. When he was operating in this spot in the offensive half court it was almost exclusively in dribble hand off (DHO) action.
But he operates very naturally on this play. He sets a solid screen and rolls with precise timing to get the uncontested shot at the rim.
Another example here of Collins looking straight at the rim as soon as he received the basketball. It would appear that he is going to be allowed to use an emerging face up game in the half court offense next season. And the improving jump shot is going to force defenders to make tough choices as to how to defend him.
I don’t think Collins was allowed to run a single pick and roll last year. But he operated in this action as the ball handler on multiple occasions with success and with sound decision making. On this play, the Collins gets the switch on to the weaker defender, Dragan Bender, He puts his strength and athleticism to work to get the fairly uncontested basket.
With Dennis Schroder on his way to Oklahoma City, there is a real question as to who will lead the young Hawks team in scoring across the 2018-19 season. What we saw in summer league may suggest that it could be John Collins.
They might not win even as many games as they did last season, but Collins should be a part of a young core group of players that could be very fun to watch.