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Trae Young and John Collins further establish chemistry in Vegas opener

Not the result they would’ve wanted but promising signs for the young duo in Vegas opener

NBA: Summer League-New York Knicks at Atlanta Hawks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks dropped their opening game in Las Vegas Summer League as they narrowly fell to the New York Knicks 91-89 on Saturday afternoon.

John Collins led the way with 30 points and eight rebounds while Trae Young added 21 points and 11 assists. Tyler Dorsey also contributed a double-double as he scored 15 points and, remarkably, grabbed 14 rebounds.

For the Knicks, Kevin Knox scored 22 points.

A bit of a different format here today because there’s nothing else I really want to touch on from this game (at least in detail) other than John Collins and Trae Young — both what they did individually and what they did together.

I’ll just say it now...John Collins needs to be shut down for the remainder of Summer League — we (and I literally mean everyone) don’t need to see anymore from him (and that’s a good thing, in case you weren’t sure). Collins has been fantastic across both Summer Leagues the Hawks have participated in and was magnificent again last night as he scored 30 points on 12-of-22 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 from behind the arc (!!).

Collins was able to have a huge affect on this game, when it came to scoring, from both the inside and outside. We’ll get to the outside impact later when we’re looking a bit more into the Young and Collins side of things but let’s focus on Collins’ work inside the three-point line for now.

We’ll go through a few of these (again, the thumbnail will appear the same but it’s time-stamped, so just click it and you were where I want you to be)...

Here, Collins establishes position behind the defender in the post and Tyler Dorsey loops a nice pass over to find Collins, who does an even better job immediately flipping the ball up on the reverse for the layup:

On the catch after the drive by Landale, Collins proceeds to drive himself and finishes with a great layup after a powerful and purposeful drive — you can really see the intent and determination on this drive:

Collins showed multiple efforts on some possessions last night, none more so than on this possession where he fails to dunk the ball first time, catches the loose ball, swivels underneath the basket in an attempt to create an opening by catching a defender off of his feet, has the ball knocked out of his hands, claims it again, and pumps up a strong move to put the floater amongst a crowd which misses off of glass but Collins is there to tip the ball home, completing a multiple effort play:

This was just an incredible possession for Collins — to continue to stick with it the entire time, despite the traffic and difficulty operating within, and to be able to finish the play with a basket was a deserved reward for his impressive efforts.

After receiving a pass from Trae Young at the three-point line, Collins displays his explosiveness — firstly to burst inside on the drive and secondly to finish the play with a big dunk:

After a missed shot by the Knicks, Tyler Dorsey secures the ball and heads down the court. As he gets to the three-point line, he finds an open John Collins — who has been trailing the play unopposed — who explodes to the rim with the drive and explodes with the finish at the rim:

Collins’ athleticism is just a grade too high for the majority of the competition at Summer League to deal with and that, as well as his developed offensive game, is proving too much for his opponents to deal with.

Let’s move onto Collins and Young link-up play from last night...

The two were main features of the Hawks’ much improved looking offense (“...I thought our style of play was kind of fun to watch,” said Hawks Vegas Summer League coach Chris Jent), and mostly featured together when Collins hit from behind the arc.

Here, Young and Collins exchange hands of the ball before Young comes off a Landale screen while Collins initially looks to dive to the basket before floating back behind the three-point line. As Young turns the corner on the pick-and-roll, he is shown a body (Landale’s defender) and as Langdale rolls it’s Collins’ man who has to pick him up, leaving Collins all alone behind the three-point line. Young kicks the ball back to the open Collins who knocks down the three:

This is a really nice play from the Hawks’ coaching staff, because you can’t really allow Young to comes off of a screen (something that Young talked about postgame, that teams already “respected” him coming off of a screen), turn the corner and get downhill because he’ll either score himself with a layup, but more than likely he’ll collapse the defense and find a teammate for an easier score. So you send another body to help with that, the screener (Landale in this case) rolls to the rim and frees up the shooter (Collins), whose man can’t allow a free roll to the rim. And with Young’s ability to find teammates, it’s an easy play for him to make to find Collins — really like this play from the Hawks’ playbook.

The Hawks run this play again in the second half, this time Spellman replaces Landale in this situation. Again, the screen comes, the defending big goes with Young to block any possible driving lane as he waits for his teammate to recover from the screen, Spellman rolls to the rim — which Mitchell Robinson has to respect — and Collins has the space he needs to fire the quick three-pointer once Young finds him again:

Having Collins step out and hit perimeter shots has been an objective ever since Hawks GM Travis Schlenk drafted Collins with the 19th overall selection in 2017 and the Hawks and Collins are bearing the fruit of their harvest.

This versatility to be able to play inside and out really helps the team and its floor general in Las Vegas, Trae Young.

“With John, being able to shoot the ball and also get to the rim, it makes my job a lot easier,” said Trae Young of Collins.

The Hawks have also been working with Collins to put the ball on the floor more, and that has been evident from Collins’ performances so far this summer. It’s all still a work in progress but Jent was happy with how Collins played.

“He’s got to be able to play on the floor more effectively,” said Jent of Collins. “Not only shoot it but put it on the floor. He had some times where he drove the ball where he has to be stronger with it and finish. But I think overall he did a great job, obviously shooting the ball it looked good.”

The two linked up for a couple of two-point baskets too (which we’ve either looked at or will look at with Young) and you can already see a nice connection being created on the court between Collins and Young, and that should be exciting to a lot of fans.

Again, the conversation about whether John Collins should be sat down for the remainder of Summer League was a topic of conversation even before this game — having proven his progression and not really needing to see anymore of him and not risk injury (2nd year guard Malik Monk of the Charlotte Hornets, for example, just suffered a broken thumb) — but after this performance that conversation, again, ignited.

For Collins himself, he didn’t get too drawn into the matter but redirected things to his point guard, Trae Young, saying that he fed off of Young’s energy.

“That’s not for me to answer,” said Collins. “But it definitely feels good to have a 30 point game. My PG (Young) was feeling good today, I fed off of his energy. Felt good.”

Postgame, Jent downplayed the idea of Collins being rested on the basis of having ‘proven’ what he needed to prove but more so because of his participation in Utah Summer League.

“I don’t think this summer is really about ‘proving’,” said Jent on the notion if Collins should be rested having proven himself so far this summer. “You work hard, he worked all (of) June and you try to apply some of the things you’ve worked on to gain some confidence. So, yes, I think we’ll definitely reel him back, having played in Utah.”

I get what Jent is saying, and he has a point. Collins has obviously put work in and I can understand the Hawks wanting him to play and see where he has gained over the summer so far. But I think, if they hadn’t already, the Hawks should have seen enough by now to confirm that ‘Yes, John Collins is developing nicely and the work he has put in over the summer so far has paid off, let’s dial him back a bit.’

The Hawks are in action again today against the Portland Trail Blazers, and I’d be surprised if Collins features today.

Let’s move onto Trae Young, who easily had his best game of Summer League with 21 points — again, on difficult shooting from the field — on 4-of-12 shooting from the field, 3-of-9 from behind the arc and 10-of-12 from the free throw line while also dishing 11 assists.

Though he shot 3-of-9 from deep, Young’s perimeter shot finally began to fall somewhat in this game, and any three-pointer Young hit was deep.

Exhibit A, as he comes off of a John Collins screen:

Exhibit B, as he steps in a ridiculous pull-up three after receiving the ball from Spellman:

And Exhibit C, as he’s found by Antonius Cleveland (who we’re not going to talk about today but played well last night) for the deep transition three-pointer:

Not to rain on any sort of parade (it’s great that Young was able to hit multiple shots from outside the arc) but, again at times, the shot selection was left a little wanting:

Not only is the final shot itself poor (missing everything) but with the time left on the shotclock being suboptimal for a shot and with zero offense (other than a screen) being run in the build up...just not a good shot.

But, hey, one step at a time, right?

Young also managed to draw 12 free throws, making 10 of them. Let’s look at how he earned some of those...

On this possession, Young — with a nice pep in his step — rejects the screen on his right in favor of driving into the space down the pipe, shifts gears somewhat (maybe a 3rd to 4th, not at top speed by any means), rises for the layup and draws the foul:

Coming off of a Landale screen, weaves his way past the second defender with a nice right-to-left cross, gets into the paint, rises for the layup, draws the contact and draws the free throws:

Great cross to shed Mitchell Robinson to set this play up...

From the outside this time, Young draws the shooting foul from Frank Ntilikina, leading to three free throws:

With his ability to get to the line, you can only imagine what kind of offensive game/points tally that Young could’ve amassed yesterday if his efficiency from the floor was a little better. He scored 21 points on poor efficiency, and that’s the potential here with Young as a scorer — he could’ve easily joined John Collins with 30 points last night, or gotten close to it.

But Young was defended hard at times by New York’s Frank Ntilikina (who Young will face in the NBA), who bothered Young with his ability to defend, which causes for some concern that Young wasn’t able to really break down Ntilikina.

Here’s an example:

Postgame, Chris Jent acknowledged that having a defender like Ntilikina draped on you doesn’t help, but said that the Hawks have to help Young when it comes creating separation.

“He’s being defended by some very good defenders,” said Jent. “Frank’s a very good defender, so that doesn’t help you, but we have to help him. We have guys who need to screen him and get that separation for him. In the NBA you have to have some space. If you don’t have space it’s tough to operate.”

According to Young himself, getting separation hasn’t been the problem but just hitting shots themselves.

“I’ve gotten a lot of open looks,” said Young when asked about separation. “Separation hasn’t been the problem, it’s been knocking down the shot. Like I said, this is only my fourth 5-on-5 game (since college season ended) ... now that I’m getting more into a rhythm, more under my feet, I’m just trying to get better each and every game. So tomorrow, I’ll progressively get better too.”

In general though, Young looked a lot better, perhaps allaying some fears some had when it came to his game. For Young himself, he’s beginning to feel more comfortable, learning from his tough experiences in Utah.

“I just hit a few more shots,” said Young. “Got into a rhythm, felt the energy from the crowd ... just more fun today.”

“I think I’m getting more comfortable,” continued Young. “It’s a process. These games, you continue to learn and get better and so today it transitioned and learned from the things that happened in Utah. Just got better today.”

Teammate John Collins believes that the nerves have gone and Young can just play a bit more freely now that he has a few games — and tough games at that — under his belt.

“I think he’s got the jitters out,” said Collins of Young. “It’s always tough when you have the whole world watching you in your first professional game. I think for him that put a lot of pressure on himself and now the pressure is off, he got those games out of the way and (now) I think he can just settle in and play.”

But let’s move on to Young’s best aspect of his game at Summer League right now: his passing/playmaking. 11 assists for Young, some of which we’ve seen already but let’s look at a few more.

In transition, it’s Jaylen Adams handling the ball with Young running the wing in transition. Adams passes the ball to Young, who gets by one defender easily before drawing the attention of another at the rim and finds the trailing and now open Langdale for the dunk:

Off of a miss, Young grabs the rebound outlets to John Collins all the way down the floor (Collins got a head start after contesting a shot on the perimeter and just kept on going) and Collins has an easy dunk:

Again in transition, the Hawks push up the floor, with Tyler Dorsey leading the way. Dorsey finds Young, who nips by one defender, gets to the rim, rises, passes out of the contest at the rim to the corner to Jaylen Morris who hits the three:

We may have looked at this play already, but from Young’s perspective he draws two defenders after the screen from Collins and immediately knows what he’s going to do as he sends the ball to Collins who drives hard to the rim for the score:

Working with the Collins screen, Young again draws multiple defenders and slips a pass over to Collins — who was not tracked — for the easy dunk:

Great set up from Young on this play — the use of dribble and the final pass to Collins were both great. This play was a talking point after the game.

“It was sort of a feeling,” said Collins of the play. “I saw him pull up and look away and I already knew the pass was coming, and that’s part of the chemistry we’re trying to build...”

Off of the Knicks turnover, Young is headed the other way quickly, receives the ball, looks set to lay the ball home but is aware that the potential for a chase-down block might be on and drops the ball with purpose behind to Antonius Cleveland for an easy dunk:

Overall, this was a very good game for Young despite some struggles from the field. The ability to make an impact on the game even when shots aren’t falling is huge, and with Young’s ability to pass, he can do that.

“It was nice,” said Jent of Young’s game against the Knicks. “We can open the floor up for him a little bit, we helped him out by playing small-ball. He was aggressive. He played with a lot of downhill energy and that allows him to see things. And when he can, he makes the right play.”

This was exactly the game Young needed. He’s come under a lot pressure from both the media and his fans for his performances so far (something he discussed postgame, embracing it) and this performance will do him the world of good.

In terms of next steps, Young is already looking to make one: communication on the court.

“I want to talk more,” said Young. “I want to communicate with my teammates more, get better at that and be more of a vocal leader, something I’ve always tried to get better at...”

Whether it was a one off or if, like John Collins said, the jitters are out and/or like Young himself said that he feels more comfortable, we shall see but give Young a lot of credit — he was very impressive last night despite his shooting numbers still not being 100% where everyone would like them to be.

The Hawks (0-1 in Vegas Summer League) are back in action on Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Should be fun, and Peachtree Hoops will have you covered (and some).

Until then...