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What type of future big man should the Atlanta Hawks look to pair with John Collins?

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As Collins looks more and more like a long-term building block, the Hawks will have some decisions to make on how best to pair him with other big men.

Atlanta Hawks v New York Knicks Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

A team in a rebuilding phase is heavily focused on evaluations, whether it is players, lineups, schemes, or anything else related to the organization’s long-term outlook. A club should be careful to not overreact to the play of a rookie, especially if that player comes in with some negative play early in his career. Really, rookies should be allowed to make mistakes as long as they are a constructive part of a learning process.

John Collins, the second-year big man from Wake Forest, will play in career game No. 100 for the Atlanta Hawks this week. He is clearly getting better in multiple phases of play. He is currently ranked in the top ten in PER among power forwards in the league, although it must be noted that PER rewards big men who take a lot of shots at the rim.

He is No. 19 in scoring among forwards and the only player in the group ahead of him that has a higher field goal percentage is Giannas Antetokounmpo, a legitimate MVP candidate. He is fifth among that group in rebounds and second in offensive rebounding. His numbers are up almost across the board on a per 36-minute basis.

Apart from some future trade or other unforeseen event, it seems safe to say that Collins will be on the next good Hawks team. With that in mind, an evaluation that should be in progress right now is working to identify what type of big man (or men) should the Hawks be looking to pair with him as future roster construction is considered.

Fortunately, the Hawks have a variety of players on the current roster to pair him with and see what the results are.

Let’s take a quick look at the profile of those players.

  • Dewayne Dedmon — an energy center, confident shooter, effective in the pick-and-roll as a diver or a perimeter shooter, decent hands, solid but not advanced rim protector, has enough defensive versatility to function in almost any scheme depending upon matchups.
  • Alex Len — one of the bigger centers in the league, growing as a shooter, decent hands, average finisher at the rim for his position, moves decently for his size, solid defensive anchor in the context of playing off of the bench, more valuable defensively when playing a “drop” technique, can handle a little more versatility in pick-and-roll coverage in certain matchups, not a good fit for a defensive scheme that calls for heavy switching.
  • Miles Plumlee — impressive athlete for a player his size although the injuries are starting to take a toll, only has offensive value at the rim, completely dependent upon others to create shots for him, good finisher, defensively has to stay near the rim/ in the paint, decent rim protector but foul prone, solid rebounder.
  • Vince Carter — mostly get by on experience and IQ at this point in his career, good perimeter shooter, heady passer, solid finisher at the rim, defensively needs strong players around him at this point but is consistently is in the right spot, communicates well, as a former shooting guard/small forward a below average rebounder, can handle scheme based on switching depending upon match ups.

In 405 minutes of play, the Hawks have a net rating of -3.5 when Collins and Dedmon are playing together, 4 points better than the Hawks overall net rating of -7.5. Their ability to rebound on defense is slightly above league average. Lineups with those two at the 4 and 5 produce an effective field goal percentage of a top-5 offensive team, but just league average as measured by true shooting percentage, which takes free throws into account.

Collins and Dedmon are fairly redundant in some ways. Both are effective operating in the pick-and-roll and are about equally effective working off of the ball to provide spacing. Right now, Dedmon is the better spot up shooter while Collins is significantly better attacking close out defenders. Given his speed, Collins offers significantly more value in transition although Dedmon is not slow and plays with one of the best motors in the league.

Collins and Len have logged 140 minutes together at the power forward and center positions. Lineups with this configuration have produced a net rating of +11.2. The defensive rebound rate of 76.9 percent is better than any team’s season-long mark in the league. The offensive production is representative of a top-5 offense, as measured by both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage,

Len’s growing confidence as a shooter help this duo function relatively well on offense. Len works with solid footwork in the pick-and-roll but can’t work at the high pace Collins exudes in every part of his game. Defensively, they, in the available sample size, have produced a defensive rating that is better than the mark of the best defensive team in the league. Len’s sheer size in combination with his decent mobility help offset some of the defensive liability presented by Collins’ lack of length.

Collins has shared the court with the future Hall of Famer Carter for just 65 minutes. Lineups with them playing at the 4 and 5 have been statistically awful on both ends of the court yet they somehow have produced a net rating of -3.2. Let’s attribute that to the extremely small sample size. But they are a tough fit because of the lack of presence at the rim defensively and not being good enough collectively rebounding the basketball on that end of the court.

Collins has logged just 25 minutes with Plumlee. They rebound the ball at a great rate, produce very good offensive stats simply because they are both very good finishers at the rim. They haven’t produced good defensive results, likely because they are both pretty foul-prone at the rim. Plumlee lacks the mobility in tight spaces to recover back to a play while Collins lacks the length to do so.

The evaluation this season seems to indicate that Collins would well served down the road playing next to a center with plus size, at least average mobility, some projection as a prospect to develop good ball skills and a reliable rim protector and defensive rebounder.

If Collins is going to be the starting power forward on the next good Hawks team he will need to continue to grow an increasingly robust offensive game. He will need to become a more consistent perimeter shooter, an ability to create his own shot and become a better passer (not that he’s a bad one now.) If the Hawks end up working with switch-heavy defensive schemes, his general versatility will offer more value on that end of the court.

If the vision is to see Collins serve as the starting power forward on a Hawks team that projects to possibly achieve contender status he will need to play next to a center that is an All-NBA defender, if not a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate. His lack of length just results in a sizable enough gap that his future frontcourt mate will need to be that good.

But, keep in mind, only one of the players to win the DPOY award in the last 6 seasons was drafted in the lottery. So, the Hawks don’t necessarily have to chase that player with a high draft pick. Hitting on that type of player will most likely come down to a combination of excellent evaluation and strong player development.

Note: all stats effective prior to play of games on Monday, Jan. 7