Media Day arrived for many NBA teams on Sept. 30 and the Atlanta Hawks took part in the festivities at the Emory Sports Medicine Complex. With Travis Schlenk and Lloyd Pierce addressing the media on Friday, the path was cleared for the team’s roster of 20 players to speak and, for the most part, it was business as usual.
There were no grand revelations, no massive injury news (in part because the Hawks got ahead of the curve with a pre-training camp announcement) and nothing “viral” in nature. With that as the backdrop, the always dynamic and entertaining John Collins stole the show.
The third-year big man, fresh off a breakout campaign in which he averaged nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, is facing an injury issue as training camp opens. Atlanta announced that he is experiencing “discomfort in his right hip” but, while Collins acknowledged the injury on Monday, he quelled any fears of a delayed start to the campaign.
“Knock on wood, obviously a little hiccup but nothing massive in any sense that way,” Collins said of his injury. “I’m still active on the court, I’m still participating. Pretty much limited, but not hurt. I feel like I’m going to be ready for Game one.”
With that bit of news out of the way, Collins didn’t shy away from displaying confidence in his team, both for this season and beyond. In fact, he went as far as to say that the Hawks would be the “best show in Atlanta” moving forward.
“They’re missing, in my opinion, the best show in Atlanta,” Collins said of fans that haven’t yet jumped on board. “Obviously, I know we are in the south, this is home-grown football -- the south is a football region. I’m from Florida, went to school in North Carolina -- I get it. But I feel like we’ve made enough noise, we’ve made enough buzz. Our owner, Tony, is putting his heart and soul into making the Hawks one of the future franchises of the city. I feel like he’s shown that with the Emory Sports Complex, the arena, what he’s doing down there. I feel like it’s our job to do what we need to do on the court to bring those fans out and I feel like we have. As soon as we start winning and taking care of what we need to take care of I feel like the fans will be right where they need to be. But like I said, it’s a process, that takes time. I know we have to prove it to them first and I feel like we’ve done a good job with that.”
Collins is hardly the first observer to note that the Hawks are, indeed, quite fun in their current iteration, even on the heels of a 29-win season. Expectations are increasing on the eve of the season but, even as most projections don’t place Atlanta as a likely playoff team, Collins sees otherwise.
“I feel like we are a playoff team,” Collins said. “Like I said, it’s a matter of putting it all together, with any team, but I feel like we definitely have enough talent. The coaching is there, obviously the youth and experience isn’t but I feel like we can make up for that with guys like Vince (Carter), guys like Evan Turner, guys like Allen Crabbe who can pick up the slack that we don’t have in experience but have talent wise. It’s not like we’re one of the teams that lacks talent. We have the talent. It’s just about the years and the experience and putting that all together which takes time, but I feel like we’re at a great point right now where we need to be now going forward.”
It would perhaps be more noteworthy if members of the Hawks did not see a playoff-level product emerging this season but, at the same time, not everyone would operate in such a confident public manner. From a team perspective, there is plenty of reason for optimism if the pieces come together but, even individually, Collins is poised for another breakout, at least from a notoriety and recognition standpoint.
“I damn sure hope it is,” Collins said when asked if this was the year he would gain more national notoriety. “I’ve been putting in a lot of work. I’m not really rushing for it to be that year. I just know what I’m going to do on the court. I feel like if the media, the fans, the national media wants to recognize me as one of those household names, I feel like there’s going to be numbers and play to back it. So, I’m ready to go.”
The production will almost certainly be there for Collins but, if he can continue to improve from a consistency standpoint (something Lloyd Pierce noted with regularity on Friday) and make strides on the defensive end, the sky is the limit. Oh, and he’ll tell you that with an infectious smile while having fun doing it.