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Lloyd Pierce remains clear on John Collins’ primary position, desire to ‘enhance’ his skill set

Atlanta’s head coach weighs in on the third-year big man.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The focus of Monday’s press conference was introducing the No. 10 overall pick in last Thursday’s draft, Cam Reddish, but it was a pair of comments from Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce that caught the eye, particularly as it relates to all-around big man John Collins. When asked about the team’s wing depth and whether the team would look to play Collins at the 5, Pierce was unequivocal in his statement.

“John is our 4,” Pierce said. “So we won’t play too small.”

That message has been consistent throughout Pierce’s Atlanta tenure. Collins played the 5 for just 13 percent of his more than 1,800 minutes last season, according to Cleaning the Glass, as his skill set, particularly defensively, is better suited to playing with another traditional big man next to him.

Offensively, there’s not a whole lot of difference in Pierce’s system between the two big man spots, particularly because of the shooting acumen displayed last season by Dewayne Dedmon and Alex Len. Part of Collins being a mainstay at the 4 also had to do with the team’s lack of suitable small-ball wings, an issue that will not continue into 2019-20. The addition of Reddish and No. 4 overall pick De’Andre Hunter will allow Pierce to go small if he so chooses, though at this point it doesn’t seem to be a part of his primary plans.

Collins’ development in every area has been a focus for Pierce since taking the job last summer. Rather than putting him in a box as a traditional big man, the coaching staff has asked Collins to expand his game as a shooter, ball handler, facilitator, and defender. That development will continue into 2019-20.

Asked about the lack of primary creators on the roster outside of Trae Young (more to come on that tomorrow in this space), Pierce spoke about how the Hawks can use all of their various ball handlers to get the team going.

“You don’t need a traditional point guard to come down and get everyone organized,” Pierce said. “Anyone can bring it. I’m trying to get John Collins to get a defensive rebound and push the ball up the floor. We’ve got shooters all over the place, so we don’t have to get it to Trae to get Kevin a 3. If John can grow there, great...we’re working on John and enhancing that skill set as well.”

Collins’ evolution as a ball handler has been a topic of discussion among the Hawks’ coaching staff and he’ll get more run as a creator from the elbow and on the perimeter, with perhaps some pick-and-roll ball handling in his future if he’s able to show coaches he can do it in practice.

Playing Collins at the 5 has precious little to do with the team’s offense. It would open up more space for he and Young to operate in pick-and-roll in the middle of the floor, but the Hawks have been just fine on the offensive end with another big man next to Collins. It’s the other end of the floor where the team could struggle with Collins at the 5. He doesn’t have the defensive chops to contain in pick-and-roll at this point, though he showed some encouraging flashes in the last few weeks of the 2018-19 season.

The Hawks will be able to experiment with their lineups this season with the slew of wings they have available to them. The addition of Reddish and Hunter round out the team’s five-man core moving forward, at least for now, and getting all five of those guys on the floor together will require Collins to play the 5 alongside Hunter at the 4. Defensive issues may be present, both in pick-and-roll and on the glass, but Collins needs the reps in those spots to reach his potential as a true all-around big man capable of doing everything on the floor, from ball handling to rim-running to defending the perimeter and the paint.