Media Day is less than one (!) week away in most NBA circles and crunch time is here. With that in mind, player rankings are flying around in advance of the 2019-20 season and, earlier in September, Sports Illustrated comfortably installed Atlanta Hawks teammates John Collins and Trae Young as top-100 players. This week, ESPN went one better, pegging both Collins and Young for top-50 marks.
For comparison’s sake, Young landed at No. 62 and Collins landed at No. 51 for Sports Illustrated, indicating that top-50 considerations weren’t far away. The ESPN panel seems to be a bit higher on the youthful duo, with Collins coming in at No. 47 overall and Young garnering the top spot for Atlanta at No. 28 overall.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said the following about Collins:
Young running the high pick-and-roll with Collins is the new highlight factory in Atlanta, with Collins rolling to the rim to accept lobs from Young in traffic and slamming them down. We’ve devoted a lot of attention to Young, but Collins’ role in the Hawks’ machine is just as impressive. Just two years into the development program, Collins has blossomed into a future All-Star, averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds in his second season.
Collins remains underrated nationally, particularly when evaluating his statistical production as a sophomore. Still, it is nice to see more recognition of his performance and, if he can replicate the efficiency from last season, Collins projects to rise on next year’s list.
ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz wrote the snippet for Young, who landed in the top 30.
Young is a voracious scorer and offensive mastermind, but in his sophomore season he will need to address his greatest vulnerability: defense. His defensive real plus-minus of minus-4.74 in 2018-19 was the lowest rating for an NBA starter in five seasons. While rookies often struggle to grasp the physical demands and nuances of NBA defense, Young must get up to speed if he aspires to lead the Hawks to the kind of success his brilliant offensive gifts portend.
It may be a surprise to some nationally to see Young ahead of Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday, Chris Paul and Khris Middleton (among others). Beyond that, it takes some future-facing projection to make this kind of leap with Young, particularly (as Arnovitz notes) with his defensive weaknesses. However, there has been plenty said and written about Young’s tremendous explosion in the second half of his rookie season and, if his post-All Star performance (24.7 points, 9.2 assists with strong overall efficiency) is to be believed, this ranking won’t seem lofty in the slightest.
If nothing else, ESPN’s more optimistic ranking of both players will be a tip of the cap to what Atlanta is attempting to build and a bit of confidence in the two-man game that Travis Schlenk and company are banking on. Ultimately, these top-100 lists don’t have much in the way of actual impact but, this time around, the Hawks were treated with big-time optimism and that makes it fun.