The Atlanta Hawks must make a decision with John Collins

Trade or extension: What should the Hawks do?

After a three-year tank job, the Atlanta Hawks have put together a roster to compete for the NBA playoffs next season. Like with most young rosters, extensions present headaches for General Managers. These extensions give an insight to the direction of the franchise.

First-up is power forward John Collins.

Taken with the 19th pick in the 2017 draft, Collins surprisingly fell outside the lottery with many pundits predicting he would go in the 10-15 range. The Atlanta Hawks took a flier and found a nice contributor in the first season of the club’s rebuild.

Fast forward to the 2019-20 season and the 22-year old is having a monster year. He is averaging career highs in points (21.6), rebounds (10.1), field-goal percentage (58.3), 3-PT percentage (40.1), free throw percentage (80) and blocks (1.6) in 33.2 minutes per game (also career high).

Check out the rim rocker in the 127-120 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Collins is set for a payday next season as he enters restricted free agency. Let’s take a look at his strengths and weaknesses as well as looking at other options the Atlanta Hawks could explore.

Strengths

Scoring

Over his tenure in the NBA, Collins has become an excellent scorer at all three levels. He is able to create his own shot, score in the post, drive to the cup and step outside to hit the three at an elite level.

In his best game of the season, the big man posted 35 points (13-18 shooting, 3-3 from 3PT, 6-9 FT) and 17 rebounds in the Hawks 111-107 win over the Dallas Mavericks.


This game showcased a bit of everything from the big man. He has soft hands around the rim, catching lobs and finishes well through contact. He has excellent manoeuvrability and body control, contorting his body mid-air when challenged at rim.

Collins is also an excellent shooter that can stroke it from outside and has an excellent pull-up game from the mid-range. Offensively, he can do it all.

Rebounding

Collins is a springy athlete and has a great nose for the ball. Despite lacking the body to physically impose himself on opposing forwards, the power forward exhibits exceptional anticipatory skills to rebound the rock.

The 22-year-old is averaging 10.1 rebounds per game (14th overall) ranking 18th in defensive rebounding (7.3) and 19th on the offensive glass (2.8). To put these into perspective, he rebounds the rock better than Anthony Davis and is somehow tied with Embiid on the offensive glass.

The young forward has certainly showed out when it comes to cleaning the glass, collecting a whopping 25 rebounds against the Indiana Pacers in 2019. He has an excellent motor and a strong nose for the ball.

Weaknesses

Defense

Now, Collins has made some nice improvements on the defensive end, getting better at reading offenses in pick and roll as well as becoming a much better help defender. However, his defensive awareness still needs some work.

Against Philadelphia, Collins rotates too late and attempts to block big man Joel Embiid at the rim. It wasn’t the smartest business decision.

Almost all big men end up on posters but it’s more about Collins awareness. He needs to either recognize the rotation earlier or simply give up on the play.

The other issue on defense is his tendency to ball watch and get caught out when the ball is moving. Upon penetration by opposing guards, Collins freezes and fails to move with his man resulting in open looks. With stretch fours becoming a feature in today’s game, he needs to fight the urge to drop to the paint and stick with his defensive assignment.

Tunnel Vision

While his affinity for scoring the rock is a huge part of what he does, Collins suffers from tunnel vision and sometimes has a poor feel for where defenders are on court.

In the sequence below, the big man is blocked three times in one possession by Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac. After the first block, Collins remains undeterred and continues to go up to dunk the ball. Isaac stays with the forward throughout the possession and creates a turnover.

This is a clear example of a scorer’s mentality. Collins needs to do a better job of being aware of defenders around him and offer more pump fakes to get defenders in the air. It will help him get blocked less and he will earn more free throws.

The Rookie Extension

In March of this year, Collins publicly announced he feels he is a max player. With the revised salary cap number for 2020-21 season yet to be released, we will estimate an extension based on this year’s salary cap.

A five-year rookie max extension is worth around $168 million. That is a lot to pay for a one way forward who is making steady strides on the defensive end. All Stars Ben Simmons and Pascal Siakam both received maximum deals while All Star Domantas Sabonis agreed to a four-year, 77-million dollar contract.

The Lithuanian’s extension is more in line with what Collins should be receiving. Sabonis is now an All Star and is posting career high’s across the board. More importantly, the big man is an advanced stats monster with his success translating directly to wins. This is a huge difference with Collins whose numbers are impressive on the surface but appear to not translate directly toward team success.

These reasons make it difficult to justify giving him maximum money. Somewhere in the neighborhood of four-years, 70-80 million is fair given his limitations as a player.

Trade

If Atlanta elect to move on from Collins, he is bound to have suitors across the NBA. He is a prototypical, new-age power forward who can score the rock. Teams that struggle to score the rock like Charlotte, New York and Chicago could be potential suitors. Of those three teams, Chicago is likely to be the most appealing for Atlanta.

The Bulls have an interesting array of talent that could be perfect for Atlanta. Otto Porter, Wendell Carter Jr, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn are four players that would work well with Trae Young. The Hawks would be looking for a stretch four that can play better defense and shoot reasonably well. Markkanen fits that bill and could be had with the number of young players Atlanta has on its roster.

Conclusion

While Collins produces impressive counting statistics, the advanced metrics don’t support a maximum extension. If the Hawks are able to secure the 22-year-old to a deal around the contract suggested earlier in the piece, it gives Atlanta a chance to see what his ceiling is. If he continues to push for a max deal, I would look to trade him before his extension is due. With the NBA continuing to trend toward stretch forwards, there is bound to be a tone of interest.

In my opinion, his fit alongside Trae Young is perfect offensively but the defense is like Swiss cheese. Clint Capela was brought into to solidify the defense but hiding two defensive liabilities is near impossible unless positions two, three and five are all elite.

GM Travis Schlenk will need to make a decision. Do the Atlanta Hawks view him as a key cog or just a one-way forward not worth a max deal?

Only time will tell.

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2 Comments

  1. You didn’t watch much if you think Collins is Swiss cheese on defense. And actually advance metrics say he’s worth max or close.

    Please show me where Sabonis sniffed 20 & 10 in his first 3 years. Collins did twice. Sabonis can’t shoot either.

    That is a poo platter package from Chicago. Every advanced defensive metric has Collins superior defensively than Markannen. No clue where you think Lauri is close…..also Lauri high volume shooter that’s a career .356 from 3.

    I love Schlenk so far but I’d look to fire him if he followed your advice.

    • Of course this depends on what you want. The advance metrics are not favorable to John Collins and his play. The counting stats support this notion that he is a high scoring, high rebounding big man but none of the defensive metrics, particularly his on court, off court numbers support a max contract.

      If you are interested, websites like cleantheglass.com, pbpstats.com, basketballreference.com and NBA.com all offer different views of statistics. My two favorite websites are the first two and whats great about pbpstats.com is you can create line-ups that have played together or simply look at players and how they go as a combination when they share the court together. If you use all the websites together and paint a full picture, you will see that JC is more inline with a 15-18m per season contract.

      Also, Domas Sabonis contributes across the board. He is a much better player on the block, screener, can create off the dribble, has post moves, good midrange shot and an elite passer for a big man. He rivals Bam Adebayo in almost every category. There’s more to the NBA than just shooting.

      Take a look at those websites. They should bring you some more understanding of where John Collins is and what is fair. The last thing you want to do is overpay a one-way player. I do watch the games as well and his defensive awareness is far behind his offensive skills.

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