As the February 7th trade deadline inched closer and closer, several news outlets began reporting that teams were checking in on the availability of John Collins, and the Hawks were listening. Whether Travis Schlenk was ever seriously considering moving the third-year big man, we may never know, but one thing has been confirmed over the last several weeks: he is damn sure glad he didn’t.
Collins’ 25-game suspension to begin the year stopped the Hawks’ hopes of making the playoffs right in their tracks. He was and is Atlanta’s second-best player that nearly averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds in just his second season last year. While Collins was out, Atlanta was the worst team in basketball, and things didn’t immediately improve once he returned. But now that he’s begun to get his feet under him in his return, the Hawks look like one of the eight best teams in the Eastern Conference, and I don’t imagine any playoff team would like to see them go on a run and sneak into the postseason.
Collins is averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds this season, shooting a ridiculously efficient 57.7% from the field and 37.3% from three-point range. He’s also a reliable free-throw shooter, making over 80% of his opportunities from the stripe. And over the last month-plus, Collins has been even more dangerous.
Since January 14th, the former Wake Forrest Demon Deacon is averaging 23.8 points and 10.8 rebounds on an absurd shooting percentage of 63.9% from the field and 41.5% from the three-point line. His chemistry with Trae Young is only getting better, and it won’t be long before teams start to consider him an elite shooter for a big man. As Lloyd Pierce said about Dewayne Dedmon’s shooting last year, if you do it one year, people are going to call it a fluke, but once you start doing it every year, they have to start respecting that shot.
The problem with Collins is he is so skilled that opponents have to pick their poison. Guard him out on the perimeter and he will get to the rim for an easy dunk, whether it be off the dribble or a pass from Trae Young. Leave him open, and well, opponents are beginning to figure out that’s not an option.
One thing I’ve always questioned regarding Collins is his ceiling. Despite being a high flying dunker and an improved shooter last year, I understood why some put players like Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, or De’Aaron Fox ahead of him when talking about the best players in the 2017 draft class. All those guys can create their own shot and get a bucket when needed most. Collins has yet to develop much of an isolation game in his short three-year career, and maybe that will come with time. However, perhaps he doesn’t need to.
Perhaps Collins is so damn good at what he does do — cutting to the basket, finishing around the rim, offensive rebounding, and now shooting — that developing that part of his game is nothing but gravy. This is a guy that is a walking 20 and 10 already, and his stats are anything but empty. Since this run began on January 14th, the Hawks are 9-9. And keep in mind, Collins is still just 22 years old with only 167 NBA games under his belt. Every time I think he might have reached his ceiling, he keeps pushing it a little bit further. It’s time to start talking about John Collins as one of the best power forwards in basketball.
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