Not enough people are giving Trae Young and John Collins enough credit for the incredible amount of maturity they have shown at such a young age. A year ago, these two were headlining All-Star conversations and posting stats that few had matched in their first few seasons. Young was a starter in the All-Star Game, and John Collins likely would have been there too had he not missed 25 games early in the season due to suspension. However, in order to change the narrative that was attached to them — that they could not win — they sacrificed personal accolades, and because of that, the Hawks look like legitimate championship contenders.
On the surface, much of Trae Young’s numbers are the same. He’s shooting the same field-goal percentage (43.7%) as last season on the same number of two-point attempts (11.4) and nearly the same amount of free-throw attempts (8.9 this year compared to 9.3 last year). But there’s one area where he’s clearly made a concerted effort to reel back — his three-point attempts.
Young is shooting slightly above his career average this season from behind the arc (34.9%), but he’s doing so on over three fewer attempts per game. That’s significant for a player who genuinely believes he can stroke it from deep with the best of them (even if his shooting percentages don’t agree). Instead, he’s deferred to some of his new teammates, who are hitting those shots at a much higher rate.
It’s not always a guarantee that a young star poised to be the franchise player and the wily veterans create genuine chemistry in their first season together. Generally, those two personality types can clash, especially early on, but over the course of this season, Bogdan Bogdanovic has taken notice of the leaps Young has taken in terms of maturity.
“… We know he’s the franchise player here,” Bogdanovic said, via Chris Kirschner in his latest piece for The Athletic. “No one has a problem with it, but he has to handle it the right way, and he’s handling it pretty well. It’s amazing how mature he thinks and how he knows all of the stuff. He’s smart. Sometimes, we go in a verbal fight, a good fight, but it’s because we want to win. I don’t care what anyone says, he wants to win and everyone wants to win. We don’t like losing. That’s where the fighting starts. If you don’t fight and you’re losing, something is wrong.”
Collins is an even better example. He put up eye-popping numbers last season — ones that we’ve never even seen before, especially by a 22-year-old. As a third-year player, he averaged 21.6 points and 10.1 boards in just 33.2 minutes, but it was his efficiency that was so attractive. Collins shot a remarkable 58.3% from the floor and an even more impressive 40.1% from the three-point line.
This season has been much different. Collins is still making his shots at an extremely efficient rate (55.6% from the field and 38.8% from behind the arc), but his willingness to defer to others has caused his scoring and rebounding numbers to drop, averaging 17.8 points and 7.5 boards per game. His minutes per game is also below 30, and there have even been several times when Danilo Gallinari has the hot hand and stayed on the floor for most of the fourth quarter. However, you won’t see Collins pouting on the sidelines. He’s usually the first guy up for his teammates, and that kind of energy has helped speed up the development of the Hawks’ team chemistry.
What’s even more notable about Collins is his willingness to take a step back for the good of the team in a contract year. He and the Hawks couldn’t come to an agreement on an extension last offseason, and he’s scheduled to become a restricted free agent at season’s end. Collins wants a max-contract, or something very close. Most players in his shoes would have made this season about themselves; Collins didn’t, and the Hawks are reaping the rewards. The stats may not be as eye-popping, but anybody’s who is paying attention should realize just how valuable he is to a team, both for his skill and maturity at such a young age.
After last night’s win, the Hawks have officially punched their ticket into the playoffs, and they have a real opportunity to earn home-court advantage. They own a half-game lead over the Knicks and Heat, and they play their final two games at home — where they are 15-2 under Nate McMillan — against the Magic and Rockets, two of the worst teams in the league.
Most will point to the additions of Bogdanovic, Capela, Gallinari, and others as the reason why the Hawks have ascended so quickly, and they are undoubtedly critical pieces to the puzzle. However, none of this is possible without some unselfishness from Young and Collins. Their growth this season has been palpable and a primary reason why the Hawks have a legitimate opportunity to make some noise in the playoffs.
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