Collins already changing complexion of Hawks upon return

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From John Collins to Vince Carter, the newest and oldest dunking sensations of the NBA make a living on arguably the worst team in the sport.

Change is on the way.

The 41-year-old Carter started Atlanta’s first eight games this season, consistently hovering around 20 minutes of playing time. The 21-year-old Collins sat out the Hawks’ first 15 games of the campaign, nursing mild inflammation and soreness in his left ankle.

Now that Collins is healthy, his role is taking away minutes from the player he may have idolized growing up. For head coach Lloyd Pierce and the veteran-yet-aging presence of Carter, that is good news.

Collins chipped in 12 points on 3-of-6 shooting over 12 minutes in his season debut against the Pacers Saturday before filling the stat sheet for 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting over 21 minutes opposite the emerging Clippers Monday. In the small sample size, he has also added five rebounds, six assists and a block, while making 2-of-4 three-pointers and converting 8-of-9 tries from the charity stripe.

Two games have little indication on a player’s season-long performance, but the initial results are a step in the right direction for a team that has sprinted in the wrong direction throughout the year.

Although Atlanta blew a 15-point lead and lost for the eighth consecutive time, its pick-and-roll and drive-and-dish strategies meshed well with rookie point guard Trae Young and Collins.

Pick-and-rolls came early and often for Collins, Young and veteran center Dewayne Dedmon, who collectively formed the majority of the Hawks’ first-half highlight package…

Collins has always been an athletic specimen, a player that almost defies gravity in terms of his leaping ability around and above the rim. His three-point shooting, though, has looked notably better and allowed Young to have another option if there is little opportunity for him driving and attempting to score through the lane…

Whether these offensive strategies are a sustainable model for success remains to be seen. Atlanta is on pace for another top-10 lottery pick in 2019, and will receive an additional first-round pick from the Cavaliers (via the Kyle Korver trade) as early as 2019 -- if Cleveland miraculously works its way out of the league’s 10 worst teams -- or as late as 2020.

Young appears to be the biggest piece of the rebuild, as he is averaging 16.8 points, 8.3 assists and 3.2 rebounds over 30.2 minutes per 17 games. Collins, though, is just as important to the organization’s long-term vision of building a playoff-caliber roster.

Consider the duo’s first two games together a slamming success, with Carter enjoying the dunking spectacle from a distance.