I've written before that Trae Young and John Collins are the heart and soul of the Atlanta Hawks, or perhaps the soul and heart depending on how you see it. At 6'9" and springs in lieu of legs, Collins fits perfectly next to the league leader in assists. Collins is the ideal hard-nosed sidekick. He's the Pusha T to Young's Kanye.
Despite being a match made in heaven, the Hawks front office has made it their mission to let Collins know he is expendable. His stellar 2020-21 season forced them into a new 5-year, $125 million contract (which is team-friendly, by the way). But within months, he was being used as a poker chip in trade talks. Let's review the up-and-down season for Collins.
End of the Year Grades
Offense - B+
You can't discuss Collins' fifth season in the league without noting his injuries. Collins missed 28 games, including most of the playoff push, due to a plantar fascia tear in his right foot and a nasty sprained finger.
In April, I tried to untangle the mixed messaging from the organization surrounding Collins' health status. True to his blue-collar persona, Collins made an admirable comeback for the playoff series against the Miami Heat.
With all that being said, Collins took a step back in offensive production and efficiency this season. His 16.2 points per game was a slight decrease, as were all of his shooting percentages. However, his assist-to-turnover ratio jumped from 0.93 to 1.63 this season on a consistent usage rate. Not bad, considering his head coach has admitted to not calling plays for him on offense.
Defense - A
When Collins entered the league, his defense was a cause for concern. That is no longer the case. Despite being undersized, occasionally playing the 5, and always playing cleanup for perimeter players, Collins is reliable on defense.
This season, Collins increased his defensive rebounds, steals, and held steady at one block per game. According to most advanced states, including FiveThirtyEight's RAPTOR rating, only Clint Capela and Delon Wright were better defenders this season.
Collins is capable of playing defense without fouling while still providing adequate rim protection. Couple that with his switchability, and it makes him an integral part of the Hawks' defense.
Development - A
I think people often forget John Collins is just two months older than De'Andre Hunter. Collins gives off veteran vibes, but he's still just 24 years old. Perhaps his precociousness is due to everything he's endured in Atlanta - coaching changes, roster turnover, unrelenting trade talks, and various roles assigned to him.
Yet, Collins has withstood all the drama and flourished into a highly-coveted player in the league. There is a reason why general manager Travis Schlenk's phone is ringing off the hook with inquiries into Collins' availability.
Every season, Collins comes back with a new addition to his game. That really says something when playing for an organization that does little player development, but how the Hawks treat their young players is a conversation for another day.
Overall Grade - A-
If you go strictly off Basketball Reference, then you are led to believe that Collins regressed this season. That isn't fair. Injuries and Covid derailed what could have been another solid season. Collins' absence was felt during the final stretch of the season, and his return for the playoffs saved the team from further embarrassment at the hands of the Miami Heat.
The reoccurring theme in my season grades has been that no one except Trae Young is guaranteed to be back on the Hawks roster next season. Unfortunately, Collins' future in Atlanta is the most tenuous. While the team needs a second All-Star to level up, trading the 24-year-old would be a mistake.
Collins may not be the second or even third option on a contending team, but for an organization that is admittedly complacent, he provides the cure for what ails the Hawks. It's not a perfect comparison, but Collins can be the Draymond Green on a team designed to be the Golden State Warriors of the Eastern Conference. No one more than Travis Schlenk should be able to recognize that.
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