The Atlanta Hawks reportedly want a huge trade return for John Collins — a sign they know they aren’t using him correctly.
If reports that the Atlanta Hawks were seeking a Rudy Gobert-sized return for John Collins caught you off guard, you were definitely not alone. The Utah Jazz received Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Walker Kessler, Jarred Vanderbilt, Leandro Bolmaro, four first-round picks and a pick swap — for an established defensive anchor and three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
The idea that the Hawks could get a similar package — for a 25-year-old power forward averaging 13.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, who has never made an All-Star team and has been mentioned in trade rumors for multiple seasons — seems absurd.
It’s almost certainly some combination of bluff and bluster on the part of the Hawks but it’s also at least a partial indication that they understand Collins’ potential is greater than the production they’re currently getting out of him.
Remember that in the interrupted 2019-20 season, Collins averaged 21.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.6 blocks per game, shooting 58.3 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from beyond the arc. That was also Trae Young’s second season and real emergence, and over the past three seasons as Young as has exerted more and more offensive primacy, Collins’ numbers have declined across the board.
But in their trade valuation, the Hawks seem to be at least tacitly acknowledging that the way they’ve been using him is driving that drop in production and effectiveness more than any decline in his skills or abilities.
The Atlanta Hawks aren’t letting John Collins play to his strengths anymore
In that 2019-20 season, when Collins was at his most productive, it was as a versatile offensive threat but primarily as a pick-and-roll partner for Young. Their chemistry was fantastic and Collins’ leaping ability made him an anytime-anywhere lob threat that Young leveraged in a variety of ways.
That season about 28 percent of his offensive possessions were finished as the screener in the pick-and-roll. This season, that percentage has fallen to 16.3 and instead of catching lobs from Young, we’re seeing a lot more of this.
The problem is not just Young missing John Collins in favor of taking contested jumpers. But overall, Collins is spending a lot more time stationed in the corner and watching passively as the offensive unfolds in front of him.
Nearly 30 percent of Collins’ possessions this season have come from spot-ups, up from about 16 percent in 2019-20, basically reversing the pattern with regard to his pick-and-roll opportunities. Collins has some stretch to his game — he’s a 35.8 percent 3-point shooter for his career, despite hitting just 22.9 percent this season. But the most valuable part of his game is his movement, energy and explosiveness in the paint — leaving him to languish in the corner is asking him to lean into the weakest parts of his game at the expense of his strengths.
A big factor here is roster construction. Collins has some value as a defender but that value is mostly in space. He’s not big enough to bang with post-up centers and he’s not the kind of rim protector who can control the backline of a defense. That means he’s playing a lot of minutes next to Clint Capela or Onyeka Okongwu, both of whom have even less stretch to their game than Collins — relegating him to the perimeter while they take over the primary screening duties for Young and Dejounte Murray.
Collins has been setting an average of 13.3 screens per game for Murray and Young this season, far less than Capela (26.4) or Okongwu (16.7). The pick-and-roll pairing with Murray or Young and Collins has been a far more efficient scoring option for the Hawks, but in total it’s they’re probably better off with the centers screening and Collins floating around the perimeter instead of the reverse.
If you put Collins on a roster with a center who could protect the rim and space the floor — say Myles Turner and the Pacers, Kristaps Porzingis and the Wizards, the Grizzlies and Jaren Jackson Jr. — he’d be freer to get back into the role that made him so effective earlier in his career, wreaking havoc inside the arc with quickness and explosiveness.
There are other teams who are better suited to make use of Collins, even if they might not have a perfect frontcourt partner. And it’s no surprise that teams like the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks Minnesota Timberwolves and more have been linked in trade rumors. The Hawks have likely given up the leverage to command the kind of return they’re dreaming of for John Collins but it’s clear he’s a player who could be a lot more than what they’re letting him be right now.
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