They would have a future superstar on their hands…if they used him correctly
On Saturday night in what turned out to be a tightly-contested loss against the Boston Celtics, the Hawks blew a double digit lead and found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard and in need of points with just minutes left in the game.
Atlanta had been shooting well for the majority of the evening, but the Celtics were playing their best defense of the game during this closing stretch. For part of these last few minutes, second year power forward John Collins, unarguably Atlanta’s best player, was not even on the floor. He had four fouls, but that should not be an issue with just minutes left.
The Hawks’ offense went total perimeter, with every guard and forward on the court clanking contested threes and Boston corralling every rebound. When coach Lloyd Pierce finally did get Collins back on the court, his teammates still ignored him, continuing their Game 7 Houston Rockets-like display of long range inaccuracy.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Celtics had emerged with a 113-105 victory. As Collins walked off the court, he looked frustrated and dejected. That’s probably because he knows that his team and coaching staff are the only things holding him back from becoming a legitimate NBA superstar.
A player like John Collins has no ceiling. Coming out of Wake Forest, he was a physical freak of nature-he is 6’10”, nearly 240 pounds, can jump out of the gym, and can move quicker than nearly everyone else that plays his position. Over the course of his Hawks career, Collins has developed into an unstoppable force in the pick and roll and has proven himself to be an elite offensive rebounder. He’s even developed a reliable corner 3 point shot. Just by being on the court, Collins is a walking double-double.
The Hawks have made it abundantly clear that their plan is to draft shooters who can run the floor at every position in order to turn themselves into an elite run-and-gun team that’s fun to watch and impossible to defend (AKA the Golden State Warriors). On paper, a player like Collins doesn’t necessarily fit into this scheme extremely well. While Collins can certainly run the floor and is a devastating finisher in transition, he hasn’t yet developed the ability to run a fast break by himself. He can make threes with some consistency, but he isn’t at the “can’t leave him open” level quite yet.
Guess what? None of this matters right now. Collins is by far the best player the Hawks have, and as such, they should try to structure their offense around him. So far this season, Collins has gotten a ton of his points off offensive rebound putbacks, or just off being at the right place at the right time, which he has a knack for doing. If Atlanta made a conscious effort to give him the ball in the post more (where he has developed significantly as a scorer), he could easily average upwards of 25 points a game, and his field goal percentage would only increase from its already-impressive 58.4%. There would be less cold stretches like the one that occurred at the end of the Celtics game and ultimately cost the Hawks that contest.
There is never an excuse not to give the ball to your best player when the game is on the line. When Atlanta played Philadelphia a couple weeks ago, the game was tied with just seconds left. Lloyd Pierce wisely made the decision to give the ball to Collins in the post, and guess what happened? He made a great step-back move and drained the game winning jumper over Mike Muscala. There’s no reason to think that Aron Baynes could have stopped him from doing the same thing against Boston.
The end of the Boston game is only one example of the Hawks not allowing Collins to flourish. Throughout the year, they have neglected to look for him in post situations, really only going to him in pick and roll lobs, where he is also deadly. If Atlanta made more of an effort to get him the basketball and let him go to work, he has the potential to be a Josh-Smith-gone-right type of player that can alter the course of a franchise.
I know that it is not important this year to get wins and that some even argue that for a team like the Hawks, losing games right now is more beneficial for the future, so in the long run, the embarrassing neglect of Collins in the Boston game won’t matter. However, it’s sending the wrong message to fail to get your best player the basketball time and time again.
If there’s anything the Hawks don’t want to do, it’s to upset the one true building block they have before he even has the chance to flourish.
Jackson Stone @tdjs_network