After winning four of their first five games, the Atlanta Hawks have dropped four games in a row, upsetting key members of the team.
The most vocal critic has reportedly been fourth-year big man John Collins, one of the more valuable players on the roster. His criticism comes at a huge turning point in his career, too. The 23-year-old did not agree to a contract extension during the offseason, which means he needs a big year to get the payday that he seeks moving forward.
Collins is a very good player who was a first-round pick in 2017 and made All-Rookie 2nd Team in 2018. He followed that up by averaging 19.5 points and 9.8 rebounds during his second year and 21.6 points and 10.1 rebounds during his third year.
There is a reason why, in June 2020, Collins said he felt that he and Trae Young were the best young duo in the NBA. So what has gone wrong in such a short amount of time?
Some of the best lobs from Trae Young this season. The duo of Trae Young and John Collins will be great for years to come. pic.twitter.com/xemAdZbYRq
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) June 1, 2019
Chris Kirschner and Sam Amick recently reported on Collins’ frustration (via The Athletic):
“[Collins] shared his unfiltered and unhappy views about the way franchise centerpiece Trae Young was running the offense. According to three sources who were either in the session or had knowledge of what was said, Collins raised several issues about the way these Hawks were functioning with Young at the helm. Collins talked about the need to get into offensive sets more quickly and to limit all those early shot-clock attempts that leave his teammates on the outside looking in. He shared his desire to be more involved and expressed a desire for more ball involvement and flow on offense.”
During the recent film session, the most interesting point from Collins was about getting him more involved in the offense. To that end, Collins has a point considering that he is not the type of player who is able to create his own field goal opportunity.
For as good as Collins is, in order to maximize his value, he will need a facilitator like Young to get him going. Since coming into the league, per PBP Stats, the majority of his two-pointers (73.4 percent) and three-pointers (98.6 percent) have come off assists. Last season, according to Cleaning the Glass, his assisted rate even at the rim ranked below the 20th percentile among all big men.
The six times Trae Young assisted John Collins yesterday – all dunks and wide-open threes.
Making the game easier for John (and vice versa). pic.twitter.com/mhlcxmfOfq
— Kevin Chouinard (@KLChouinard) July 8, 2018
When Atlanta drafted Young, the organization landed one of the most promising young distributors in the game. During their first season together on the Hawks, in 2018-19, Young proved to be both more prolific and effective as he averaged 22.3 passes and 4.0 assists to Collins per 36 minutes.
In fact, the first-year point guard found Collins for 163 assists. That ranked eighth-best among all player combinations in the NBA during the 2018-19 campaign, per PBP Stats.
Then during the shortened campaign last season, Collins was once again Young’s most favored player on the floor. Young found Collins for 4.7 assists per 36 for 119 total assists. According to PBP Stats, that improved to sixth-best among all player combos.
But considering that Atlanta was a lottery team and missed the playoffs in both 2019 and 2020, it was no surprise that they wanted a winning record. They’ve added key players through the draft (e.g. Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish) and trades/free agency (e.g. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Clint Capela, Danillo Gallinari) that all need the ball.
As such, all of these players need to get integrated into the offense to help their development or justify their price tags. The allure of passing the ball to Jabari Parker (2 years/$13 million) has much less pressure than it will for Gallinari (3 years/$61.4 million) or Bogdanovic (4 years/$72 million) this year.
There was a lot more draw to incorporate Collins when players like Hunter and Reddish were not yet on the roster as well. Now that they continue to get better, they will also warrant touches throughout the course of the game.
Even though Collins wants to have a breakout year, he has seen his scoring dip from 21.6 ppg last season to 17.2 ppg. His usage rate has also dropped from 22.7 percent last season to 21.5 percent this year. Similarly, meanwhile, his touches have fallen from 67.5 per game last season to just 53.0 thus far.
But all of those figures still rank as the second-most on the team behind only Young. And the reality is that Young is averaging more passes per game than any other season of his career thus far. The passes are simply just not going to Collins as often, considering Young is incorporating several new pieces.
When Collins gets the ball, as long as he makes the most of his opportunities, he will still be on the radar as a top free agent this offseason.
Fewer touches might lead to less money on Collins’ next contract, but thus far, the two had their best two-man net rating in the three years they have been teammates. It is also the most talented team that Young has ever played on in his career, so as he gets adjusted, these growing pains could lead to a better overall season for the Hawks.