The Atlanta Hawks should not play John Collins at the center position

Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

Throughout the early part of the season the Atlanta Hawks have used John Collins in the reserve unit as the backup center. This was a strategy which had some success but unfortunately for the Hawks, it appears that Collins time as a backup pivot is over for the season.

While he had been solid in the role, teams have worked out the Hawks defense with him on the court and are rendering him ineffective. If we take the New York Knicks game as an example we see why a true defensive pivot is a crucial part of the Hawks makeup.

When the Hawks were making their run which started late in the third period and finished half way through the final period, it was when Onyeka Okongwu was on the floor. He is a true defensive pivot that understands how to stop the flow of an offense through proper help defense.

The Atlanta Hawks need more than just John Collins’ weakside defensive help.

With Okongwu on the court, the Hawks second unit changed the Knicks offense. They had Danilo Gallinari guarding Julius Randle, and with Okongwu’s help, they slowed Randle down. The reason for this is the second-year pivot has great instincts when to leave his man and help his wing defender.

He caused Randle to miss shots that he had been making earlier in the night. The reason for this was every time that Randle beat his opponent, Okongwu knew where to position himself to challenge the shot but not allow a pass to his direct opponent.

He also knew when to leave his man to challenge the shot of the Knicks player. His strength and timing allowed him to get two blocks including this thing of beauty against Randle.

His other block was again when Gallinari was beaten and he stopped Randle at the rim as well. Take a moment to enjoy this one as well.

So what is the difference between these blocks and what Collins does? The answer is simple, Okongwu is there backing up his players with better positional defense than Collins. The fifth-year big man relies on his athleticism, Okongwu is more like a safety net, helping out his wing players when they are beaten, getting his blocks as the last resort. His prefence is to stop the penetration before the shot goes up.

When he went to the bench, Gallinari was left on the court with Collins returning to play the five. Unfortunately for the Hawks, the defense became shambolic and they were not able to stop the Knicks run which won them the game, and it happened fast. With Okongwu on the court the Knicks really struggled to score. With him off it they were able to score at will.

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When Clint Capela comes back, Collins should stay at power forward or wing, leaving the center caper to those who are more suited to it. Okongwu’s energy, effort and intensity are all keys to his performance, but it is his fundamental understanding of defense which seperates his play from Collins on the defensive end meaning the Atlanta Hawks no longer have a problem when Capela sits down.