There are ebbs and flows to every NBA season. After a rather hot start, Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins has seen his production level off. He began the campaign with back-to-back 20-point games and averaged 19 points on 66.9% true shooting with 10.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, and 1.2 steals over the first four games of the season.
He even shot a respectable 35.7% from beyond the arc.
After back-to-back four-point outings, Collins has rattled off a five-game stretch averaging 12 points on 57.4% true shooting with 7.2 boards, and 1.4 assists. His usage rate has sunk to a career-low 15.7% continuing a downward trend from the past four seasons.
But Collins is still producing leaving some to evoke the name of another veritable conundrum.
Hawks’ John Collins compared to Warriors’ Andrew Wiggins
Collins has all of the tools and has displayed them at various points in his career. He’s averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds for an entire season and shot 40% from three in 2020 (39.9% in 2021). He has only failed to average at least 1.0 blocks once in his career and has averaged more than that three times including this season (1.5).
But his plummeting usage rate has been a source of contention for the 6-foot-9 high-flyer for some time. Collins has publicly expressed concern about how he was being used and, with the addition of Dejounte Murray this offseason, the problem has been exasperated in the stat sheet.
This, says The Ringer’s Rob Mahoney, is the “paradox of NBA team-building”.
“Do you want guys who are the cleanest, lowest-maintenance fits,” Mahoney asked rhetorically during the ‘NBA Show: Group Chat’ podcast. “Or do you want guys like John Collins who can go above and beyond and do more? And I think we have a pretty compelling piece of evidence in the Warriors that Andrew Wiggins is a do-more, above-and-beyond kind of fit.”
Wiggins was drafted with the first-overall pick in 2014 by the Cleveland Cavaliers and was immediately traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love.
He never quite lived up to the hype in Minnesota despite averaging 20-plus points twice.
Wiggins was shipped to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for guard D’Angelo Russell, a deal that has paid off in spades for the former and the Warriors. Wiggins was a vital piece to the Warriors’ championship run last season providing everything from scoring to defense to rebounding to simply being energetic.
Watching Collins on the floor can often give off similar vibes.
He is always active and vocal on the floor trying to contribute in any way that he can, sometimes to a fault perhaps leading to some of the angst he has felt regarding his role.
“I’m not saying John Collins necessarily has exactly that 1-to-1 game,” Mahoney said. “But he can create and be more dynamic, certainly, than a lot of other role players you would plug in…in that spot. And they might need that in the playoffs.”
The key is Wiggins’ stats weren’t the highest they have been but his impact was.
Hawks starters are posting a plus-13.5 net rating, per Cleaning The Glass. Collins has spent fewer than 75 minutes with any other combination of players.
If there is any concern, it could be that the once-lethal connection he had with Trae Young has been anything but so far. The duo has shared the floor this season for 70 non-garbage-time possessions and has posted a minus-42.9 net rating. When Collins has shared the floor with Murray as Young sat (177 possessions), their net rating has been a push.
Young is still a dynamo averaging 27.6 points and 9.4 assists this season. But he is shooting with career-low efficiency from the floor and beyond the arc while his 117.8 offensive rating is his lowest mark since 2020.
It stands to reason that as Young gets more comfortable in his new off-ball reality – Young’s shot makes from an assist are up over 9% – that Collins will see a boost in his effectiveness.
But things will peak when his three-ball returns.
Before spraining his right ring finger against the Detroit Pistons last season, Collins was shooting 38% from deep. He shot 36.8% after returning including 36.4% during the Hawks’ lone playoff series against the Miami Heat.
Even that drop was not as significant as Collins has experienced this season and, just 11 games into this experiment, the Hawks can only wait and see if Collins turns into their version of Wiggins.