Who Is Atlanta's "MIG", and What Does It Mean?

Streeter Lecka/NBAE/Getty Images

Story by KL Chouinard
Twitter: @KLChouinard

As the Hawks retool their franchise with young talent, 20-year-old rising star John Collins certainly figures to a be an important piece. He has also been what the Hawks would call a 'Most Important Guy'.

The Hawks use the term, often abbreviated to MIG, to refer to a key component of their help defense.  

"The ‘Most Important Guy’ basically just talks to the backside defense," forward Taurean Prince said of the MIG, whose job it is to rotate over and hinder a shot attempt at the rim. "Most likely it's going to be the lower guy guarding the opposite corner or opposite block." 

Head coach Mike Budenholzer said that he borrowed the term from an area outside the realm of sports.

"The MIG is a military term, even though I don't have any military background," Budenholzer said. "On a lot of teams that bottom guy, that weakside defender, is critical if something happens and you're broken down off the dribble or you're beat. That person has got to be there."

In recent weeks, Collins has thrived in the role. Take, for instance, this play from a Feb. 13 game vs. Milwaukee.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jason Terry execute a dribble handoff that frees Terry to drive on the right side. When the defense shifts to deny Terry, it opens a cutting lane for Jabari Parker from the same side. Parker gets the ball with a head of steam and a clear path to the rim, but Collins fulfills his MIG duties to perfection.

The numbers bear out Collins' recent acclimation to the role. 

In games played prior to Jan. 15, opponents converted 59.7 of their field goal attempts when Collins was defending the rim. The Hawks allowed 107.4 points per 100 possessions with Collins on the court.

In 17 games since Jan. 15, opponents have converted 49.2 percent of their shots over Collins at the rim, and the Hawks have allowed just 103.0 points per 100 possessions with Collins on the floor, the best mark among the 10 rotation players averaging 15 or more minutes per game.

While the MIG is most often the player closest to the baseline, it can vary depending on the situation. Communication is the key.

On this play, Dennis Schröder has the task of guarding Evan Fournier, Orlando's most dangerous outside scorer. Collins assumes the role of MIG, a good choice given his ability to protect the rim, even though he approaches the role from a more challenging angle.

Collins said that he is beginning to feel more comfortable against the premier bigs of the NBA.

"It has been a journey," he said. "I figured out that I'm not as far behind as I thought I was. These guys are obviously at a really elite level, but for me, it's just all about going out there and just playing basketball and being myself."

In recent weeks, Collins has improved at jumping straight up in the air to contest shots without fouling. Even if he doesn't block the shot, he has an excellent chance of altering it.

"(Collins can) alter shots and create rim protection for us with the way that the game has been called the last 4 or 5 years with verticality," Budenholzer said.

Of course, Collins isn't doing it alone. Sometimes the MIG needs his teammates to help him in his role as the help defender, as Prince explained.

"If they kick it to the back side of (the MIG's defensive assignment), then the next man rotates," Prince said. 

Prince performed that role on this play, sealing off the potential passing angle to Utah's Rudy Gobert after Collins slid over to contest the shot.  

Without an option for a dump off pass, Alec Burks of the Jazz has limited options, yet putting up a shot over Collins may have been the worst of them. 

(Side note: the two previous plays came in a win over Utah. Collins entered in the second half and spurred a 32-13 run to clinch the game. The Jazz have won 11 consecutive games since that night.)

Optimal basketball defense will always require a seamless integration of five hustling players who help each other and rotate to patch problems as they arise. The young Hawks have slowly begun to figure out how to make it all work. With his strong defensive play over the past month, Collins has demonstrated the promise to be the player who is the centerpiece: a very important ‘Most Important Guy’.