Eight Things We Learned About Collins' Sophomore Season

Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images
Story by KL Chouinard
Twitter: @KLChouinard
  
1) John dunked and dunked and dunked.
In 61 games played, Collins finished the season tenth in the NBA with 157 dunks. He is, without question, a breathtaking dunker.
 


2) John had an ultra-rare season.
For the season, Collins averaged 19.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while shooting 56.0 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from the field.In the history of the NBA, only two players have averaged 19+ points per game and 9+ rebounds per game for a season while shooting 55 percent or better from the field and making a total of 50 or more threes: Collins and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Both players achieved the feat this season. Antetokounmpo is the favorite to win the Most Valuable Player Award, and Collins is as worthy a candidate as any for the league's Most Improved Player Award.
  
3) The Hawks played significantly better with John in the lineup.
The Hawks struggled in October and November, and the absence of Collins loomed large in those difficulties. Once Collins returned, the Hawks played a level of basketball that exceeded the expectations that most experts laid out for them before the season began.
For the season, the Hawks posted a record of 24-35 with Collins as the starting power forward; they were 5-18 in games that he either missed or came off the bench. 
All season long, Collins stood out as the team's best rim-runner and rebounder, and one can very easily make the case that Collins was the team's most unique and irreplaceable player. With him in the lineup, the whole nature of the offense changed; opponents committed more defensive attention to the paint. As a result, the Hawks generated better looks at the basket. 
With Collins on the floor, the Hawks posted a net rating of -1.4 points per 100 possessions. Without him, that number dropped to -8.2 points per 100 possessions. Collins had as big an impact on success as any Hawk for the 2018-19 season.

 

4) John was one of nine players to average 19 or more points and 9 or more rebounds.

 

5) John was the Hawks' best rebounder for 2018-19. 

Grabbing 9.8 rebounds per game is obviously a great feat. It should also be said that nothing about those rebounds was hollow in any way. When the Hawks had Collins on the floor, they grabbed 51.8 percent of all available rebounds compared to 47.8 percent when he was off the floor. That margin is the gap between being a top-5 rebounding team and a bottom-5 rebounding team. Collins made and should continue to make a massive difference on the glass.
 
6) John, in his own words, on what he wants to work on this summer:
"Defensively, I feel like I can get a lot better. Being more aware, I think that's going to come with experience, just being out there and playing. Going through another summer, getting stronger, getting quicker is also going to help. A lot of it is effort, as well. I have no problem putting that in. Offensively, low post scoring, trying to abuse mismatches is something that I'm really trying to get better at again. Still shooting the ball. Trying to create, maybe get to the rim a little more, just trying to create anything. I feel like I've benefited from Trae being such a great creator or whoever creating for me, so I feel like the next step is creating for myself and creating for others as well."
 
7) John made big strides on the defensive side of the ball over the course of the season

Collins found his niche as a shot blocker late in the season. In his first 47 games of the season, Collins blocked a total of 18 shots. In the last 14 games of the season, he blocked 21 shots. He attributed some of the uptick to improved health and strength in his legs.
To put it another way: After March 8, 53 NBA players defended 4 or more shots at the rim while playing 10 or more games. (These players are typically your starting-caliber bigs.) Of those 53 players, only Joel Embiid had a lower defensive field-goal percentage allowed at the rim. In that last month of the season, opponents only made 46.1 percent of their shots at the rim when Collins was defending. 
With a quick second jump and an good feel for the game, Collins seems like a sure bet to take that defensive prowess into the 2019-20 season.
 
8) Collins finishes shots at the rim at an elite rate
As noted earlier, Collins shot 56.0 percent from the field while taking a sizable volume of shots from three. That sort of thing doesn't happen unless the player in question converts his shots from in-close at an extraordinary rate. Collins does.
Part of the efficiency is the dunks. Part of it is his quick second and third jumps and the tip-ins that he gets on offensive rebounds. But another part of it goes beyond that. Collins has an unorthodox caginess around the rim that helps him excel despite having a 6-foot-11 inch wingspan (which, of course, is enormous by person-on-the-street standards, but modest by the comparable wingspans of people standing near NBA baskets). He makes space by bumping defenders with his left shoulder. He can shoot baby hook shots and floaters from different arm angles. When someone gets in his way, Collins has a knack for double-clutch shots. All-in-all, Collins has a heavy toolbox of moves from which to pick.
He put it to good use in the 2018-19 season, too. Here is the list of players who took 7 or more shots per game in the restricted area while converting over 67 percent of such shots:

The fact that John Collins earned a spot in the group at age 21 tells you everything you need to know about where his career is headed. 

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