John Collins: Embraces His Place In Atlanta

Kevin C. Cox/NBAE/Getty Images

Author: Kevin L. Chouinard (@KLChouinard)

On the night when Atlanta United won the MLS Cup just steps from State Farm Arena, it was fitting that former longtime schoolboy goalie John Collins took over an NBA game with his keeper's hands.

Those flawless hands helped Collins notch 30 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists (against just 1 turnover) in the Hawks' 106-98 win over the Denver Nuggets. In fact, the only real mistake for them came at the end of the game as Collins high-fived fans on his way through the tunnel and accidentally tapped a game-night attendant in the face.

"I'm going to take care of him," Collins said of his unwitting victim. "That's my little bro. That was a crazy day."

For Collins, the effort capped an incredible two weeks of basketball. He missed the first 15 games of the season with a left ankle injury, and then played two games off the bench as he worked his way back to full basketball strength. In the nine games that he has started since, Collins has set a career-high in scoring four times, including each of his last three games:

  • · Nov. 25: 23 points vs. Charlotte
  • · Dec. 3: 24 points vs. Golden State
  • · Dec. 5: 26 points vs. Washington
  • · Dec. 8: 30 points vs. Denver

Collins said that the streak of career efforts isn't going to make him follow any new superstitions.

"I used to be very superstitious," Collins said with a laugh, "and then I got too much into that. I just try to stay away from all the superstitions that I can and try to get as calm as I can before the game. That's my new superstition: just to get as calm as I can."

Head coach Lloyd Pierce joked about taking the progression of point totals quite linearly.

"I think it's very (sustainable)," Pierce quipped. "I told him 50 should be about mid-January."

What makes Collins' recent play even more impressive, according to Pierce, is that Collins is getting those points completely within the flow of the game.

"I literally have not called a single play for him," Pierce said. 

Collins gets the majority of his points on rim rolls, offensive rebounds and generally being a release valve near the rim for his teammates. 

"It's a weird thing to say," Pierce said. "We'll run our dribble stuff for Baze (Kent Bazemore). We'll run stack stuff for Kev (Kevin Huerter). I don't have anything for John. He makes our offense work. It's not really for him, but if the defense messes up, he's the easiest guy to find because he's at the rim. The action really isn't for him, but he makes it work."

As a big guy, Collins relies on his teammates hitting him with passes, even if those passes come in an entirely natural way within the flow of the offense. On his career night against Denver. Collins scored 12 field goals and all 12 were assisted: 5 from Kent Bazemore (who himself tied a career high with 8 total assists), 3 from Trae Young, 2 from DeAndre' Bembry and 1 each from Kevin Huerter and Dewayne Dedmon. Collins does his part (and then some) by being a great pass catcher.

"I've always taken pride in trying to catch the ball," Collins said. "I felt like that was an important thing for guards to trust the big fella when they give them the ball – that you can catch and finish. I think that's real big for the trust between you and your guards."

Pierce said that Collins' pass-catching ability goes beyond his hands, too.

"It's hard to throw a bounce pass to any big, because a lot of times they're looking high," Pierce said. "The difference with John is that area where you can throw it is a lot wider and a lot higher. You can make a mistake and he can still go get it. There's a comfort with the passer now that you can kind of put it anywhere."

The thing that separated the Denver game from previous ones is that Collins made 3 of his 6 three-point attempts. Pierce noted that when Collins gets to a point where he consistently hits threes, defenses are going to have to make some difficult choices.

"The education for him is that if he starts knocking some of those down, he's going to get a little bit of everything," Pierce said. "They're going to have to tag his rolls, they're going to have to close out to his threes, and now he can be John Collins, which (will open up) a lot of new toys for him."

If that happens, the Hawks will taste a lot more team success in the future, much as the United did on Collins' career night Saturday.

"They were right next door as we're playing, so it was super cool for both of us to get a win," Collins said before dropping into to a self-deprecating whisper. 

"I know their win is a little bit bigger than ours, but big shouts out to them."