john collins

John Collins Improves Passing Game Since Last Season

by KL Chouinard @KLChouinard

Since he came into the NBA, John Collins has added a lot to his game. After two seasons at Wake Forest, the Hawks drafted him feeling reasonably sure that he would be an above-average roll man and a finisher with good touch around the rim. 

He exceeded expectations on both counts – but wait, there's more.

After attempting one three-pointer from the shorter NCAA line, Collins transformed himself into an accurate three-point shooter: Collins made exactly 40 percent of his threes over the past two full seasons. He has also improved as a defender in just about every way from rim protection in the paint to switching out on the perimeter. 

It's getting to the point when January rolls around, one of the best arguments to be made for why Collins should make his first All-Star Game is that he just doesn't have many holes left in his game. We've already devoted space to the versatility of his game, so let's get to the point about one more thing that he has taken off his to-do list.

Collins is starting to figure out the big-to-big passing thing. 

One of the things that sometimes happens when NBA teams play two traditional big men together is that the offense gets a bit clunky. Some of that is spacing, and we've already noted how Collins has done well to alleviate that issue by becoming a terrific shooter. But some of it is passing, too.  NBA defenses are cagey, and if the ball doesn't move, they will figure out how to get to a spot where they can defend it.

Coming into the season, Collins had averaged 1.5 assists per game. This season, he has nearly doubled that mark with 2.8 assists per game. In a win over the Wizards Monday, he tied a career high with 6 assists.

"It's awesome," teammate Trae Young said. "He makes plays. He's getting better. He's learning just how to make reads. He is able to catch lobs and he has a great IQ for the game, but he's definitely grown in the area of making reads."

Collins isn't ready to ease up as a passer just yet.

"I'm the type of guy that is going to use the well until it dries."

The passing is especially notable with respect to teammate Clint Capela. Last season, their first together, Collins assisted Capela 20 times in 55 games. This season, Collins has already assisted Capela 11 times in just nine games. Also of note, Capela has made those 11 shots on just 12 attempts on passes that he received from Collins. In other words, Collins is setting Capela up for some fantastic looks

"I've been working on big-to-big passes, I feel like, my whole life, so it's almost instinctual," Collins said of his passes to Capela. "I try to play the right way and just make the right plays when they're there. If their big steps up and I have a tougher shot, I know I have a big fella right down low who can finish the job."

As the Hawks try to find their footing in a new season, Head Coach Nate McMillan has preached about cohesion and connectedness. 

"John just plays. He finds a way to get involved in the game," McMillan said after Monday's game. "We don't run a lot of plays for him other than the pick-and-roll, and then he has to make reads whether to roll, pop or get into the two-man game. He just plays. He shows up. He's ready to go, and he plays. Tonight, we wanted to involve him in a two-man game where he was initiating the offense at the elbow. I just love him. He comes in with a smile and just plays for 48 minutes."

Collins' improved passing is one extra step in a direction that John was already headed: keeping his team connected.

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