Future of the Hawks 2.0: John Collins and projecting Atlanta's supporting cast.
If you’re general manager Travis Schlenk, what would you do with Collins? After evaluating him, would you feel at ease if you gave him significant money?
Vecenie: I’d feel pretty good about giving Collins a lot of money for four years. I don’t know if it’ll be exactly a max deal or something slightly less than that. But Collins should be in the nine-figure range with this contract. Again, as I said in my previous story on the Hawks, “Collins is 22 and he’s coming off of a season in which he averaged 21.6 points and 10.1 rebounds on an obscene 65.9 true-shooting percentage. Similar to Young, his productivity has been genuinely special for his age. The list of players to have done what Collins did this year isn’t exactly long. It’s Collins and Charles Barkley. Heck, even reduce that down to 21 points and 10 rebounds on a 60 true-shooting percentage and you get Barkley and Collins with Kareem, Shaq, Karl-Anthony Towns, Moses Malone, Anthony Davis, Giannis, Dwight Howard, David Robinson, Karl Malone, Artis Gilmore and Wilt Chamberlain. That’s pretty outrageous for someone this young.”
It’s hard to come up with comparables for Collins because he has been so productive. Domantas Sabonis made the All-Star Game this year as an offense-first big man. He got four years, $77 million, but he wasn’t as productive as Collins has been entering his extension window. And, honestly, I think Sabonis took a bit of a discount. Aaron Gordon is more combo forward than big, but he got four years, $76 million on a lesser cap number. Again, his track record of production wasn’t quite as strong. Andre Drummond got a five-year max back in 2016 as an offense-first big man. DeMarcus Cousins signed a four-year max extension back in 2013 with Sacramento.
I think Collins is likely looking at the max or slightly less than the max when he signs this next deal. He has every right to at least ask for the max and it not be ridiculous, in my opinion. Now, I don’t know that the Hawks will agree to lock him in at that number, and maybe the discount to lock in life-changing money for him and his family is something like four years for somewhere in the range of $105 to $110 million as opposed to four years, $129 million. That represents a nice solid discount for Atlanta on a yearly basis, while also letting Collins hit free agency again at 27 years old for another big payday.
After watching the film, did you come away more impressed with Collins’ ability, or did you feel like he’s just a lucky dude who benefits from having Young as his point guard?
Vecenie: No, I think Collins is really, ridiculously good. I don’t think I was surprised or more impressed or anything, but he has gotten a lot better in the NBA. Really, he’s gotten a lot better in each of his last six years of development even going back through his last year of high school. He’s just a late bloomer in a real way. Collins is going to make the All-Star Game at some point, and it might be as soon as next year.
And it won’t only be because of Young. It’s a symbiotic relationship between Young and Collins in that they help each other. Young’s pinpoint passing and ability to warp a defense with his ballhandling help Collins, but Collins’ ability to rim run forces a ton of defensive attention away from Young because if you don’t tag Collins on the backside, it’s a dunk. Then, his ability to space the floor and pop out beyond the break from the 3-point arc and knock down shots also really helps Young a lot.
Collins continues to add little things to his game. As you said, the slip actions to cause mismatches with his speed posed a ton of problems for defenses. His ballhandling is legit very good now in a straight line and he can attack defenses off the bounce when they come too heavy on a closeout off of a pick-and-pop. He’s genuinely among the most versatile options off of rolls in the NBA. That’s a skill; that’s not a creation of Young.
And I’ll also just note: I was an enormous fan of the defensive effort he showed this year. It wasn’t just offense anymore. I wouldn’t quite call Collins an average defender yet, but he’s well on his way to that. His lateral agility got much better, and he actually has a chance now to deal with fours.