Anyone who hasn’t been watching the Atlanta Hawks this season took notice of their sophomore power forward Friday night during the NBA Rising Stars Challenge when John Collins announced himself with a fast-break, self-assisted, one-handed alley-oop slam.
It was merely a preview.
Collins will compete tonight in the NBA Dunk Contest. Dominique Wilkins—Hawks legend, Hall of Famer, my first bad basketball crush and two-time dunk contest champion—told Chris Kirschner of The Athletic that Collins reminds him a little of himself because of how quick he is off his feet. Wilkins also advised Collins to “set the tone” at the Dunk Contest.
After last night, maybe he already has.
No matter who the new Dunk champ becomes, don’t stop watching John Collins this season. He’s a lot more than dunks. (But there are a lot of dunks.)
The 6’10, 235-pound Collins is already threatening to be a 20-10 man: This season he’s averaging 19.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and has logged a double-double more often than he hasn’t. Plus, he’s achieving this in a way that satisfies both the old-school dunk-lovers and the new-school analytics students.
He essentially ignores the very idea of a mid-range shot, unless it’s necessary to sink a well-contested mid-range turnaround fadeaway game-winner that takes down the Philadelphia 76ers 123-121 Jan. 11. Which he did.
He does almost all of his work right at the rim, putting the power in power forward, topping it off with a sprinkling of smooth, high-arcing, gracefully goose-necked three-balls. (He’s 35.9% from behind the arc).
That combo results in a true scoring percentage of 63.2% and that’s…good .
He rips down more rebounds than any sophomore and is the league’s 18th overall. Even when he’s not in great position to grab the board (and he usually is), he beats competitors out using good-as-advertised athleticism. For example, a soaring one-armed rebound over the futilely outstretched hands of Richaun Holmes was one of a few exciting highlights during his 35-point game versus the Phoenix Suns. (He followed that up with a sneaky over-the-shoulder assist to a cutting Dewayne Dedmon.)
As a slender sophomore, Collins has more than handled his business against some of the league’s strongest paint defenses: 18 vs. Myles Turner’s Indiana Pacers; 19 vs. Rudy Gobert’s Utah Jazz; 21 vs. Jusuf Nurkic’s Portland Trail Blazers.
The Hawks put up plenty of lobs, which is helpful to a high-flyer like Collins. However, he’s also building his ability to create for himself, attacking and getting through traffic with power, footwork and handles. Above you can watch him confuse the Suns’ Josh Jackson with a spin move, then slip right past DeAndre Ayton before throwing it down.
He’s also creative. When Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jerami Grant prevented him from catching a lob at the height he would have needed to throw down a dunk, Collins tipped it in for an alley-oop lay-up instead.
And then the dunks… all the many one-handed dunks.
So enjoy Collins’ antics tonight, but remember, the Hawks are building something worth watching nightly in Atlanta. And Collins is not just a sideshow attraction to the Trae Young Experience (which is gonna be GOOD too). He’s a foundational piece of a team that is cooking great chemistry with Collins, Trae Young, DeAndre’ Bembry and other youngsters.
Whether or not he grows up to earn a nickname as good as Human Highlight Film, Collins and the Hawks are worth watching.
Sara Peters is a 17-year journalist who covers cybersecurity by day, basketball by night. She spent the past four seasons enduring a relentless barrage of losses as a featured New York Knicks columnist for Bleacher Report. She loves driving point guards, passing centers, scrambles for loose balls, buzzer-beating blocks, Allen Iverson, and tearful memories of Drazen Petrovic. Sara lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter @3FromThe7.