Just a week ago new GM Travis Schlenk stated his draft philosophy is taking the most talented player available rather than addressing a positional need. But a lot has changed now with Dwight Howard’s departure and free agent Paul Millsap’s possible exit hanging in the balance — the Hawks decided it would be in their best interest to select Wake Forest’s John Collins Thursday night. A pleasant surprise for the Hawks front office as they were not able to host Collins for a work out due to his lottery projections.
“We thought he would go a little bit higher for sure,” said Schlenk. “The whole process with the agents sending guys where they think is the best slot for their guys to go in the short period of time they have. His agent sent him to places higher than us. But, he’s a kid we scouted a lot during the pro-day out in LA. I saw him play three times this year, probably four or five times last year. We are comfortable with him.”
Atlanta saw Collins’ multifaceted approach of impacting the game and felt he would add value to a frontline they are presently restructuring. Despite finishing a solid ninth as a team in rebounding this past season, that wasn’t the case in Budenholzer’s first three seasons; they finished no better than 24th, with rebounding often being pointed out as the team’s biggest weakness.
With Howard gone, Collins may be able to help the Hawks from falling back down so quickly. On average, Collins snagged down nearly 10 rebounds a game last year for Wake Forest. Collins could be able to contribute on offense as well, as he averaged 19 points per game last season, mostly due to his knack for finishing around the basket. Despite having Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap, Atlanta finished just 19th in points in the paint during the 2016-17 season.
“First off, his athleticism and ability to run the floor,” said Schlenk. “He’s a great rebounder, which obviously we know we’ve struggled a little bit in the past here. He can also score in the post, so that gives us another option inside.”
“I think its great,” said Collins on his style of play in Coach Budenholzer’s system. “My ability to be as versatile as possible, but just as a flat liner, I think my game can fit with any coaching style. I think the way I play the game is flexible enough to mesh with any coaching style. Me and coach will obviously have to talk about what my role will be coming in as a young guy. I am definitely confident in our ability to build a relationship on and off the court.”
Collins, just 19, brings an abundance of talents to Atlanta and a ton of potential — to reach that ceiling he will need to expand his range.
“The first thing we are going to work on him with is his jump shot,” said, Schlenk. “As you guys watched him in college all his scoring came in the post. He’s got a good post game, we just need to extend his range out especially the way we play and the way the league is going.”
Stretching his game coincides with an Atlanta team looking to space the floor in order to create more room for Dennis Schroder to operate. Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry were drafted last year with the intent on reinvigorating more athletic playmakers along the wing. Collins’ selection continues that theme, but he understands what he first needs to improve on offensively and overall to help this team.
“I’m definitely looking to expand outwards away from the basket,” said Collins. “I think I have proven to a lot of people that I’m a proven scorer in and around the basket. But I want to be able to be as versatile as possible, shooting 3s, guarding multiple positions, make plays.”
Collins repeated what appears to be a growing theme under Coach Budenholzer.
“Be as versatile as possible.”
Collins continues not just the recent theme for Atlanta’s needs on the court, but also adds on to a list of former Demon Deacons that have worn a Hawks jersey. Jeff Teague was drafted by the Hawks in 2009 and his former coach Danny Manning averaged 15 points and six rebounds for a Lenny Wilkens’ coached squad in the 1993-94 season. However, the most recognizable Deacon outside of Tim Duncan has taken on a mentor role for Collins.
“CP [Chris Paul] has helped me out a lot along the way,” Collins said. “I had the opportunity to train with him in Los Angeles. He’s helped me and guided me every step of the way. He tells me to grip everything, know what’s in front of you, know what’s going on with your career because it’s your career. You got to have fun, that’s the biggest thing. You see a lot of guys get caught up in the lifestyle, trying to have fun, but obviously, try and continue to improve on your game.”
The Hawks are amidst a roster change with big decisions on the horizon. Collins’s selection might have come as a shock given the pre-Draft prognosis, but nevertheless a step in the right direction.