Atlanta Hawks

Hawks laying the foundation to fly high on the wings of their young duo

The key to a successful rebuild is to acquire promising young players who can grow together. The Philadelphia 76ers, for example, have Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. The Portland Trail Blazers have Damian Lillard with CJ McCollum. Even non-playoff teams like the Phoenix Suns have Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. No matter the progress, you have to start somewhere.

For the Atlanta Hawks, a team coming off of a season in which they won only 24 games, their one-two punch of the future features a 19-year-old point guard in Trae Young and an above-the-rim big in John Collins. While they're both still in the infancy of their development, Young and Collins give the Hawks a talented core the franchise hopes to one day build a contender around.

The 19th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Collins was the first of the two to be selected by the Hawks. Early returns indicate that selection was too low for the two-way forward, who is coming off of a rookie season in which he averaged 10.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. Collins ranked third among rookies in Win Shares behind only Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum. Despite playing over 800 fewer minutes, Collins finished one spot above Donovan Mitchell, universally praised in hindsight as the player who would go significantly higher in any re-draft today. The rookie production wasn't simply empty offensive window dressing either as Collins finished third among rookies in defensive box plus minus.

Collins excelled defensively in the broader context of the entire league, too. Opponents shot only 56.9 percent in the restricted area when the Florida native stood between them and the basket last season, putting him in the same territory as more heralded rim protectors such as Clint Capela, Myles Turner and Dwight Howard.

Collins even proved to be a solid rebounder in his rookie season, finishing 25th in total rebound percentage, 33rd in defensive rebound percentage and 19th in offensive rebound percentage among the 259 players that qualified for the leaderboard in minutes per game. A capable rim protector who is a rebounding threat on both ends of the floor, the combination helped Collins impact the game in ways few other rookies did last season.

Offensively, Collins proved capable of high-level contributions in a variety of roles and was an impact player off the ball, not always easy for a rookie. The 20-year-old scored over half of his points in pick-and-rolls, on cuts and on putbacks, ranking above league average in each category.

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Sure Not Now
Play Type Frequency Points Per Possession Percentile
PnR Roll Man 22.5% 1.13 62.3
Cut 23.5% 1.30 59.1
Putback 15.0% 1.17 62.5

Given Collins' efficiency, it makes sense that he shot an otherworldly 73.2 percent on shots within 3-feet of the basket last season. Additionally, the Wake Forest product shot 66.3 percent on 6.9 paint touches per game, one of the better marks among players with a high volume of paint touches.

The majority of those paint touches ended in high-flying dunks, with Collins establishing himself as an alley-oop target in pick-and-rolls.

Collins isn't much of a threat to score outside of the paint, but he knows when to cut versus a distracted defence before finishing plays by out-leaping defenders. He shows his quickness and leaping prowess here, by slithering past one of the best defensive rebounders in the NBA for a putback dunk:

Collins is already showing pick-and-roll tricks beyond his years. On the following handoff with Dennis Schröder, he sees the point guard's defender take a wide angle around the pick and feels his own defender hedging wide. Collins then slips the screen for a deep post catch before finishing over a rotated defender.

Collins' advanced skills in these areas will make for a smooth fit with Young, whom the Hawks acquired with the No. 5 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. A phenomenal passer, it won't likely take Young long to develop chemistry with Collins.

Young excelled as a pick-and-roll passer at Oklahoma, and showed the ability to find the roll man in traffic and make accurate passes when trapped. He has some Steve Nash in his game in that regard, as he displayed time and time again in college by keeping his dribble alive on drives to the basket.

Young already possess the ability to make advanced passes to the roller after drawing two defenders. His court vision is good enough to consistently find cutters within the gaps of a rotating defence.

As skilled of a passer as he is, Young is known more for his shooting ability with some reason to believe that could translate even better at the next level. The 6-foot guard shot only 36 percent from 3-point range on 327 attempts at Oklahoma, but almost a third of his attempts from distance were from NBA range. He converted 26.0 percent of those opportunities, many of which were contested.

If you eliminate those 102 attempts from 30-feet and beyond, Young shot 40.8 percent from the perimeter. The fact that he shot 86 percent from the free throw line is another encouraging statistic, as it means the issue is more likely his shot selection than his actual shooting ability. The same goes for Young's usage rate (37 percent), because always having the green light led to him taking some questionable shots.

This bad habit reared its head during Summer League.

Any NBA coach worth his salt should be able to rein Young in, though his range is real. If he can become the off-the-dribble shooter that he has the potential to be, it would give the Hawks a terrific passing point guard with deep 3-point range and a vertical spacing big. When taking into account Collins' rim protection and rebounding, these two have the ability to resemble a much younger pairing of Chris Paul and Clint Capela.

If Atlanta surrounds them with credible shooters, they will have plenty of floor spacing to operate in the pick-and-roll. And if they surround Collins and Young with switchable 3-and-D wings - similar to the 2017-18 Rockets - the team has a pathway to contention centred around these two building blocks.

The Hawks are years away from that dream becoming a reality, but they at least have the foundation they need to build something special in Collins and Young.

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