Hawks rookie John Collins looks NBA-ready in debut

The Mavericks couldn't keep John Collins away from the rim. (Smiley N. Pool/Dallas Morning News/TNS)
The Mavericks couldn't keep John Collins away from the rim. (Smiley N. Pool/Dallas Morning News/TNS)

Credit: Michael Cunningham

Credit: Michael Cunningham

DALLAS -- Hawks forward John Collins was talking to reporters about his strong NBA debut when veteran teammate Ersan Ilyasova leaned in from the next locker with a teasing reminder for the rook.'

“We’ve got 81 more games!” Ilyasova said.

That’s true, of course. Collins gave the Mavericks fits at both ends last night, but there’s a long way to go. No doubt his performance got the attention of Friday's foe, the Hornets. They are going to have to account for the rookie.

But Collins appeared NBA-ready in his debut: 22 minutes, 14 points (10 shots), five rebounds (three offensive), two steals. The Mavericks couldn’t keep Collins away from the basket. He was too quick, too springy and too active for them.

It wasn't shocking because Collins did the same thing at Wake Forest. He was the among the more efficient offensive players in the nation as a sophomore while doing nearly all of his work around the basket. But it's another thing to do it against bigger and stronger bigs in the NBA, many of whom can match his athletic ability.

Again, it was just one game, but Collins showed that, yes, he can. He's working on his jump shot but he can be a problem for opponents in the paint.

“That is what I do,” Collins said. “That’s something I try to pride myself on doing is being an athlete, being around the basket, trying to get extra possessions, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, put-backs, dunks. That’s what got me here so can’t lose that.”

Like with most rookies, there's a lot of attention on what kind of player Collins can become. In his case, that means developing a consistent jump shot. As I wrote in the preseason:

"It’s not realistic to expect Collins to dominate around the basket in the NBA like he did in college. Developing offensive range will allow him to be a stretch four/small-ball five, which is a valuable role in today’s league. If Collins can’t do that, then his offensive value is limited as a “tweener” big with average length."

That may turn out to be true in the long run. In the meantime, the Hawks have a prospect who can help them now with his rebounding, defense and offensive activity around the basket.

Even if coach Mike Budenholzer weren’t liberally using his bench, Collins likely would be a major part of this rotation because he’s the kind of high-energy player the coach likes.

“He’s had a great summer since the day he stepped into our gym after the draft,” Budenholzer said. “He’s been all about working and getting better. He’s got a great desire to improve and get better each day and he’s done that through the summer and the preseason.

“I thought it was a good first step. There’s things he’s going to have to work on and improve. But I just love his effort, and just his enthusiasm for getting better every day.”

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