Hawks’ John Collins diversifying his game

As John Collins’ passing skills grow, Clint Capela often reaps the reward — so he tries to get Collins back when he can.

“I feel like he got so much better at seeing the court and making good passes,” Capela said. “... I love it. I think I got one in Washington on the fast break. When I can, I do the same, too. I just love it because it’s a connection that we need to have, and it’s really important for the long-term, to flow, our connection together. And that’s something that we’re going to create on the defensive side, as well.”

Trae Young is still the guy setting up the majority of finishes for Capela and Collins, but 18 games into the Hawks’ season (9-9), it’s clear Collins’ passing and ball-handling have taken a step forward. The clearest example might be the big-to-big connection Collins has with Capela, throwing lobs or passes for Capela to grab at the rim, but overall he’s taken another step toward his overarching goal of being a versatile player who never stops diversifying his game.

He’s averaging a career-high 2.3 assists per game (up from 1.2 last season), and what’s more, he’s at a career-low 1.1 turnovers per game. Collins ranks No. 11 in field-goal percentage (57.5%) in the NBA, and is second only to LaMarcus Aldridge among forwards.

His scoring is slightly lower than it was last season (16.7 points per game as opposed to 17.6), with 8.1 rebounds per game up from 7.4 last season, though he’s No. 5 in FiveThirtyEight’s Raptor WAR (2.7), with Raptor measuring the number of points a player contributes on offense and defense per 100 possessions, compared with a league-average player. In the Hawks’ win vs. the Thunder on Monday, Collins had 11 points, six rebounds, five assists, a steal and a career-high tying five blocks, his first career game of 10-plus points, five-plus rebounds, five-plus assists and four-plus blocks.

“It’s always important for me,” Collins said of developing his game. “So I can continue to diversify my game, make it more difficult for me (to be guarded), personally, team-wise, and just being able to create in different ways with the ball, being able to assist, dribble-driving, getting to a pull-up, my floater, finding CC, just all evolutions of the game I need to continue to grow on, and it’s something I’ve been working on all summer, every day in here. Happy it’s working and want to do more things to expand my game and show what I can do.”

Collins spent the offseason working with the basketball and watching film, paying particular attention to how defenses play and which play is there naturally. That has started to translate to the court, which helps both him and the Hawks.

“It’s amazing,” Collins said. “For me, having all options open and available to score and attack, it makes us that much more difficult (to stop). If you have a guy like myself who can score in all areas and create for others, play with energy like I feel like I do, I feel like that’s always going to help everybody else’s game, as well as the same reciprocal, you know what I mean? It’s all about just doing what needs to be done to win, and I feel like that’s just me.

Collins doesn’t get a lot of plays called for him, Hawks coach Nate McMillan has said, mostly because he scores in the flow of the game. The Hawks also have a deep roster, having to balance many players jockeying to score.

But McMillan has liked what he has seen from Collins so far this season.

“I think he’s just really playing in the flow of the game, and we all are trying to build that chemistry, playing together again,” McMillan said. “It’s a different unit than he finished with last season. So all these guys, it’s early in the season, they’re trying to find a rhythm and build that chemistry out on the floor, and I think John is doing the things we want him to do. He’s been able to get out in transition, defend and rebound.

“We’re not a team that posts up a lot. But I felt that in games where teams have been switching, we’ve been able to get the ball down there and he’s shown some patience.”

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