John Collins reacts with Trae Young after dunking against Marcin Gortat of the LA Clippers at State Farm Arena on Nov. 19, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Collins, Young building chemistry of Hawks’ foundation

When Trae Young had his pre-draft workout with the Hawks last summer there was one very interested observer in addition to the team’s front office and coaching staff.

John Collins was there.

The forward had just completed his rookie season and wanted to see for himself what the team might be getting in the young point guard.

After being drafted, Young played for the Hawks in summer leagues in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Collins was again there to play alongside the youngster even after a solid first season of his own. There was seemingly little to gain for Collins from the exhibitions. However, Collins wanted an early start to build chemistry with Young.

The duo has embarked on a journey to be cornerstones of the Hawks organization as it rebuilds. With 14 games remaining in their first regular season together, the rapport between the players, on and off the court, is undeniable.

“I feel like this is just getting over the first hump,” Collins said. “Just being around him on a day-to-day basis, that’s what a lot of this first year has been about for us. Next year, when we come back and are truly and honestly comfortable with one another it will help leaps and bounds. We won’t be thinking about chemistry. It will be another level next year.”

The Hawks are 23-45 but have been in most games all season. They are coming off a 114-112 loss to the Nets on Saturday and a 128-116 win over the Pelicans on Sunday, both at home. In the loss, Young became the first Hawks rookie to record a triple-double with 23 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds and Collins had 33 points and 20 rebounds. In the win, Young had 10 points and 10 assists and Collins had 23 points and 10 rebounds with rookie Kevin Huerter scoring 27 points.

The Hawks are 4-6 in the 10 games since the all-star break with Sunday’s win snapping a three-game losing streak. The six losses have come by a total of 28 points (4.7 points per game).

All season long, Young and Collins have combined on one highlight-worthy play after another. Collins has dunked on lob and pocket passes from Young. Young has made 3-pointers well beyond the arc on screens from Collins.

Young has 532 assists this season with 118 of them, 22 percent, coming on baskets by Collins. Young is eighth in the NBA with 7.8 assists per game. According to NBA statistics, 18.4 of Young’s passes are to Collins and 51.9 percent of Collins’ passes are to Young.

In the pick-and-roll world of the NBA, it’s one thing to run the play. It’s another to be successful. Collins and Young are proving a worthy duo. Both said their abilities create opportunities for the other.

“It’s hard to stop it,” Young said. “People try to stop it and it’ll work and we may not get a dunk every time. But that’s when I find corner 3’s. That’s when I find other shooters on the court. That has to open things up. You have to give up something. You are either going to give John a dunk at the rim or you are going to give Kevin Huerter a 3. Which one are you going to pick?”

Collins athleticism helps – Young and others. Look no further than the tomahawk dunk he had against the Pelicans on a lob pass from Huerter near the 3-point line.

Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce recently noted that Collins has a 70 percent field goal percentage on assisted baskets and a 50 percent field goal on unassisted baskets. He has a 68.7 effective field goal percentage on assists from Young.

“We have a perfect guy to pair with (Collins) if he needs someone to get him going,” Pierce said. “We have the right guy. We’ve seen highlights. We’ve seen simple plays. We’ve seen Trae benefit. We’ve seen shooters benefit because of what John brings. But we’ve also seen John benefit because of his ability to play in pick-and-rolls, specifically with Trae, so that chemistry is there. 

“In a weird way, they are doing it just freely. It’s not, ‘Hey if you do this, I’ll do that.’ They haven’t even figured that part out yet, the eye language part of it. Once the figure out those things, they’ll really turn the corner.”

It certainly helps to have a player like Collins who can get above the rim to covert lobs from Young. The two young players are already adapting as teams make adjustments. The chemistry of communication is a big reason.

“He likes it up in the air but teams are starting to notice that so his man, who is guarding me when I come off the pick and roll is putting his hands up all the time,” Young said. “That’s when I communicate with him, ‘I know you like it in the air but it’s going to be tough tonight. I’m going to have to drop more down low.’ He is fine with it and he’ll still go dunk it.”

Watch Young when Collins goes up to convert one of his lob passes. You’ll often find him jumping in the air in anticipation of the dunk. It’s fun for these two. It looks like it’s just the start.

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