Atlanta Hawks John Collins talks about the team's new focus for the season with its new additions. (Video by Ryon Horne, Tyson Horne/AJC)

John Collins sets the bar high for his third season in Atlanta

Since last season, Vince Carter has worked with John Collins on getting his footwork down pat for a clean jump shot, or when Collins is “surfing the line.” 

That’s what the Hawks call movement around the perimeter, whether it’s waiting for the ball, coming off screens, etc. ⁠— after all, if you’re Collins, and working to develop your jumper and become a more versatile player overall, why not take advantage of Carter’s wealth of NBA knowledge and experience? 

“I call him master Yoda,” Collins said.

That process is all part of the power forward’s plan to expand his game, starting with the the team’s preseason opener at 7:30 p.m. Monday against the New Orleans Pelicans at State Farm Arena. Entering his third season with the Hawks, Collins has set the bar high for himself. It’s not just about averaging in the neighborhood of 20 and 10 again (he grimaces at the memory of narrowly missing that milestone, averaging 19.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game last season). 

It’s about becoming more positionless, keeping with the NBA’s trend, and adding components to his game that make it a difficult decision to sub him out. 

“I just feel like with my size, I wasn’t blessed with extra long arms, so I feel like with me not being on the taller side and shorter side when it comes to arm length, I feel like I need to be as versatile as I can,” said Collins, who has a wingspan of 6-11 and whose height without shoes came in at 6-foot-8.5. “Be able to shoot, be able to pass and do all those extra things that I can’t make up with freakish athleticism, the freakish body type that I don’t have, I have to make up for it with being versatile.” 

Collins has already proven his rebounding ability and his strength in pick-and-roll scenarios, developing easy chemistry with point guard Trae Young. He made defensive strides toward the end of last year, after missing the first 15 games with an ankle injury. 

This season, though, in addition to developing his jump shot, Collins, who made 34.8 percent of his three-point shots last season, taking 2.6 a game, wants to be a force on the perimeter and become an overall playmaker for the Hawks. He’ll look to develop as a defender as well, with the goal of being able to switch onto guards and defend them seamlessly. 

“At my height and my size, playing at the 4 position, which is becoming almost a perimeter position nowadays, [developing my perimeter game] is essential,” Collins said. “For me to be able to handle, be able to shoot, switch onto [guards] if I need to. Just pretty much be a mismatch problem for the defense if I need to. A real rock for our team in terms of I can do anything coach needs me to do and I don’t need to be subbed out.” 

There’s a wrinkle in the plan, though, which Collins hopes to turn into a positive: with his offensive numbers from last year, he can’t fly under the radar anymore. Teams will scout for him and try to limit his impact. 

When that happens, Collins, who averaged 2.0 assists per game last season, must then facilitate and set up teammates. 

“We definitely want to see him become more of a facilitator as well,” second-year coach Lloyd Pierce said. “I think teams are going to scheme for him in every game. They’re going to try and take away his pick-and-roll game. They’ll be more alert to the picking and popping and shooting 3’s, so the next progression is once he catches it and he doesn’t have a shot and he’s not rolling to the basket, to make plays for other guys.” 

For Pierce, Collins’ goals aren’t going to happen overnight. It’s a matter of progression and taking what the defense gives you. 

Pierce envisions putting the ball in Collins’ hands more, with him grabbing defensive rebounds and pushing the team up the court. 

“Using his speed and ability to rebound to start our breaks,” Pierce said. “Instead of making him a positionless player, we’ve got to put the ball in his hands and see what he looks like doing some of those things. He’s an unbelievable defensive rebounder, he’s got great athleticism and speed. If we can get him with the rebound and then a head start, and our wings are out, already we’ve got a four-on-three opportunity. That’ll be the first start for him is just learning how to do that.” 

It’ll be a learning process for Collins, but having the confidence of his coach behind him helps. 

“(Pierce is) telling me, ‘Yeah, go push. Go get a layup. Find somebody in the corner. Or go make a 3,’ ” Collins said. “And I feel like for me, having that confidence of ‘Yeah, I can do it. And coach knows I can do it.’ And I’ve got teammates that will hopefully knock down the shot or fill the lane or even throw me back the ball.”

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