John Collins of the Atlanta Hawks dunks against the Toronto Raptors at State Farm Arena on November 21, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Not snubbed, John Collins on big stage of Slam Dunk Contest

John Collins felt snubbed.

That’s how much the Hawks forward wanted to be a part of the Slam Dunk Contest, even as a rookie, during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend last year.

Collins is on that stage now.

He will again compete in the Rising Stars Challenge and debut in the Slam Dunk Contest this weekend in Charlotte. There is a long list of reasons Collins wanted a chance to show his above-the-rim abilities and join a list of Hawks who have won the contest. Dominique Wilkins (1985, 1990), Spud Webb (1986) and Josh Smith (2005) won the event as Hawks. Current teammate Vince Carter won with the Raptors (2000).

“The Hawks pedigree, the right timing, also being in the Rising Stars, having a nice year,” Collins said Wednesday of reasons he wanted to compete. “I feel like I got snubbed a little bit last year. I definitely wanted to come back and jump a little bit and see if I can go out there and win it, for sure.”

The Hawks and Knicks are tied for the most Slam Dunk winners, with four each, since the NBA began the contest in 1984.

The Rising Stars Challenge will be played Friday night and the Skills Competition, 3-point Shootout and Slam Dunk Contest will be Saturday night. The All-Star game will be played Sunday.

Collins is still thinking through his dunk array. There might be some tributes. There might be a pass from rookie teammate and fellow Rising Star Trae Young. Collins has sought the counsel of Wilkins and Carter.

“It’s like a double-edge sword,” Collins said. “Everyone has a niche of dunks that they are experts at. They have definitely given me a bunch of help but there is only so much help they can give me. It all comes down if I can actually complete it.

Oh yeah, if you are going to dunk, you better make it.

That was the advice from Carter. 

“Make ’em,” Carter said of his words of wisdom. “Seriously. I lot of people get caught up in the moment. That was something I wanted to do. I took it seriously. I approached it as a playoff game, just being focused and understanding what I wanted to do. … Push the envelope but make the dunks. I hate missing dunks.”

Collins will compete against Dennis Smith Jr., Miles Bridges and Hamidou Diallo.

Collins played in the Rising Stars Challenge last year, the exhibition from rookie and sophomore players. As a member of Team USA, he was on the losing end of a 155-124 decision to Team World. Collins had 11 points and three rebounds in 22 minutes in the game.

“They didn’t play so well last year against the world,” Young said. “We all want to get a win.”

Since missing the start of the season with an ankle injury, Collins has been one of the Hawks’ more consistent players. He leads the team with 19.4 points and 9.7 rebounds in 41 games.

Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce called the All-Star Weekend a “big stage.” It’s one that Collins can relish. Perhaps for years to come.

“Being around it is the key part,” Pierce said. “For John to walk out on the court, surrounded by his elite peers, being viewed by many, whatever accomplishment he has that night, he’s going to have the LeBron James, the Kevin Durants, the Charles Barkleys shaking his hand and talking to him. If you don’t feel welcome and appreciated at that moment, I don’t know what moment you can.”

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