Although they are headed for another lottery pick this season, Trae Young and John Collins seem destined to save Hawks fans from their misery. The Hawks will miss the playoffs for the second time in as many years after 10 straight playoff appearances, but their future is bright. The 19th pick in last years draft, John Collins, alongside their 5th overall pick this year, Trae Young, look like stars in the making. Last night, they each scored 22 points in a win over the Lakers. These wins may be rare, but they give a glimpse of the Hawks’ promising future.
These players are both young and talented, but they share few similarities. Optimistic fans compare Trae Young and Stephen Curry, yet others consider him a bust. He attempts an extremely high volume of threes and has been highly inefficient. He has had nineteen 20+ point performances and 26 games shooting under 40% from the field. On the other hand, the media often forgets John Collins exists. He does most of his damage around the rim, attempting 56% of his shots and finishing at a 73% clip from 0-3 feet. He shoots a significantly better percentage from three than Trae Young (37% to 31%) but takes three fewer attempts per game (2.5 to 5.5). Although there are so many differences between them, from their playstyle to the attention they receive, these two are the Hawks’ future.
John Collins Season Stats: 19.4 PPG (58/37/75), 9.7 RPG, 2.1 APG
After a solid rookie campaign, John Collins has matured into a young star. He is scoring 9 more points per game, grabbing 2.4 more rebounds, and has improved as a passer. With his increased offensive role, Collins has had to take more shots, but that hasn’t hurt his efficiency. This season, he is attempting 2 more threes a game and 6 more shots a game overall. Many young players see their efficiency flounder when asked to score more, but John Collins has thrived. Josh Richardson is a perfect example of a young player who has sacrificed efficiency for scoring. After becoming the Heat’s primary option on offense, Richardson’s FG% went from 45.1% to 41.6%. This difficult skill of scoring more without losing efficiency is something Collins has mastered.
To do this, Collins has cut out almost all shots between 10 feet and the three-point line. This season, he only attempts 8.1% of his total shots from that distance. By nearly removing this shot from his game, John Collins managed to raise his eFG% from 59% to 61%. As mentioned before, he’s done this while scoring 9 more points per game. Another key to Collins’ efficient scoring is free throws. Since he spends so much time playing down low, he needs to be able to get fouled and convert at the line. This season his attempting 1.7 more free throws a game and shooting 75% from the line. Collins averages 3.1 points from free throws alone, which isn’t as good as James Harden but it’s still impressive. Young players who aren’t superstars rarely get favorable foul calls, so what Collins is doing is great.
Another aspect of his game that makes Collins so special is his ability to have standout performances. For a young player to become a star they need to have flashes. They need to have those games that make fans step back and realize how talented they are. John Collins has already had many of these games. He scored over 30 points while shooting 57%+ from the field and 50%+ from three on 4 different occasions. Additionally, he scored 25 points and hit a game winner against the Sixers last month. Games like these are clear indicators of Collins special potential.
He’s put together long stretches of impressive games as well. Over a 12 game stretch between January and February, Collins averaged 22.4 points per game shooting nearly 60% from the field and 42% from three (on three attempts per game). The Hawks also went 5-7 during that span, impressive compared to their 12-28 record beforehand. Furthermore, the only bigs scoring more than him in this stretch were Nikola Jokic, LaMarcus Aldridge, Karl-Anthony Towns, Blake Griffin, Joel Embiid, and Anthony Davis. This is good company for the Hawks’ sophomore forward.
While Collins has been great, their new point guard has certainly helped him improve his numbers. Trae Young has been a major improvement over Dennis Schroder as the Hawks starting point guard. While everybody talks about his scoring (both the good and the bad), Young’s playmaking has been overlooked. Schroder averaged a career-high 6.3 assists with the Hawks in the 2016-17 season. In his rookie season, Trae Young is averaging 7.6 assists per game. He already has 17, 15, and 14 assist games and only has only played 57 games in his career. His knack for finding the open man and create shots for teammates should only improve as his game matures and he gets better teammates around him.
Trae Young Season Stats: 16.9 PPG (41/31/80), 7.6 APG, 0.9 SPG
The part of Young’s game that gets all the attention, his shooting, is also worth looking at. Trae Young may have the craziest shot chart for a rookie. Young likes to take his threes from well behind the arc. In the chart, you can see an attempt from inside the logo, a shot attempted in H-O-R-S-E more often than NBA games. Although that one missed, there are attempts of similar distance to the left that went in. This range is often seen from Steph Curry and LeBron James, but Young, a rookie, looks very comfortable throwing up deep attempts. While some of these shots look questionable right now, they could become a deadly weapon for Young in the future. In Curry’s 2016 MVP season teams worried about him shooting as soon as he crossed half court. If Young gets even close to that level, the Hawks will be terrifying.
Similar to Collins, Trae Young has had enough big games that show promise of a future all-star talent. I believe he has been one of the best rookies this season. Against Cleveland, he scored 35 points on 57% shooting and 6 threes while handing out 11 assists. Against Portland, Young dropped 30 points on 73% shooting to go along with 8 assists. A few weeks ago against Utah, the 4th best defense in the NBA, Young had 28 points, 5 threes, and 9 assists. Although there are moments of frustration with Trae Young, there is no denying he has the potential to be something special. Once he matures as an NBA player, I expect his efficiency to improve significantly. He needs to get stronger and smarter, but that comes with time.
Unfortunately with Young, with the good comes plenty of bad. The deep threes that go in are fun to watch, but the airballs can be painful. The good games are great, but 2 for 12 and 1 for 12 games also exist. One reason the Hawks are a bottom 5 team is Trae Young’s lack of consistency. It’s really hard to win with a rookie point guard. That said, I believe this will improve. For example, look at De’Aaron Fox‘s rookie season. He averaged 11.6 ppg while shooting 41% from the field and 31% from three, he only averaged 4.4 assists and had 2.4 turnovers a game. Sacramento finished 27-55 and landed the 2nd overall pick in the draft. Now Fox’s Kings are sitting at the 8th seed and he’s averaging 17.2 ppg on 46-36-73 splits and 7.1 assists per game. Improvement can happen, but it takes time.
Now that it’s clear the talent both of these young players have and their future potential, how will they work together? Lineup data of the two together has been very promising. On average, the Hawks trail there opponents by 7.1 points per 100 possessions. Individually, Young is -9.4 per 100 possession on the court. In the 963 minutes, Collins and Young have played together the team is only -5.7. With the other Hawks’ rookie, Kevin Huerter, they are just -3.6, an improvement of 3.5 points. The minutes they play together offer a large sample size and highlights that the team is a lot better when the young three are in the game and that they benefit from playing together.
If you aren’t impressed because they still have a negative net rating, remember none of these players are close to their prime. Collins is only 21 years old. Young is just 20 years old, and Huerter is 20 years old as well. Additionally, they are not playing with many talented players around them. I would argue John Collins, Trae Young, and Kevin Huerter are the Hawks three best players. After that, they have role players such as Dewayne Dedmon, Alex Len, Kent Bazemore, and Taurean Prince. This season may be bleak, but the future is extremely bright. The Hawks’ core has plenty of time to improve, but I would expect to see them back in the playoffs sooner rather than later.