Since the 2017 NBA Draft, much of the attention has been centered on the first names that got called. Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and Jayson Tatum project to make huge impacts for their respective clubs, but it appears as though one rookie taken later in the first round will receive a major shot to prove himself immediately as well.
According to Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer, No. 19 overall pick John Collins out of Wake Forest University will be a factor.
“A lot of the things that the NBA does — not just us but the NBA in general — I think fit John Collins, his athleticism [and] his ability to play around the basket, to attack the rim in pick and roll situations,” Budenholzer told Buddy Grizzard of Basketball Insiders.
Collins was one of the most efficient frontcourt players in college basketball last season. In just 26.6 minutes per game, the 6’10” big man averaged 19.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks on 62.2 percent shooting. He also shot 74.5 percent from the free throw line. While his shooting range needs to improve, the 20-year-old is extremely athletic and has apparently impressed his coach in practice.
“I think John’s development and John achieving all the things that he wants and that we want for him is going to come down to how he comes in every day, how he works every day, how he fits into a team and plays [with] unselfishness and competitiveness. All those things will dictate what kind of season he has. Our expectation is just that he competes at a high level, he works at a high level and he begins to understand how we play and how the NBA game is played,” Budenholzer explained.
Since the Hawks are seemingly on the rebuilding path after losing out on the Paul Millsap sweepstakes this summer, it appears as though Collins has a strong shot to receive a lot of minutes in his rookie campaign. After all, Dewayne Dedmon, Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Muscala and Miles Plumlee are his main competition at the two frontcourt positions.
Back in the Summer League, Collins explained what he brings to the table.
"My biggest strength is my versatility," Collins told Kevin Wang of ESPN.com. "With the way this game is going, at my size, I need to do multiple things -- pass, shoot, dribble and make plays… My ability to play off the pick-and-roll, open plays for other guys and use my athletic body to catch lobs, that's what I do every night. They are giving me free rein to do all that.”
Being given "free reign" to do anything as a rookie is rare. While he won’t get to learn how to adapt to the NBA game from Millsap, he also sees the clear opportunity.
"Since I don't get to learn from Paul [Millsap], I have to go out there and earn my minutes and prove [myself] to my coaching staff. It's an opportunity there for me to [go] get," Collins said.
Based on Budenholzer’s recent comments, Collins might have already done that. He's someone to keep an eye on as a Rookie of the Year sleeper.