Hawks center John Collins does a lot of this but wants to shoot more three-pointers.
Photo: 20
Photo: 20

Next step for Hawks rookie Collins: ‘Shoot the damn ball’ for three 

Hawks rookie John Collins has attempted just 19 3-point shots in the NBA. That’s not nearly enough to determine if he can be a good 3-point shooter. 

But he’s attempted 15 of those 3-pointers over his past 21 games, making six, after he’d missed four attempts over his previous 32 games. Collins said that’s enough makes to convince himself that he can be a good 3-point shooter, and now he plans to embrace coach Mike Budenholzer’s mantra of letting them fly. 

“I don’t know about a ‘green light’ but Coach definitely is a big fan of, ‘If you’re open, shoot the ball,’” Collins said. “If you are open, and you have a 3-point shot, please shoot it. You’ve proven that you can shoot the ball.’ Now I’ve finally built up enough confidence to shoot the damn ball.” 

Extending his shooting range is one of three main areas in which Collins can improve his offensive game. The other two: increasing his production as a play-maker and reducing his turnovers. Those two aspects of the game tend to require more experience for players to improve their feel and understanding of the game. But shooting is shooting. 

Jump shots are a new thing for Collins. He didn’t attempt a 3e-point shot during two seasons at Wake Forest and says he didn’t take any during high school in South Florida, either. 

The good news for Collins is that Hawks coaches tell him he doesn’t need to alter his mechanics. 

“They tell me my shot is fluid, it looks good, comes off the hand well, the rotation, the curve (are good),” he said. “It’s really all about shooting. I haven’t got a lot of reps in my career. Everything else looks good.” 

There was little need for Collins to shoot jump shots in high school and college because opponents couldn’t handle him around the basket. The same thing has been true to a lesser extent in the NBA. So far nearly 80 percent of Collins’ shot attempts as a pro have come from within 10 feet of the basket and he’s been a very efficient scorer. 

John Collins shots by distance (via Basketball Reference)

Distance No. attempts Pct. made
0-3 ft. 232 72.8
3-10 ft. 68 29.4
10-16 ft. 39 43.6
16-3 pt. 18 31.6
3 pt. 19 31.6

According to Basketball Reference, Collins’ 62.1 true shooting percentage is third-best among the 33 rookies with at least 500 minutes played and he ranks eighth in points per 36 minutes (16.4) among that group. Expand the list to include any NBA player with at least 1,000 minutes played and Collins ranks 19th in true shooting percentage and 94th in points per minute. 

Already, Collins has established himself as a rotation-quality NBA player. In addition to efficient offense, Collins also has been a productive offensive rebounder and shot blocker. Collins would provide great value as the No. 19 overall pick if he never becomes a good 3-point shooter or otherwise doesn’t improve much from what he is now. 

But Collins is just 20 years old so most likely there’s untapped potential. “Stretch bigs” are among the most valuable players in the NBA, 3-pointers are the most efficient shot and Collins has sound mechanics. Shooting 3-pointers is a natural next step. 

“I need to shoot at my size with the way the game is moving,” Collins said. 

Still, Collins admits that he’s still somewhat reluctant to extend his range because he’s so good scoring near the basket. Anyone who has watched Collins relentlessly attack the rim probably gets what he means.

On a per-minute basis, no player in the league has attempted more shots near the basket than Collins. His 273 shots from that range are 35th-most in the NBA, according to stats.nba.com. The 34 players with more attempts have played significantly more minutes than Collins with higher usage rates. Collins’ shooting percentage from five feet or less (66.7) is better than 22 of those 34 players. 

Collins’ ability to get shots around the basket and score efficiently there is evidence of his quick-twitch athleticism and soft hands. Why bother stepping out to shoot jumpers when he can get dunks, layups and hook shots? 

“For me, if I shoot and I miss I feel like I could have drove (instead) and did whatever,” Collins said. “But I’ve got to take into account (that) me being out there, making a shot or not, creates better spacing. Teams have to guard, teams have to rotate. Me being out there as a threat helps the team out in a lot of ways. 

“So I’ve kind of got to get over myself, do it for the team and work on my game and make some shots, you know what I’m saying?” 

I do. Collins can be a pretty good NBA player if he continues to produce nearly all his offense around the basket, do good work on the boards and block shots. But if he adds a legitimate three-point shot that opponents must respect, Collins would have a chance to become great.

About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010.