- By Sean Highkin Special to the AJC
CHICAGO — Since his impressive performance at Summer League in Las Vegas, rookie forward John Collins has garnered buzz around the NBA as one of the steals of June’s draft. The No. 19 overall pick out of Wake Forest, Collins has impressed with his athleticism at both ends of the floor, leading the Hawks to believe he can become a cornerstone of their rebuild.
In the Hawks’ 91-86 Thursday night loss to the Bulls, Collins scored in double figures for the third consecutive game and fourth in five NBA appearances, finishing with 13 points.
However, it was his defense that stood out on this night. Collins logged just one block in the game, but denied Bulls big men Robin Lopez and Lauri Markkanen looks at the rim on several occasions without picking up fouls.
“That’s one thing that [Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer] has been adamant with me about,” Collins said after the game. “Being active on the defensive end. Obviously I’m a very athletic guy, so he wants me to use my athleticism to be a rim protector.”
With starting power forward Ersan Ilyasova missing his second straight game with a knee strain, Collins has seen his minutes increase, and he’s been taking advantage of the opportunity. In his mind, he only has room to get better.
“I’m always envisioning myself scoring 30 a night,” Collins said. “It’s not reality, but double digits is definitely something that’s feasible, something I can work for just by being out there and working hard. Coach let me know that if I can do those things, the offense will come.”
For his part, Budenholzer didn’t expect Collins to come along this quickly, but he and the rest of the Hawks organization are pleased with the rookie’s progress in his first five games as a pro.
“He’s been making a really positive first impression,” Budenholzer said. “Some really positive first steps. After three or four months, we’re real pleased with how he works, how he wants to be good. I think he’s kind of reaping the benefits of his approach.”