In the midst of another lost season, Hawks youngsters Trae Young and John Collins have forged palpable chemistry that could prove fruitful in the future.
As was the case last year, the Atlanta Hawks will join 13 other teams in the draft lottery pool this summer. Of course, most fans and analysts expected them to be in this position once the regular season came to a close; with the seventh-youngest roster in the NBA and a rookie head coach in Lloyd Pierce, many believed that the Hawks would experience their share of peaks and valleys. But Hawks fans have plenty of reason for optimism going forward, particularly when discussing budding young stars Trae Young and John Collins.
While no one in their right mind should’ve banked on Collins and Young transforming this Atlanta team into an instant contender, the duo has developed a noticeable on-court bond, and while that hasn’t translated to significant success this season — just look at their record, point differential, and net rating — these two have produced enough positive plays to give this fanbase some hope for the future.
Let’s start with the easiest indicator of how well these two play together: their on-court net rating. As a team, the Hawks have a -5.4 net rating through March 24 — which ranks 26th in the league — but with Collins and Young on the floor together, it jumps to -2.1.
Again, this isn’t to suggest that these two are torching opposing defenses — Atlanta scores 110.0 points per 100 possessions when Collins and Young share the court, which would rank 15th in the league — but the highlights these two produce illustrates how well their games mesh.
Even though Young is still growing as a pick and roll maestro — through 72 games, he’s averaging 0.80 points per possession as a P&R ball handler, placing him in the 44th percentile — Collins has blossomed into one of the best rim rollers in the association, dropping 1.26 PPP in those situations.
Having a big man like Collins is a boon to Young’s maturing game, and vice versa, as we’ll see in this next highlight. Watch as these two run a simple give-and-go play that operates as a low-key slip screen by Collins right after they cross half court. Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon falls behind a step thanks to Collins’ quasi-screen, which gave Young the space to drive to the cup. Gordon and Clint Capela chose to focus on him — apparently, they don’t have access to Young’s shot chart — and it opened the door for this perfect alley-oop to Collins.
Here’s another example of Young’s magnetism setting up Collins for an easy jam, this time against the Brooklyn Nets.
How about this side pick and roll play, where Young delivers a perfect pocket pass to Collins while San Antonio Spurs swingman Rudy Gay is late reacting to the roll. The rest of the Spurs offer little resistance as Collins glides in for the easy layup.
This tandem will be even deadlier once Collins hones his skill from behind the 3-point line — he already shoots a healthy 35.7 percent from behind the arc for his career. On this play, Young once again collapses the defense with a dribble drive. Capela stays under the rim to prevent a layup, but that allows Young to use his great court vision to find Collins in the corner. Collins hits 48 percent of his corner 3’s, so the Rockets were fortunate that this one came up short.
While this duo has exhibited plenty of promise, there’s still plenty of reason for concern, particularly on Young’s end. Despite his recent surge — averaging 25.3 points and 8.8 assists with a .450/.407/.871 shooting line since the All-Star break — he still struggles to finish amongst the trees and if he shoots at a clip similar to the way he started the season as opposed to the last month, he will struggle to draw the same level of gravity on offense, which in turn will make scoring harder for Collins and the rest of his teammates.
If that happens, the Hawks will be in real trouble, as any lineup that features Young suffers defensively. The numbers speak for itself: out of 98 qualified point guards, Young ranks dead last in defensive Real Plus-Minus and the Hawks allow nine fewer points per 100 possessions when Young is off the floor. When Collins and Young share the court, the Hawks surrender 112.1 points per 100 possessions, which would rank 25th in the league (though that is a slight improvement over their overall defense). Basically, any Atlanta lineup with these two will have to be all-time great on offense for this to work, unless Young’s defense dramatically improves.
Of course, it helps that these two are hard workers — the improvements Collins made to his game during Summer League have paid off this season — and appear to enjoy playing with each other, so that brings hope that these two will develop into an All-NBA twosome.
Much like the team they play for, Collins and Young have shown flashes of what could be a promising future in Atlanta. We won’t know how good these two can be for another year or two, so before we bog them down with high expectations, just sit back and enjoy the lobs.