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Hawks center John Collins is one of 17 NBA rookies to average 20 minutes or more per game this season. He showed he was NBA-ready in his debut and his strong play has continued in the 14 games since then.
Here is where Collins ranks among his 17 peers who are playing major roles for their teams:
You can make a statistical case that Collins has been the best rookie thus far (and, let’s be real, it’s the raw stats that often carry these arguments). Already Collins is one of the top rebounders and shot blockers in the league. Few first-year players have been as productive and efficient as Collins over so many statistical categories.
But context takes the air out of that argument.
Collins should be among the best rebounders and shot blocker among his peer group. Among the 17 rookies playing 20 minutes or more per game, only three are bigs: Collins, Kyle Kuzma (Lakers) and Lauri Markkanen (Bulls). Collins (6-10) is an inch taller than Kuzma, and Markkanen is a stretch four.
Also, Collins’ turnover rate is high for a big man who doesn’t produce much with his passing (16th in assists per 36 minutes among the group of 17 rookies). Sometimes Collins gets the ball poked away from him too easily because of his relative lack of strength. Also, one of his greatest assets—a relentless assault of the basket—sometimes works against him because he loses the ball while being in too much of a hurry to get up for one of his rim-rocking dunks.
But, even in context, I’d say Collins has been the third-best rookie so far behind Ben Simmons (Sixers) and Jayson Tatum (Celtics).
Simmons is a marvelous prospect. He’s a 6-10 point guard (essentially) who rebounds, passes and scores. Simmons’ weakness, outside shooting, has hardly mattered because he’s already one of the best in the league at creating shots around the basket and finishing. If Simmons keeps it up, he’ll have a chance to be a rookie All-Star.
Tatum is a smooth, polished scorer who has been hyper-efficient (tied for 19th in NBA true shooting percentage ) while pushed into a starting role because of injuries. Tatum is ranked 14th in the league in Win Shares, and while his .572 effective field-goal percentage probably isn’t sustainable, he’s got the top defensive rating among the rookies playing 20 minutes or more. The Celtics are a great defensive team and Tatum is not a weak link.
That Simmons and Tatum having early success should be no surprise to anyone who watched them play in college, where it was obvious they had NBA-ready games. Simmons was the top pick in the 2016 draft (his debut was delayed by a season-ending injury) and Tatum was the No. 3 pick in the 2017 draft. They should be among the best rookies.
The Hawks selected Collins with the No. 19 overall pick and at least one NBA GM thought they got a steal. It’s obviously too early to make that judgment. But Collins’ rebounding, rim protection and efficient scoring around the basket are sustainable—his college production and athletic profile projected him to be good at those things. Collins will have to get better at more things (and, related, earn a larger role) to have the same kind of impact as Simmons and Tatum but the early results are promising.
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