Can John Collins Return To Form With Jazz?

Oct 13, 2023, 2:13 PM

SALT LAKE CITY – The John Collins era in Utah is off to a modest start after just two preseason games with the Jazz.

Collins is averaging 4.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in just under 20 minutes per game.

The Jazz’s ceiling this year may be determined by how closely Collins can return to his early career production when he averaged 19 points and nine rebounds per game over a three-year stretch with the Atlanta Hawks.

But what did Collins game look like when he was averaging those gaudy numbers, and is it replicable in Utah?

How Can Jazz Best Utilize John Collins?

After returning from an eight-day preseason trip through Hawaii and Seattle, Collins discussed what allowed him to be so productive during his first years in Atlanta, and how that differs from what he’s doing with the Jazz.

“A lot of it was pick-and-roll, running the floor, really just me going out there and getting my offense in the flow of the game,” Collins said, “that’s really how I played my whole life.”

Collins was one of the league’s elite pick-and-roll finishers early in his career, but after Atlanta welcomed center Clint Capela into the fold, his touches within the offense diminished dramatically.

While Collins three-point attempts have remained largely unchanged since 2019, averaging 3.6, 3.3, 3.3, and 3.4 attempts over the last four seasons his two-point field goal attempts have cratered.

After averaging a career-high 11.2 two-point field goals per game in 2019-20, that number was nearly halved to 6.6 last season.

Bizarrely, Collins has gotten less efficient with fewer touches, seeing his two-point field goal percentage dip from 64 percent to as low as 58 percent two seasons ago before rebounding slightly to 62 percent last season.

With it, his superb effective field goal percentage dropped from 64 percent in 2020, good for sixth-best in the NBA to 56 percent last season, the lowest of his NBA career.

“In Atlanta, I was a little bit more stationary, sit in the corner, or get right into a pick and roll, it was a little bit of a simpler offense,” Collins said of his former role.

Atlanta ran the pick-and-roll more frequently than any other team in the NBA last season, accounting for more than 21 percent of their possessions.

The Jazz on the other hand ran it 16.4 percent of the time, good for 19th most in the league.

“Here, Coach [Hardy] has a lot of cuts, screens, and a lot of just different actions and ways I can either pass, hit, or come off and score which is new for me,” Collins said. “So it’s going to take a little bit of adjusting.”

John Collins Is Unique In Modern NBA

Even in today’s more positionless NBA, Collins is a bit of a tweener on the basketball court. While he shoots a healthy 35 percent from behind the three-point line for his career, his offensive game more resembles that of a traditional rim-rolling big man thanks to his upper-echelon athleticism and only so-so ball-handling ability.

Defensively, however, Collins is far better suited defending forwards and providing help defense as a shot blocker near the rim.

That makes it difficult to team the new Jazzman to pair with traditional centers like Capela in Atlanta or Walker Kessler in Utah whose games are predicated on being as near to the rim as possible on both ends of the floor.

While Collins has knocked down half of his four three-point attempts in his first two games with the Jazz, it’s clear he’d still benefit from easier looks at the rim, looks that may be difficult to come by when sharing the floor with Kessler.

That’s where Kelly Olynyk may be key to unlocking Collins full potential to the Jazz.

Olynyk isn’t quick enough to switch onto the more athletic forwards in the NBA, but the veteran is a big body with a high basketball IQ who isn’t afraid to bang with other centers down low, and would benefit from a helpside shot blocker.

On the flip side, Olynyk is a dangerous three-point shooter who knocked down 39 percent of his 3.5 attempts last season and could open the paint for Collins to operate nearer to the rim on offense.

But simply pairing the two throughout the game isn’t so simple.

For both Collins and Olynyk to be on the floor, one of Kessler or All-Star Lauri Markkanen, arguably the Jazz’s two best players has to take a seat.

While maximizing Collins is a key goal for the Jazz’s coaching staff, it can’t come at the expense of the team’s most efficient returning offensive weapons from last season.

“It’s always a balance of setting certain things up that benefit, or are kind of directed at one player without making the entire game about them,” Hardy said.

“The first two games were almost exploratory in some ways, setting up some of our structure and watching him operate in it and trying to learn about John, see where his tendencies are, and obviously John’s a part of that process.”

Collins will retake the floor Saturday as the Jazz will face the Portland Trail Blazers Sunday at 7 pm MST at the Delta Center. The game will be televised on KJZZ, streamed on Jazz+, and can be heard on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone.

Download the new & improved KSL Sports app from Utah’s sports leader. You can stream live radio, video and stay up to date on all of your favorite teams.

Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.

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Can John Collins Return To Form With Jazz?