What Is Atlanta’s Ceiling With John Collins & Trae Young? Hawks Experts Weigh In

By Matt Esposito

The simultaneous growth of John Collins and Trae Young has not yet resulted in many wins but, it surely will. This duo is primed to become an elite pick and roll combo, if they are not there already. Let’s do a super short summary of their development before our Hawks experts discuss what these two mean to Atlanta’s ceiling.

Collins has steadily evolved from being strictly a corner 3-point spacer to someone who can nail triples from anywhere on the court. His latest shot chart via Cleaning the Glass is a coach’s dream for a modern big. Collins has the range to bury you during pick and pops and is one of the most savvy rollers in the league.

Courtesy of Cleaning the Glass

What’s more, he has shown his feel for the game by seizing opportunities during early offense. The clip below displays Collin’s knack for slipping screens and exploding for two-footed launches on lobs, as well as his tendency to hoist 3-pointers when bigs fail to meet him early on the court.

More player breakdowns in our video analysis page

Collins’ pick and roll partner, Trae Young, has made an impressive leap this year as well. His shooting percentages made marked improvements across the board. Young’s free throw attempts – an area critical for high volume players to maintain efficiency – rose to the third best mark in the NBA. Plus, his 3-point percentage made the jump to a league average number in spite of a sizeable increase of attempts.

Volumes could be written on Young’s ability to create shots for himself yet, his passing must be noted as well. Trae is currently in the 100th percentile for assist percentage, meaning he is arguably the point guard most effective at setting his teammates up to score. The Hawks rely on him to run more pick and roll possessions than any other team, and he still places in the 83rd percentile as a PNR ball handler.

It is not a stretch to suggest that no one is better than Young at capitalizing off of double teams. When defenders hedge, Young’s tight handle gives him the patience to often toss lobs or whip one-handed passes from 30 feet out. The video below is a collection of his decision-making, creativity, and IQ during the pick and roll.

Although that write-up was too brief to fully describe how special both Collins and Young are becoming, it remains clear that they are currently the Hawks best tandem. But how far can this team go if those two are leading the way? I reached out to a bevy of reputable, intelligent Hawks writers for their opinions.

Brad Rowland – Locked On Hawks, Peachtree Hoops, Dime

On Atlanta’s ceiling: “I think the Hawks ceiling is actually quite high, especially when considering the upward trajectory of Collins and the leap that Young made this season. It is certainly worth pointing out that it can be tough to build around Young defensively, so Atlanta’s path forward almost certainly has to be developing a genuinely elite offense and a defense that is merely competent and not disastrous. Collins made a substantial leap on the defensive end this season but, even with that, the Hawks need to continue to build around that duo with players that can hold up defensively and, at least on the wings, provide floor-spacing.”

On other contributing players: “The addition of Clint Capela will be huge for the Hawks defensively, but it also locks Collins more firmly in as the team’s power forward, and it will be interesting to see how that goes when paired with a non-shooting center like Capela. The Hawks have a bright future with some of their other young pieces, headlined by Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter and De’Andre Hunter, but it would also probably be too optimistic to project all of them to “hit” in a big way. In short, the Hawks already have the biggest piece of any rebuild done by finding their No. 1 in Young, and that is huge… the biggest questions long-term are how well they can defend and if they can provide enough spacing offensively.”

Nick Andre – Above the Rim

On Atlanta’s ceiling: “I’m very optimistic about the future of Trae Young and John Collins in an Atlanta uniform. They’re both so young and have potential to be great leaders. One thing I will want to see more from Trae Young is him balancing scoring and facilitating. I think Young has the potential to lead the league in assist if he gets others involved. And as for John Collins, if he can develop a consistent post game he would be one of the most unguardable bigs in the NBA.”

On other contributing players: “…they just got Clint Capela to be a force in the middle, they can possibly add another vet that has a lot of experience. A guy like Marcus Morris would be a great pickup in the offseason to provide toughness and hustle to the team.” (Check out Nick’s new site – Above the Rim – for some excellent hoops content.)

Simon Rath – Draft Analyst

On Atlanta’s ceiling: “I think the ceiling is probably a team fighting for the 6-8 seed consistently. John is a great player but he isn’t capable of creating his own shots enough to be a teams #2 option. I want a player who can go iso on a defender and have the confidence he can score instead of a PF who needs someone to pass him open as my #2 guy.”

On other contributing players: “I’d make the tough decision to shop John, to be honest. He’s going to want a big contract this offseason or next and if you look down the road Trae is guaranteed to get a max contract and paying those two big money would really limit our upside. I think Cam Reddish can become our #2 in the future and trying to sign a guy like Oladipo in 2021 would be a better investment than John. We could even wait and see if a star player asks for a trade (Booker or Mitchell) and we’d have the space to afford them.”

Ben Ladner – Sports Illustrated and The Step Back

On Atlanta’s ceiling: “I think the path for the Hawks is going to be building an elite offense with those two in the pick-and-roll and shooters and secondary playmakers around them, then hoping they can be around league-average on defense (the Nash Suns model). So the ceiling is probably a top-three offense with an average defense. Does that get Atlanta into title contention? Maybe, but I don’t think it’s a given unless someone like De’Andre Hunter or Cam Reddish really blossoms into an All-Star level of player.”

On other contributing players: “The challenge is going to be on defense, where Young is among the NBA’s worst and Collins is merely fine. Building your team around guys like that reduces your margin for error and requires you to build within a pretty specific framework (rangy, two-way wings who can hit shots and guard multiple positions). If there’s one change that could be made it’s probably a consolidation trade, where one or more of Reddish, Hunter, Kevin Huerter, or Clint Capela gets packaged for a proven second star. I think right now the Hawks believe in their core enough to hold onto everyone, but if their opinion changes that would be a quick way to add talent.”

Deke Lloyd – Soaring Down South

On Atlanta’s ceiling: “At the moment, Trae Young and John Collins are far-and-away the best two players on the Atlanta Hawks roster. While both players are double-double machines, the stats haven’t translated to wins on the court for the Hawks. During their two seasons together, the Hawks have a record of 37-58. For right now, the ceiling for the Hawks going into next season has to be competing for a playoff spot. Likely, the 7th or 8th seed in the East. With a full season of Collins and Trae having another year under his belt, I think the Hawks need to be pushing their way into the playoffs next season. In my opinion, anything less than that will be a massive disappointment.

On other contributing players: “For the Hawks to capitalize on the star-power of Collins and Young, Schlenk is going to have to do a much better job of building the team around their two young stars. The additions of young talent like Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter were positive moves, but the Hawks will need to do a better job of finding veterans who can contribute and support Trae Young and John Collins. With the mid-season acquisition of Clint Capela, Schlenk seems to understand the need for older players who can take the burden of Young and Collins. Realistically, Joe Harris and Davis Bertans would be great to get on this team for the spacing and shooting. Evan Fournier, who has a player option and unlikely to leave, would be a huge get. I wouldn’t to mad to see the team bring back Kent Bazemore, who has a relationship with Trae and John Collins, for the veteran presence and leadership.

AKelly – Peachtree Hoops, Hawks Film Room

On Atlanta’s ceiling: “I’d say it’s pretty hard to get a grasp on their ceiling with their core being so young. We haven’t had a chance to see if Collins will improve his playmaking and if Trae will improve his defense. A couple years from now we’ll have a better idea. But I do think Collins is better suited as a third piece rather than a second due to his lack of self creation, creation for others, and somewhere between below average to average defense.At some point they need to find another shot creator who can get good looks for himself independent of Trae.It’s hard for me to forecast ceiling with any certainty for the reasons I’ve supplied, but I do think shot creation is really important and the playoffs and right now Trae is the only definitive answer to that question. They need others.”

On other contributing players: “I don’t think there’s a clear answer as far as someone they could sign. Oladipo is good but he’s only had one excellent season and we’ll need to see if he can recover that form. I think more likely they’ll either draft someone like that (like maybe Anthony Edwards) or trade for one (maybe they can make a huge offer for Donovan Mitchell or someone like that etc).”

Rashad Milligan – RashadMilligan.com

On Atlanta’s ceiling & contributing players: “Trae can become a top 5 player in the league and John can become a multi all-star someday. The Hawks need: consistent shooting, experience and defense right now. Huerter and Reddish are so sometimes-y. John and Trae have improved defensively but they need to be better on a consistent basis on that end of the floor. And the Hawks give up so many points as a unit every night. I believe the talent is already there from all spots on the floor, the guys just have to be more consistent and learn how to win.

Great stuff from our experts! Wondering what the Twittersphere thought? Here’s a sample! Be sure to let us know your opinion!

Published by Matt Esposito

Founder/Writer for Theplaygrounder.com and contributor to Red’s Army Twitter: @Mattesposito_

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