Atlanta Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk was impressed by how power forward John Collins handled this season. Specifically, he praised Collins's willingness to play for the good of the Hawks as a team rather than individual numbers.
Collins, 23, is fresh off a season in which he averaged 17.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Those numbers seem fine for an up-and-coming star, but they're surprisingly his lowest marks since his rookie year in 2017-18. But despite this statistical decline, Collins's 2020-21 season was one to remember.
As Schlenk alluded to, Collins sacrificed individual numbers for team success. Just a year after the Hawks finished 20-45, he proved he could contribute to a winning brand of basketball. He made several timely plays in Atlanta's surprise run to the eastern conference finals and was arguably their second-best player.
On the offensive end, Collins remained effective. While his scoring average went down due to a lesser role, he made the most of his opportunities. Collins embraced a role as Atlanta's off-ball offensive weapon alongside point guard Trae Young, throwing down thunderous lobs and knocking down jumpers off the catch. Head coach Nate McMillan rarely gave him the green light to create his own offense, but Collins accepted it. It yielded great results in the process.
Collins's most notable improvement came on defense. Given his physical tools, he always had the potential to be an effective rim protector who could challenge shots above the rim. And this year, he finally put those tools to use, thanks to improved instincts, timing, and motor on the defensive end.
Collins grew into a strong help-side rim protector this year, making visible strides in the postseason. His best series came in the second round against Philadelphia, where he made several blocks, contests, and rotations to stifle the 76ers.
Those plays weren't flashy, but they were the little things that pushed the Hawks over the top. They also proved that Schlenk's praise for Collins as a team player is warranted.
Every team needs a player willing to sacrifice individual glory for the team's good by doing the dirty work. Collins stepped up as that guy for Atlanta, and it's no accident that the Hawks thrived in the playoffs. Time will tell if he continues that role in the future.
Collins enters free agency in the offseason after turning down a $90-million contract extension in December. In March 2020, he told The Athletic that he believes he deserves a max contract. On the surface, Collins's good but not great box score stats suggest he's worthy of no such thing.
But if this season has told us anything about Collins, it's that his impact goes beyond the stat sheet. Schlenk's comments hint that a max contact for Collins may also materialize soon.