OPINION: There is another rising star in Atlanta

John Collins shoots around during pregame warmups before Wednesday night’s home game against the Orlando Magic. Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal

Let say it for the casual fan: John Collins is the underappreciated star in the NBA. 

He’s one of two players on the Atlanta Hawks averaging over 20 points per game, he also leads the team with 10.8 rebounds.

For someone undersized, the six-foot, nine-inch Collins sure is pulling down rebounds at a high rate. His 10.2 per game would rank 11th in the NBA, but he has not played in enough games to qualify for season-long stats due to his suspension early in the season.

Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce noted how important his big man has been this year.

“John being able to get some offensive rebounds is tremendous,” he said.

To say that Collins is just an anchor for this team is an understatement. He is much more: Collins does the dirty work on the glass, grabbing offensive rebounds and extending possessions. He shoots an efficient clip from three-point range at 35%. Collins never gives up on a play and always puts his best effort forward.

“We’re always going to compete first and foremost,” Collins said.

Throughout the league, it’s common to take nights off (some may call it “load management”) and maintain that energy in order to compete every night. However, for the Wake Forest product, it is something more than that. His competitive spirit is contagious among the team, just another reason why you can never count Atlanta out of a game no matter the margin.

There have been games when star Trae Young didn’t have it going offensively. At times, the offense has looked stagnant and the ball was sticking. Collins has been able to keep the team in the game with timely buckets, rebounds and assists before his point guard finds his rhythm and takes over in the fourth quarter. 

That is the beauty of the NBA: It is so unpredictable. Some nights, points will be hard to come by. If a team finds an individual who can consistently put the ball in the basket, it bodes well for the for their chances to win.

Collins could be what Draymond Green is for the Golden State Warriors: an energizer holding each of his teammates accountable and providing a spark. The NBA needs more players like this. Often, guys get caught up in the hype and glamour the league can bring. Sometimes, one can get lost in the process and the dedication that leads to being in the league. But not the Hawks big man.

Collins also embodies the modern big man in the NBA. He is even improving defensively, which bodes as well as he looks to become a dominant two-way player in the league.

“He’s definitely improving on the defensive end. I hope he keeps excelling at that,” recently-acquired Dewayne Dedmon said.

Imagine having a dominant big man who can score, shoot the three, defend at a high level and run the pick and roll to perfection. This will cause defenses nightmares as it will be a pick your poison when defending him.

Collins does not always receive the praise he deserves, but he remains humble. He reminds you of a Ben Wallace, who dominated the mid-2000s for the Detroit Pistons: lots of grit and a scrappy player who goes about his business. Collins never clamors for media attention or the spotlight, but soon enough, he will receive it. In just his third NBA season, he wreaks havoc all over the floor. He is becoming a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. 

When the Hawks begin to have consistent success and become a contender in the Eastern Conference, Collins will be the catalyst for the growth and rise of the team. He is an important piece on an upcoming team looking to eventually get over the hump and play in an NBA Finals.

John Collins is just getting started.