The word floating around Utah Jazz circles these days is that John Collins has been Utah’s second best player. From fans to beat writers, most agree Utah’s offseason acquisition has been one of the relatively few bright spots for the team.
A pessimist would cite most the roster having a rough start to the season, thereby providing a low bar for relative performance. However, Jordan Clarkson has come on strong of late and Keyonte George’s time in the starting lineup has resulted in a production uptick for himself.
that JC JC connection doesn't get much better than ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/WMuM4QMbPs— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) November 15, 2023
Truth be told, Collins has just had a great kickoff to the season—period.
At 14.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 1.3 turnovers, 0.6 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game on 61.6% true shooting, he’s virtually right at his career averages. He’s operating well in a brand new system with some spacing challenges.
Here’s two areas where he’s getting right back on track:
Continued 3P progress from last year
One of the key ingredients to this successful assimilation was to be John’s 3P shooting taking a bounce back. In the wake of trading for Collins, we at SLC Dunk detailed the timeline and context of last season’s 3P shooting demise.
29% shooting had a lot of people worried the finger injury had ruined his shot forever. Based on our analysis, there were several signs indicating improvement was on the way.
Pleasantly, John is shooting a whopping 42.5% from 3 to kick off this season (17/40). So far, that’s the same 3PA rate he had last year and just slightly more per 100 possession 3PAs. What’s more, this isn’t just a “nice start but lookout for a rough stretch”.
If we extend the timeline back to last season’s post-All Star game regular season and playoff contests, John has attempted 151 threes. He’s made 58, or 38.4%. That’s right at the number he was pre-injury (2018-19 season through injury in 2021-22, 670 attempts on 38.9% shooting).
It’s unlikely Collins continues to drop 42% of his threes, but we’re finally seeing what was missing in the stretch he was recovering from the finger injury: high-end variance. He’s had four games thus far shooting 3+ from deep while hitting >40%. Those are really important to offset 0-3 or 1-5 nights.
Action in the paint
Collins great start isn’t just a function of the 3 ball falling more often than last year. An important piece to Collins’ game is the action he sees in the paint. In his tremendous rookie year, he saw a whopping 10.4 touches in the paint per 36 minutes of action.
Then the Hawks drafted one Trae Young and he progressively saw fewer and fewer touches near the rim (where a big, powerful, athletic phenom like Collins should be getting the ball). Last year, that was at a career low of 4.0 per 36 minutes.
MUCH different story this season. He’s up to 6.3 touches per 36 minutes. He’s still not shooting great in the paint yet as spacing has been something to work out and getting his feel back is certainly in order. But this spells great things for John continuing his strong play.
He won’t get back to the double digit levels he had without regular, season-long play at center. But the 6-7 per 36 minutes is a nice balance with how often he’s shooting from deep.
There are many other perspectives we could look at, but many tell a similar story: John is more involved and his strengths are being leveraged more often. It’s no wonder he and Kevin Huerter following the season opening seemed to be sharing the perspective that their time away from Atlanta has been “way better”.