The Utah Jazz trade for John Collins ends a multi-season era where offseason and trade deadlines featured the forward as one of the most likely players to be traded. Utah bolsters a young, big, and talented frontcourt that already featured All-Star Lauri Markkanen, All-Rookie Walker Kessler, and #9 pick Taylor Hendricks.
Most around the league signaled their approval for Utah in landing Collins at the price: just Rudy Gay and a future 2nd round pick. “Cheap”, “young”, and “full of rehab value” were the common themes.
But most national media were actually bearish on the fit, citing “style” and “timeline” concerns. Much of the hesitancy stems from John’s worst career season taking place last year, in which he was further relegated to an off-ball, spacing role resulting in a 29% success rate from deep.
The upside of the trade, everyone agrees, will be in the team’s ability to harness a motivated, engaged, and confidently shooting Collins. These components are interconnected and influenced by many factors, one obvious one (at least for John) being health.
John Collins suffered back to back injuries towards the end of the 2021-22 season. Per Bleacher Report’s Eric Walsh, Collins suffered a foot injury on Feb 11th. He missed seven games before returning for four.
On the second game, March 4th, Collins suffered the finger injury and would play two additional games before hitting the bench again indefinitely. The Athletic’s Shams Charania summarized the ailments below:
Hawks forward John Collins has a plantar fascia tear in his right foot as well as damage to his right ring finger, sources tell me and @ChrisKirschner. Collins has been playing through pain for past several weeks, but will now be sidelined indefinitely.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 18, 2022
A photo of Collins’ injured finger circulated the internet and put in stark perspective its severity:
A picture of John Collins’ finger was shared with me. I was told he injured it in Detroit. pic.twitter.com/tHj4lmMmbL— JJ (@JameelahJNBA) March 14, 2022
The injury was diagnosed as a “boutonnière deformity”, where the joints in the finger experience a rupture causing the dramatic protrusion seen in the photos. Add plantar fascia and you have one heck of an injury cocktail.
Collins would remain inactive until the 5 game playoff series with the Miami Heat. His shooting was noticeably hampered and it was reported he played through pain and discomfort.
During summer runs when new Hawk Dejounte Murray joined Trae Young and Collins in the Drew League, SI.com covered the events and detailed Collins’ still swollen finger. These runs took place in late July...and the finger was still not healed.
As the 2022-23 season was fully underway, John’s shooting was a big conversation point. At just 24.8% efficiency from beyond the arc, some began to wonder if the injury would compromise his ability to shoot indefinitely.
Collins eventually rebounded post-All Star break 2023 shooting 37% from beyond the arc. But the questions remain: Is he healthy? Was that a lucky stretch? What should be expected going forward?
Let’s analyze three chars that contextualize John’s three point shooting.
Let’s rewind to the start of the 2020-21 season to form a baseline of expectation for what John was doing pre-injury.
The below graph plots a circle for every game played since (including playoffs). The circles measure the 3P% John shot over the past 10 games at that point. This is called a “rolling” calculation in that every game the window shifts forward by one game.
The white line tracing a path through the sea of circles a smoothed line of best fit or could be seen as the rolling 3P% median. The yellow, horizonal line is a reference to the league average 3P% over this time while the red, vertical line marks the stretch where Collins injured his foot and finger.
The baseline we were looking for becomes plain as day to the left of the red line. Dots fall on either side of the yellow line, though mostly fall higher than lower. The median is traced a few percentage points above, generally tracing the 40% territory.
In contrast, the right of the line shows circles that rarely exceed league average and mostly live in the 20-30% range. Finally, a small stretch at the very right shows a clump of dots more akin to preinjury. That is the post-All Star break shooting stretch that’s peaked our interest.
The dates of injury coincide shocking well with the downward trending 3P%. This timeline view suggests that the injuries were indeed the main factor in the poor performance observed over the past 12 months.
Let’s dig in further to the three intervals for patterns that might help support or refute the late season surge in 3P shooting.
While the trends show promising results, one has to wonder if a hot streak or other phenomena may be at the heart of the late season improvement. Ideally, John returned to a level of health that permitted a likewise return to pre-injury performance.
The below chart may help us determine if the post-All Star break results are anything to put stock in. The chart shows color mountains. The higher each point on the mountain, the more often that per game 3P% took place during each interval. Similarly, the higher stacked white circles are the more per game 3PAs took place at that per game 3P%.
For example, look at the red mountain in the center of the chart. The interval it spans is “post-injury”. It spans 191 three point attempts where John made just 24%. The mountain and circles are highest at 0% (on the x-axis), meaning that the most games AND 3PAs in that post-injury stretch resulted in a 3P% of zero.
Now that we can read the chart better, take a look at the shapes of the mountains. “Pre-injury”, John saw two major humps centered around 0-10% and 40-50%. The latter hump disappears from the “post-injury” mountain, in favor of a more drastic 0-10% peak. This indeed suggests that Collin’s per game results were different post-injury.
In contrast, look at the “post-All Star” stretch. We see a return of two humps, the latter being a bit fatter ranging from 30-60%. Unlike the other two intervals, “post-All Star” had no small third hump at the far left (he didn’t even have the occasion 100% from three game, going 2/2 or 4/4 from deep).
Focusing on the column of dots yields similar insights, corroborating the idea that perhaps Collins had returned to performance more resembling normalcy.
Part of the suspicion for a hot streak is born out of potentially simple explanations for improved shooting. Too few attempts may give an impression of improvement when really being too small a sample. Similarly, shot mix (where and how the 3PAs come about) could differ, favoring the post-All Star break interval.
If you noticed in the previous chart, the “pre-injury”, “post-injury”, and “post-All Star” intervals saw total 3PAs at 421, 191, and 111 respectively. That is enough volume relative to the time frame to mostly dispel the sample size concerns.
As for the shot mix, the below chart gives us some clues. The visualization is broken into six mini-bar charts each focusing on a shot type, like “location” (corner vs “above the break”), “situation” (“catch & shoot” vs pullup), or “coverage” (open vs guarded).
(*Note*: the term “easier” is meant as a reference to shots for which the league average efficiency is higher)
These shot types have been organized so the easier types are on top while the more difficult shots are below. Within each mini-bar char are rectangles that measure the frequency of the shot type for the time intervals we’ve already seen.
Let’s dig into the comparison of intervals for each shot type.
The first column of mini-bar charts focuses on location, with “corner” 3P shots being an easier (on average more successful) zone than “above the break. John saw a progressively larger share of his 3PA coming from the corner in “pre-injury” and “post-All Star” intervals. He also took his fewest “above the break” 3’s “post-All Star ‘23”.
The second column assesses the shot situation, comparing a catch & shoot scenario (easier) to a dribble, pullup shot (harder). Any changes in the pullup frequency are marginal and insignificant. The catch & shoot, however, shows a sizeable increase since the injury. In fact, Collins largely got the same frequency of C&S threes during his “post-injury” stretch as his “post-All Star ‘23” interval.
Virtually the same insights bear out when looking at the third column which assesses the shot “coverage” (an open shot being easier than a guarded one). John saw more open shots since the injury.
My interest in John Collins extends back seasons and even in hindsight of the injury and abysmal shooting for most of the year, I was very optimistic about his fit in Utah and his odds to bounce back.
In theory, I think John Collins is the type of player to drop in UTA and see his production optimized— Adam Bushman (@adam_bushman) November 19, 2022
You saw a lot of his potential in his first two years:
0.300+ FTA rate
0.17+ REB rate
But this year he's got his best shot distribution:
63% of shots at rim/3P
I’d do it but I’m bullish on what Hardy could do with Collins— Adam Bushman (@adam_bushman) May 9, 2023
Honestly, I think Jazz need to follow a LAC approach with the front court:— Adam Bushman (@adam_bushman) January 7, 2023
- Start Kessler since traditional rim protection is regular season gold
- Every other lineup should be 5-out capable
I think John Collins perfectly fits that approach, complimenting Marrkanen perfectly
But I’d be remiss not to question my own biases nor look at the data and context objectively. Having visualized and pondered the timeline, factored in the interval breakdown of results, and analyzed the shot profile process, I remain similarly confident in Collins’ ability to bounce back.
In a vacuum, the late season improvement could have been explained by many factors and not actually resemble a return to pre-injury performance. But based on the context we’ve explored, Jazz fans should have plenty of optimism in his 3P shot return to an above league level and getting a motivated, enthused player for the upcoming 2022-23 season.