I was walking out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium last Wednesday night after an incredible performance by Atlanta United when all of a sudden my friend pointed out a large six foot, ten inch frame walking right next to me. His face was about a foot above me and partially obscured by the hoodie drawn over his head but after a second I recognized him for none other than Atlanta Hawks rookie John Collins!
Yes, the same first round pick who set NBA twitter ablaze for his insane arsenal of dunk highlights during the summer league this year was now casually walking through a crowd of 40,000 Atlanta sports fans with hardly a single soul realizing who it was.
And that’s when it hit me, this may be one of the last times he’ll ever be able to do this. Once his ridiculous athleticism is shown on Sportscenter every night there will be no chance he can stroll through the streets of ATL without a barrage of autograph and picture requests.
It also struck me that this season could be a turning point in many Hawks’ lives and careers beyond just the rookie. Dennis Schroder has established himself as having a place in this league but after averaging 23.7 points per game in the EuroBasket Finals this summer it’s possible he could take the leap from solid player to bonafide scorer before the year is up.
Sure, there are questions about the consistency of Dennis’ jump shot but he is clearly showing more and more confidence in it with every month that passes. Also, if no one has figured out how to contain his speed in the 4 years he’s been in the league already it’s unlikely that anyone will be able to now just because he’s the main guy.
Last season came with career highs in points, assists, field goal percentage and 3-point percentage for the first year starter and if these last couple months are any indication then he’s not looking to take any steps back just because there’s an inexperienced team now in his charge. Schroder has a shot to be an all-star this year and I hear golden patches go well with stars.
Taurean Prince garnered praise from various media outlets for his play down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs. He didn’t quite come out and dominate the Atlanta Hawks Summer League two months ago like most would have wanted following that solid finish to his rookie year, instead taking a back seat to Collins and DeAndre’ Bembry.
This year he has a shot to become one of the more coveted 3 and D wings in the league. He’ll get plenty of minutes in his sophomore campaign to prove that his blend of athleticism, tenacity and offensive ability can be replicated consistently night in and night out. With the way Prince attacks the glass and drives with aggressiveness he reminds me a little bit of Kenneth Faried if he were a wing, which is a compliment by the way.
Some people have compared him to a Kawhi Leonard-lite which is understandable although he clearly has a long way to go to even resemble what Leonard does on the floor. The former Baylor Bear clearly has a shot to become the Hawks best overall player but I’ll settle for best wing player in his second year.
Bembry, if he can stay healthy, can literally do everything that someone is required to do on a basketball court well. The question is can he do any of them at enough of an elite level to gain playing time during minutes that actually matter. DeAndre’ has the size of a two guard but the ability to play point at times. He can pass, defend, rebound and showed an improving jumper in summer league.
He has a shot to establish himself in much the same way that Draymond Green or Paul Millsap did, which is an undersized player for his position who shows you can’t keep him off the floor simply because he affects the game in too many different ways. It obviously won’t all come together this year but if there aren’t stretches of this season that make me overreact and proclaim him the clear best player on the Atlanta Hawks then I’ll be disappointed.
As for Collins? He only has a shot to prove himself capable of being a star. No pressure or anything John. His Summer League was good enough that if his potential begins to form into actual production many people may begin to change the way they view the Atlanta Hawks’ future. It’s that simple.
There countless other players who will get potentially the biggest chances of their career to prove themselves this year as well. This applies from recent signee Quinn Cook to down the line to veterans in Kent Bazemore and Mike Muscala. In fact, I can’t think of anyone on the roster, beyond maybe Marco Belinelli, who doesn’t come into this season with the understanding that these next 82 games could shape how the rest of their career plays out. There will be opportunity aplenty for all of these players, the only question is who will take advantage of it?
This may seem like one of those columns that tries to lure fans into believing in this team enough that they inevitably watch 40 games of bad basketball before giving up but I’m here to tell you…that you may be right. All of this potential may not amount to many wins but there is something much bigger than an 8th seed on the line this year for this team. The Atlanta Hawks have a shot to prove they have a real future. One that will make these guys stand out no matter what crowd they’re in.