With the draft finished and free agency looming, the NBA currently sits in a calm stretch. Nobody apparently told the Atlanta Hawks though, as they finally pulled the trigger on a John Collins trade and sent him to the Utah Jazz. Did Danny Ainge once again flex his trading muscles? Or has Atlanta gotten the better end of the deal? Check out below for John Collins trade details and grades.
John Collins Trade Details
Utah Jazz acquire:
Atlanta Hawks acquire:
- Rudy Gay
- Future 2nd Round Pick
ESPN Sources: The Hawks are finalizing a trade to send F/C John Collins to the Jazz for Rudy Gay and a future second-round pick. Atlanta’s largely unloading Collins’ three years, $78M for some roster building flexibility and alignment with looming changes to salary cap. pic.twitter.com/CpAfTNXKMq
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 26, 2023
John Collins Trade Grades
Utah Jazz: C-
While Danny Ainge is usually the trade victor, he may quickly regret this move. Two foundational pieces of the successful modern NBA forward are shot creation and three-point shooting. Without one or often both of these qualities, it’s extremely difficult to ooze value in a playoff setting because opponents can sag inside and ignore both a pull-up or dribble penetration threat.
John Collins currently possesses neither of these skills at an adequate level, and the advanced metrics are ugly. There were 139 forwards last season that logged 600+ minutes, which equates to roughly 4.6 forwards per team. Collins ranked the following in these shot creation stats per BBall Index:
- 132nd in Rim Shot Creation
- 79th in Mid Range Shot Creation
- 118th in 3PT Shot Creation
- 92nd in Overall Shot Creation
As for three-point shooting, Collins ranked 138th in 3PT Shot Making, which measures efficiency when factoring in shot quality on every attempt. Yikes!
Let’s take a step back and glimpse Collins’ offensive output from a broad view. Per FiveThirtyEight, of the 351 players that logged 600+ minutes, Collins ranked 303rd in Offensive RAPTOR – arguably the most trusted all-encompassing stat. Narrow that to power forwards, and Collins was 77th of 83 players.
In summation, Collins is a forward that can’t create his own shot at any area or space the floor for teammates regardless of whether he’s open. That’s a horrifying thought for Utah’s offense, especially considering center Walker Kessler already offers zero spacing and limited creation. The court is about to be seriously cramped, which may as well be a death sentence in today’s NBA.
Now, I’m not saying Collins provides no value. He’s an excellent rebounder, rolls to the basket as a lob threat, understands when to cut, and plays solid defense. However, that’s a decent skill set for a top backup center, not a starting forward on a playoff squad. Collins also doesn’t have the size at 6’9” to routinely man the paint, and Utah will not desire that anyways with Kessler on the roster.
Collins simply doesn’t thrive in the areas that translate to winning playoff basketball for a forward or mesh well with Walker Kessler. Utah likely convinced themselves that he’s still just 25-years-old and has a history of shooting the three-ball well, but his shot has never recovered from the gruesome broken finger in March 2022. Plus, they paid a hefty price to take a chance on his shot returning. While Utah gave up no valuable tangible assets, the opportunity cost is steep due to his contract:
- 2023-24: $25,340,000 (18.63% of the salary cap)
- 2024-25: $26,580,000 (17.77% of the projected salary cap)
- 2025-26: $26,580,000 (16.15% of the projected salary cap)
That’s a hefty chunk of the salary cap, which is money Utah could have utilized via free agency or trades. The 2025-26 season is a player option, but it’s unlikely Collins opts out. Even if he does, Utah still loses flexibility for the next two seasons. In just this free agency class alone, the Jazz could have potentially snagged superior power forwards at a similar price like Draymond Green, Jerami Grant, or Kyle Kuzma.
The financial opportunity cost is hideous, but that’s not all as developmental opportunity cost also exists. Collins will steal minutes from rookies Taylor Hendricks and Brice Sensabaugh, which can only hinder their development. It’s probable that Hendricks won’t start due to Collins’ presence, so Hendricks won’t generate chemistry with Markkanen and Kessler at the same rate he would have without Collins in the fold.
In conclusion, Utah paid a significant indirect price to acquire a forward that doesn’t own a playoff skill set. It’s difficult to doubt Ainge, but I fear he has taken a wrong step in shaping the roster around Markkanen, Kessler, Hendricks, George, and Sensabaugh. This grade would improve should Collins’ three-point shot return to his pre-injury days, but that appears improbable given the damage.
Atlanta Hawks: A-
Atlanta acquired Rudy Gay’s small expiring contract and a future second rounder, but the real asset was salary cap relief. They had to dump Collins because the Hawks are a financial mess (that’s what happens when teams hand out large contracts to role players). Clint Capela, De’Andre Hunter, and Bogdan Bogdanovic are owed a combined $59,405,286 this season, or roughly 43.6% of the salary cap. Factor in Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, and Atlanta owes $117,683,506 to those five players this season, which is about 86.5% of the cap. The situation is only getting worse too as Murray, Onyeka Okongwu, and Saddiq Bey all need new contracts next off-season.
With Collins gone, the Hawks now sit comfortably below the luxury tax and re-gained some salary cap flexibility. From a financial standpoint, this trade is a massive win for Atlanta, especially since Collins didn’t project as a key piece moving forward.
In addition, the trade was a philosophical victory in that it signaled a rejection of mediocrity. Atlanta could have returned the same roster after making the playoffs, but they decided to shake it up and aim for loftier goals than mere playoff berths. Too many teams toil away at 41-41 without any realistic championship hopes (looking at you Chicago) and stubbornly refuse to change. I’m thrilled about what this trade potentially indicates for Atlanta’s future because the supporting cast around Trae Young must radically transform.
Why an A- instead of an A? Atlanta had far better offers last season for Collins but foolishly rejected them. It was definitely feasible for the Hawks to net a first rounder, so their slightly reduced grade reflects their previous poor choices. However, they wound up making the right call in the end, which is what matters.