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‘Keep it in-house’: Hawks’ John Collins dishes out keys to team reaching full potential amid outside noise

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After acquiring Dejounte Murray from the Spurs in the offseason, the Hawks entered the 2022-23 season with expectations to soar back toward the top of the East following a surprise run to the Conference Finals in 2021.

Through 30 games, however, the team finds itself right back where it began the season.

Atlanta’s 15-15 record over a third of the way into the season perfectly encapsulates a year of ups and downs. It’s difficult enough to incorporate a new piece as integral as Murray, but even more so when each of your top six players has been impacted by injuries, including forward John Collins, who is set to make his return to the floor after missing over two weeks of action with a sprained ankle.

Collins hasn’t been exempt from the season’s ups and downs, as his numbers are down to 12.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, a product of a career-low usage rate (16.3 percent). For comparison, Collins’ usage rate from 2018 through last season was 22.3 percent, and he averaged 18.5 points and 8.7 rebounds over that span.

While the counting stats might suggest a drop-off in performance, Collins’ usage provides the necessary context to understand otherwise. Given the team’s adjustment to having a backcourt of both Murray and Trae Young, it makes sense that roles have changed. Those numbers don’t illustrate the leaps that Collins has made on the defensive end, either.

Ahead of his return to the floor, The Sporting News caught up with Collins, who spoke at length about his recovery process, the challenging nature of this season so far and how the team is blocking outside noise in order to focus on making the most of the season ahead.


John Collins dishes out keys to Hawks reaching full potential amid outside noise

“I’ve been able to move around and get a little bit more work in,” Collins said of his progress. “I’m getting back in rhythm and doing my best to get back on the court.”

For a team like the Hawks, getting into a rhythm will be crucial.

During Collins’ absence, Young dealt with a shoulder injury, De’Andre Hunter missed time with a hip injury, Clint Capela strained his calf and Murray sprained his ankle. Add in the fact that Bogdan Bogdanovic missed each of Atlanta’s first 22 games, and it’s impressive that the team is hovering around .500.

While Collins isn’t in the business of making excuses, he did admit that injuries have only made the process of integrating new pieces more difficult.

“Every year is new, there’s a new challenge every year — but obviously, trying to integrate new guys while other guys are out, it’s hard for us to get that natural flow that teams need to be successful.

“It’s been a challenge but we’ve been trying to push through and we’re trying to be professionals. It’s been rocky, but we’ll figure it out.”

With rocky times comes conflict, be it external or external. From trade rumors involving Collins to reports of uneasiness between Young and head coach Nate McMillan, the outside noise regarding the Hawks is seemingly louder than it’s ever been.

MORE: Trae Young, head coach reportedly clash at practice

For Collins, the key to minimizing that noise is transparency and connectedness.

“The first thing I would say is just having those conversations within the locker room,” Collins told me in response to the noise surrounding the team. “Just trying to keep it in-house.”

“Other than that, just trying to keep the locker room light, making sure guys aren’t too high or too low, making sure we keep the pace to where we’re trying to go and what we’re trying to do and stay focused.

“All the outside noise is a distraction that can hinder us if we let it. We try to have that tunnel vision and keep looking forward.”

If anyone knows about looking forward and blocking out distractions, it’s this Hawks group. Collins is a part of a core that through 30 games in 2020-21 sat at 13-17 before winning 24 of their last 38 games to earn the East’s fifth seed and set up the aforementioned run to the Eastern Conference Finals.

It’s no secret that Atlanta is one of the NBA’s most talented teams, but Collins stressed the importance of drawing upon that same spirit and togetherness in order for the team to reach its full potential.

Collins’ return to the floor is the first step towards it.


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