A Deep Dive into John Collins’ Fit Next to Bam Adebayo
A Deep Dive into John Collins’ Fit Next to Bam Adebayo
Jul 18, 2024 1:40 PM

The John Collins situation at the moment is a bit complicated in my opinion. He’s setting himself up for a decent sized deal, while the Atlanta Hawks are currently in the middle of a deep playoff run.

There’s a certain group of guys that we will continue to discuss as Miami Heat possibilities, and they’re all in that weird middle ground, in terms of contract, at that 22/23 year old age group. Teams have to make a decision to lock themselves into that specific player, or just move on when he’s not going to be a number one option.

For Bam Adebayo and the Miami Heat, there’s a certain build that fits their young centerpiece’s play-style: young, stretch big who can stretch the floor. It’s been a revolving door of front-court pairings for Adebayo, and I don’t think any of them truly maximize his play, especially from a long-term sense.

From Meyers Leonard, who could space the floor but wasn’t mobile enough on either side of the floor, to Jae Crowder and Trevor Ariza, who can space the floor and move on both ends but lack size to truly compete against tougher match-ups. Adebayo no longer needs a front-court filler, he needs a trusted side-kick.

In this piece, we’re going to dive into John Collins’ strengths and areas of fit with this Heat roster, specifically next to Adebayo. Even though I mentioned that it may be complicated, it’s still necessary to dive into the specifics of the effectiveness with this significant addition to the roster…

An Ideal Weak-Side Defender

One of the major areas of growth for Collins over time has been on the defensive end, and it’s occurred in one major area: help-side defense. When talking about the playoffs up to this point, favorable match-ups have allowed him to sag off non-shooters into constant tags and absolute havoc in the PnR.

As seen in the clip above, he’s become an excellent weak-side shot blocker. The task for him seems to be to constantly eliminate 2 on 1’s that are created by the offense, especially when guarding a guy like Andre Iguodala since he can trust his teammate to split the difference on the wing. It leads to great positioning and a great block.

Now, what does that mean for the Heat’s defensive scheming? Well, it allows them to add some layers to the things they’ve done with a small ball four. It allows Adebayo to control the action most of the time, while trusting that he has that back-side help on the roll after he continues to switch onto guards effortlessly.

The other key with finding a front-court pairing for Adebayo on defense is sizing up. It makes people think that a true big may not be the worst thing, so Adebayo can then guard opposing fours and play on the perimeter. But as we’ve seen recently, Collins is more than capable of guarding bigger guys in the post.

We saw the physicality against Joel Embiid in the second round of the playoffs, and that type of play really stands out when Miami is evaluating him. I always come back to the point of giving Erik Spoelstra some extra tools, and that type of addition really replenishes his options.

Attacking Offensive Boards

Continuing the theme of the things a true big would give Miami, it’s that a rebounder is much needed for this Heat team. To reiterate, the Heat’s switching usually leaves Adebayo on the perimeter, which mostly leads to a great contest and a missed shot, but the issue is that the center isn’t down low to grab the rebound.

This led to some conversation about who could fight on the boards on both ends of the floor, and Collins has shown to be exceptional on the offensive boards specifically. It’s not just about his athleticism translating to highlight put-back dunks, but he has great patience and timing down in that area.

Something interesting when discussing offensive spacing is that Adebayo can truly open things up for him. Taking a look at the clip above, we see Clint Capela receive the ball below the free throw line before using a gather dribble into a push shot. This leaves Collins with less room to navigate for a rebound, but he still manages to bring it down then convert on the and-1.

Now, take a look at the play again as if Adebayo was in the spot of Capela. He’s become such a comfortable shooter at the elbow and free throw area, and I’d expect that to expand by next season. The point is that Collins in the dunker spot gives him plenty of room to swarm the offensive boards after an Adebayo jumper, since the opposing center won’t be able to recover as quickly.

Well, unless you’re Brook Lopez in the first round.

Post Touches and Soft Touches

A few months ago, there were some reports that Collins was unhappy with the way their offense was running, leaving him on the outside looking in. The reason for that is his entire package wasn’t being maximized, since his bag is much bigger than a lot of people realize.

I will dive into the on-ball stuff down the line, but there is something interesting when discussing his scoring: a soft touch and post touches. He clearly plays bigger than he is, but his comfort level in the post seems to be fairly high. Is he overpowering guys with his back to the basket? Absolutely not, it’s actually just the opposite.

He uses athleticism and speed to his advantage when bigs are defending. Take a look at the clip above, where he begins with his face to the basket, but immediately reverts to his comfort area. He utilizes that to transition into a spin and score with his off-hand, which is where the soft touch comes into play.

His mid-range game has shown flashes this season, but that one-hand push shot has become his friend time and time again. There are even times when he uses it at the elbow, which is far from a normal thing to do, yet a hard thing to defend. That type of touch around the rim can’t be taught, and frankly, those spots on the floor blend into Adebayo’s spacing.

When looking into certain bigs as potential options, there’s always this sense that they share similar areas of strength with Adebayo, leaving us questioning the fit. The thing with Collins is that I don’t see much cross-over, making it quite intriguing.

A Floor Spacer

From a film perspective, there’s nothing too special about the three-point shooting of Collins, but for this Heat team, they don’t need special. They just need a trusted spacer who can do the other things well that I’ve discussed, and that is what Collins does.

He shot 40% from three this season, all coming as a spot-up shooter from different spots. The dribble penetration in the PnR from Trae Young led to him getting plenty of catch and shoot corner threes, while lifting up to the wing effortlessly.

When talking about Adebayo, I’ve pointed out that the three-point shot should not be the focus. Mastering the second level must be the priority, since there’s no need to push his development in a certain direction, just due to their star player not having a three-ball either. But the way you can fix that is surrounding them with decent shooters who aren’t one dimensional.

What I mean by that is Leonard, for example, was unable to give Miami much offense other than the spot-up three, and that just doesn’t work on this team, or more importantly, next to Adebayo.

We can go in circles discussing the choice between building the team on Jimmy Butler’s timeline or Adebayo’s timeline, but at some point, there has to be a front-court running mate for Adebayo.

An Underrated On-Ball Threat

As I touched on previously, there have been times that Collins’ full bag has not been on display in Atlanta’s offense, but we’ve seen it expand in the playoffs. There were plenty of flashes throughout the season where plays, like the one above, would occur, allowing him to showcase his skill-set as a versatile on-ball threat.

Finding ways to get their stars downhill has been a sticking point for Miami moving forward, so how would they maximize all of them in that play-style? Well, it’ll have to include a ton of back-screening from their guards to get bigs on the move, but not to repeat this same point, but extra options for Spo changes the outlook. And clearly, Pat Riley will give some insight on the utilization of certain guys.

This element that I’m discussing is pretty much the deciding factor for the Heat in my opinion. Although I’ve shown so many positives from his fit, they have to be very confident that he can do stuff like this, if they’re going to put all of their eggs in his basket. They’re not just going to lock in on a role player, so there has to be a certain level of trust for individual expansion.

But to come back down to a realistic state, just like Adebayo, he is 23 years old, and has shown more than enough good things to be a trusted piece moving forward. But the question becomes, is it a big enough piece for right now?

The Fitting Front-Court Piece

To finish it off, if you were to ask me why I’m so confident in the offensive combo of Adebayo and Collins, it’s because of these type of actions.

When Adebayo was drafted by the Heat, there seemed to be a feeling that he would be a versatile big that would be utilized as a primary rim runner. But as we’ve seen over time, that was a huge understatement, due to his game being much more than that. Yet, I still have this feeling that it’s an element they’ve missed.

If you’ve been watching Collins in the playoffs over the past few weeks, a major takeaway you probably have is that he’s an incredible lob threat. Not just his athleticism taking over for crazy posters like the one above, but a mechanical screener and roller, forcing the defense into a decision making state.

The reason it’s important is due to it giving Adebayo some extra freedom, so that he doesn’t have to be included in every single action. This would leave him stationed on the weak-side at times with Collins as the roller, which is where it gets interesting.

As Adebayo stations himself on the opposite elbow, his defender must drop down and tag, which means it’s either a lob pass to Collins or pocket pass to Adebayo. The layers that can be added to that are endless, but it gives them a pretty interesting base. A similar thing can be ran with Adebayo as the roller and Collins as the threat on the weak-side wing.

The point is that their skill-sets match up on the offensive end, which is usually the main question in these discussions. The attainability and price of Collins is another question, but I guess we will address that as we get closer to free agency. For now, though, it’s fair to say that the front-court I’m discussing is a seamless fit.

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