by John Hooper
We first peered in John Collins' pro potential when comparing four of the big men of this year's draft, but we're taking a deep dive into his story after he came out as the best prospect in the draft this year in our algorithm.
Collins exploded onto the scene in his sophomore year after an effective yet limited freshman season. He posted a 21.8 PER in his freshman year and showed flashes of the efficient scoring that made him such a force this year, but he only played just over 14 minutes a night for Wake Forest in his initial go-round in the ACC. This year he played almost twice as many minutes per game and somehow increased his not only his per possession output in every single category (literally), but also increased his efficiency as well. His quantum leap this season was good enough to lead the NCAA in PER at 35.9 and vault him into the discussion as a fringe lottery prospect.
Collins has blossomed from an unranked three-star recruit to an ACC wrecking ball because of two intangibles - his motor and his discipline to play to his strengths. When you watch him play, he can seem one-dimensional because so much of what he does offensively happens within 10 feet of the hoop, but his hustle as well as his decisiveness around the basket led to enough good looks to make him the ACC's leader in field goal percentage at 62.2% this season. Collins is also springy and has a soft touch near the hoop that help him convert the good looks that he gets.
Collins received the maximum scores of 100 in the scoring and rebounding potential categories in the algorithm, which helped drive him to the top overall spot in its rankings this year. His perfect score as a scorer was a product of being ranked 8th in points per 100 possessions, 16th in true shooting percentage and 15th in made free throws per 100 possessions in our entire database (out of the 364 college draftees and this year's prospects since the 2011 draft). What those rankings show is that the way that he's getting his absurd 40.1 points per 100 possessions - on free throws and high-efficiency shots - is something that we can expect to translate well into the NBA. The fact that he accumulated those numbers in what's arguably the best conference in the country only increases the likelihood that he'll be a potent scorer in the NBA too. Collins' 100 point grade in rebounding potential is simple to explain in that the man gobbled up boards with a 21.1% rebound rate, which again was good enough to lead the ACC this year. You may be noticing that there's a general trend of Collins laying waste to the ACC this year.
Collins has an above average grade as a defender compared to the other centers in our database of 82.5. He lead his team in defensive rating (excluding players who played less than 3 total minutes) and tallied a respectable 3.3 blocks per 100 possessions. His shooting rating of 57.6 was also above average compared to other centers, driven by his 74.5% clip at the line. The one red flag about Collins is his subpar passing grade of 34.6. His situation is similar to Zach Collins (pretttty sure no relation), where his net impact on his team's offense is a strong positive (Collins led Wake Forest in offensive rating) but he's a bit of a black hole. If you're looking for the next Vlade Divac you'll want to keep it moving, but for many teams this is an acceptable limitation for their center.
Collins is a tough player to find a comparable pro to as a big man tweener who's a bit of a one-trick pony as an elite pick and roll finisher. Since he's a sinewy 6'10" (and the information about his wingspan is limited but I'm guessing it's about 7'0"), he'd be a bit small as the anchor of your defense in the paint, but he also doesn't have the range on his shot to make him an ideal power forward in today's game. Based on that, I'm forecasting Collins to end up as a bigger, better version of Kenneth Faried as a premium high-energy finisher and rebounder. If he lands in the right spot, he's very capable of averaging 18 and 10 without the type of defensive limitations that have reduced Faried's role for the Nuggets.
So what is the right spot for him? Ideally, Collins would slide into a situation next to a stretch five like a Kristaps Porzingis, Al Horford or Myles Turner. His rim running would give more space for any of those centers' attempts from deep, plus he wouldn't have to bang in the post with the few true bigs left in the league. His strong rebounding would also supplement all of those centers' weak output on the glass. Another option is pairing him with one of the stronger fours who can handle guarding centers when need be like a Draymond Green or Serge Ibaka, but those situations are a bit more rare.
Overall, Collins is a prospect with a workmanlike mentality who happens to have great physical gifts. He's proven himself against top competition and is younger than some of the top freshman in this year's draft like Josh Jackson and Justin Patton. He doesn't fit the prototype as either a four or a five in today's game but Collins is going to produce if given the right opportunity. Expect Collins to be the player that gets picked in the teens that would be taken top five when people are doing retrospectives on this draft in 2020.