1. John Collins
After breaking out in a big way with first-round value across 41 games in his third NBA season, John Collins has regressed mightily in his fourth year in Atlanta and first season alongside Clint Capela, seeing noticeable drops in every statistical category – with the most glaring decline coming in the shot-blocking department (down to 0.8 from last year’s career-high 1.6). He has shown flashes of his former self this year, but he just hasn’t been able to put it all together consistently through the first nine games of the season.
He appeared to be on his way to a big-time game on Saturday, recording nine points and six boards without a miss through the first quarter of action, but then, for whatever reason, the Hawks went away from him for the preceding three quarters and he finished with just 12 points, 10 rebounds while completing his third straight game without a single swat. There was some concern before the season started that Collins was headed for a decline in the shot-blocking department with the addition of Capela, as it was expected that he’d spend less time at center, but Lloyd Pierce has been staggering his minutes with Capela and according to basketball-reference he’s actually spending 54% of his playing time at the five-spot – which is a 7% increase from the previous year. So, in other words, there’s not an easy explanation for Collins’ decline in swats this season.
Perhaps the most notable statistic for Collins in the early going of his 2020-21 campaign is his decline in pick-and-roll opportunities, Atlanta’s bread and butter play between Trae and John last year. He averaged 5.1 pick-and-rolls last season, which resulted in 1.31 points per possession and he ranked No. 3 in the league – but this year that number has dropped to 2.9 pick-and-rolls per game with 1.04 points per possession, which ranks outside the top-20. It’s going to be a problem if that number doesn’t come up, as it’s one of Collins’ primary methods for scoring, but I remain optimistic that he’ll be able to turn things around simply from a pure talent argument. The Hawks added a lot of new guys this summer and they’re still figuring out how to fit all the pieces together, but Collins remains the second-best offensive player on this team, so it would make sense to use him as such. As I’m writing this, Collins is putting up just top-50 value on the season, which feels like his floor, but with more pick-and-rolls and an uptick in blocked shots I could see him climbing into the top-20 equation. There’s still some room to buy-low here.
Prolonged slumps are nothing new for Robert Covington, but they sure are frustrating to go through. In case you haven’t noticed RoCo has gotten off to a fairly brutal start this year, cracking double-digits in the scoring department just once so far (in a matchup against the defensively challenged Bulls), but the typical top-40 player has only been a top-100 guy through the first nine games of the year. He’s still adjusting to a new system in Portland, but he’s been nearly invisible in the offense, attempting just 5.9 FGAs per game and 4.6 3PA, which is about half of his normal averages. The good news is that the minutes are still there (30.4), and he’s been decent with the steals (1.4), so once his shot starts dropping (and he becomes more assertive in the offense) he should be able to make his way back into top-40 territory.
Again, there is a precedent for prolonged RoCo shooting slumps. He had a month-long stretch last year in December where he was just a top-75 guy, but he finished the season ranked inside the top-35. He also had a two-month stretch during his 2017-18 campaign from January-February in which he hit just 36.2% of his shot attempts and ranked outside the top-150, but again, on the season as a whole he finished inside the top-40. And as another example, through the first two months of his 2016-17 campaign Covington ranked outside the top-100 while converting on just 30.8% of his shot attempts – but when all was said and done, he finished inside the top-40. In other words, there’s a consistent pattern here with a clear trendline, so I’m fairly confident RoCo will eventually find his place in Portland’s offense and catapult into early-round status. He’s a good buy-low target.
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3. Buddy Hield
Buddy Hield has gotten off to his least efficient start ever through his first 10 games in Sacramento this season, connecting on a career-worst 34.8% of his shot attempts to go with averages of 14.4 points, 3.3 treys, 4.2 boards, 2.7 assists and 1.8 turnovers per game, which has him ranking well outside the top-150. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that despite his struggles, he’s averaging a career-high 34.2 minutes per game as the unquestioned starting two-man with Bogdan Bogdanovic no longer around, and he’s attempting a career-high 9.8 3PA per contest. His shot has just been off, but it’s tough to see him not turning things around given that he’s still getting a decent number of open looks – he’s just not converting on them. Last year, Hield converted on 42.6% of his open looks and 34.7% of his attempts where his closest defender was within 2-4 feet (tight coverage) of him – but this season he’s been connecting on just 18.2% of his open shots and 11.8% with a “tight” defense. He’s also seeing a larger percentage (62.4% of FGA) of open and wide-open shots this year compared to last season (55.8% of FGA), so it should only be a matter of time for the 3-point sniper to see a regression to the mean.