For the majority of the 2010’s, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) has been consistently dominated by the likes of North Carolina, Virginia and Duke University. On the other hand, Wake Forest has unfortunately maintained a position as the conference’s biggest bottom feeders. Heading into 2016-17, there was only one year (2013-14) where Wake Forest finished above the entire season above .500. Aside from that one lone season, Wake Forest just stumbled whether they were facing conference foes or not.
Entering the 2016-17 seasons, experts around college basketball overlooked Wake Forest during their preseason previews. That disregard was primarily due to the fact that the team finished 2-16 in conference play during the prior season. Coinciding with that, the team weren’t entering the new season with top-flight freshmen or a crop of well-regarded upperclassmen that could intrigue the masses.
At that time, the only two players on Wake Forest’s roster that might be considered as intriguing prospects were sophomores Bryant Crawford and John Collins. Among those two players, we knew more about Crawford due to him averaging 13.3 points, 4.4 assists and 1.7 steals on 39% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc in 33 minutes per game.
Meanwhile, Collins stood as more of an unknown as he only averaged 14.4 minutes during his debut season. However, Collins did some work as he put up 7.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and .7 blocks on 56% shooting. Although nobody really knew bout him at that time, Collins already established himself as a per-36 god, a label that would stick with him for the rest of his college career.
After that solid freshman season, Collins entered the 2016-17 season on a mission to prove that he stood as the best forward in the ACC. In that star-studded conference, that mindset as Collins would have to compete with the likes of Jayson Tatum, Justin Jackson, Dwayne Bacon and Jaron Blossomgame to even close in on being the ACC’s best forward. While most players would be overwhelmed by that task, Collins wasn’t.
From the beginning of the season, Collins focused in on making that lofty goal into a reality. During Wake Forest’s non-conference slate, Collins just exploded as he repeatedly put up impressive double-double performances. While him putting up 24 points and 10 boards on UTEP and 18 points and 12 boards against Radford came as solid performances, it was his play against Villanova that really placed Collins into the college basketball conscious.
In that game against the reigning national champs, Collins put up 17 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks on 8-13 from the field. Although that play wasn’t enough to push Wake Forest to victory, as they lost 96-77, it definitely forced scouts across the NBA to place Collins as a player that they needed to keep their focus on.
The great play of Collins maintained as Wake Forest entered ACC competition, as he accomplished his goal of being the conference’s best forward. In only 27.2 minutes per game, Collins averaged 20.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks on 64% from the field during conference play. Those great averages was enough to put Collins as the conference’s top scorer and 2nd-best rebounder, which is pretty good for a player that played 5-10 minutes less than other elite ACC players.
From an offensive perspective, Collins was able to put up such gigantic numbers by standing as a pretty versatile offensive weapon. Within that sophomore season, Collins established himself as a great off-ball cutter, offensive rebounder, mid-range shooter and post-up threat.
Among those skills, Collins probably did most of his work in the low-post, which made up 48% of his total possessions according to Synergy Sports. Able to work in both the left and right block, Collins showed the kind of low-post moves that we usually don’t see from a 19-year-old unless their name is Jahlil Okafor or Al Jefferson.
Similar to those players, Collins’ low-post excellence is through an array of moves from spin moves and side steps. Although Collins does occasionally utilize a classic hook shot, the 6’10 forward prefers to push into the opponent and put up a little jump shot. An example of that approach is seen in the clip below.
When opposing teams are able to figure out his low-post approach, Collins is able to counteract by stepping back and hitting a mid-range jumper. With range that spreads out from just inside the three-point line, Collins was able to utilize a solid shooting stroke to average 45% on mid-range jumpers according to Hoop-Math. Will Collins need to expand his jumper to beyond the NBA or college three-point line? Absolutely, but this is a great starting point for the young forward.
Although Collins shines as a mid-range shooter and post-up threat, a lot of his NBA potential comes from his work on the offensive glass. Averaging 5.6 offensive boards per 40 minutes, Collins shined as the 3rd-best offensive rebounder in the ACC. That accomplishment was due to him being an absolute monster inside the paint as he can just repeatedly capture offensive boards even if he’s surrounded by two or more opposing bigs.
After he captures that offensive rebound, Collins does a great job of doing quick put-backs before the opposition is able to react. An example of that tremendous ability is evident in the clip below as snatches the offensive board with one hand before quickly finishing at the basket.
Outside of his need to expand his shooting range, the biggest issue that Collins will need work comes on the defensive end. Throughout the season there were numerous cases where Collins just struggled to read the floor. Those struggles came whether he was working as a pick-and-roll defender or just working near the paint and not noticing that there’s an opposing player driving to the rim.
When Collins was able to spot that opposing cutter, it usually too late which forced him to foul the opposition. Those occurrences happened so many times that he averaged 3 fouls in 26.6 minutes per game. That’s not good.
Are there reasons to worry about his defensive struggles? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t remain optimistic about John Collins. That’s due to the massive improvement that he’s made in two years where he went from an unknown four-star prospect to one of the finest scorers in arguably the best conference in college basketball. While there could be some bumps in the road when Collins makes his transition to the NBA, he could absolutely turn into a huge steal for whichever team picks him up in next month’s NBA Draft.