Can John Collins Make the Bulls a Contender?

For those of you that follow me on Twitter, listened to my old podcast (RIP), or read my previous stories on BAB, you know that I have a fever and the only cure is more defensive wing play. As someone who has already endorsed Pascal Siakam, Harrison Barnes, and Jerami Grant in the past, you might wonder why I would change my ways now.

The Alternatives

Firstly, I am not sure the price is right for any of the names above. Siakam is no longer in the trade universe barring a massive overpay. Barnes falls into a similar category. This is usually the "whether you agree or not with team X's decision to go all-in for a playoff spot" space, but let's be real, it is the Kings. Sane readers have already concluded that it is a bad decision. Nonetheless, the Kings clinging to the chance for a 10-seed like Kate Winslet in a frozen ocean means that like Siakam, the Bulls would likely need a godfather offer to sway them.

Grant deserves his own section. He has been the focus of my on again, off again affection as a Bulls' trade target. He is the Rachel to my Ross with his tantalizing mix of athleticism, defensive ability, and offensive skills. Unfortunately, his shooting has been pretty mediocre unless he is wide open. He did shoot 43.5% from 3 when left wide open in his lone season in Denver and 41.8% on wide open looks in his last season in OKC. Beyond that, his shooting from deep has been mediocre at best. Instead, he prefers taking defenders off the bounce and getting into the paint or getting a shot up in the midrange, which is where most of his extra shots in Detroit have come from. In Detroit,he has the green light to do that. Is that going to be something he does in Chicago? I doubt it. Meanwhile, he is currently injured, his defense has regressed, and his rebounding has never been that great. If he comes to Chicago, he will inevitably become one of my favorite players. I love the way he plays, his attitude, and the improvement he has shown but at 27 -- older than Zach LaVine -- I simply don't see him developing the parts of his game this Bulls team needs.

The Case for Collins

It took 4 paragraphs but we are finally at John Collins. The factor that differentiates him from Siakam and Barnes is his potential price and availability via trade. What differentiates him from Grant is his fit in a number of ways.

Let's start with the price tag because it is a big part of the deal in two ways. Collins' literal price tag, his contract, could look a bit bloated for a player who might be the fourth option on this offense. He is in year one of a 5-year $125 million dollar deal. That is a lot of money.

The other price tag is what the Bulls have to pay to get him. As it usually does, the attractiveness of one of these numbers moves in the opposite direction of the other. Collins looks eminently available as the Hawks look to be mid-firesale after cutting bait with Cam Reddish and having their GM admit he regretted bringing the band back together. That seems pretty relevant when Collins was one of those very players after signing that deal in August of last year after a nice playoff run. If the Hawks want to get off money, Collins is the biggest and longest deal they could move.

It is easy to see Collins as just a guy who rim runs and blocks shots but he has done a lot of development during his time in the league despite playing for a team that has not been known for their development staff. Mike Budenholzer was his coach as a rookie but since then, he has played for Lloyd Pierce and Nate McMillan. Neither of those coaches are known for their innovation and Collins is one of the most versatile players in the league. To wit, when looking for players who had posted a line of 36% 3P%, seven rebounds, and at least half a steal and block per game, there are only seven players to do it this season. Last season, there were 14 and the year before there were eight. Only two players have been on the list all three times - Karl Anthony Towns and Collins. While Jayson Tatum, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard could be on this list if not for a few minor factors, I think their presence only bolsters Collins' case.

How does that versatility fit with the Bulls? For starters, he could fill two major holes immediately by plugging in as the starting power forward and the backup center. He is also an excellent rim runner, underrated passer and good helpside defender. If his shooting and defense continue to improve, it is fair to say he could improve nearly every major weakness the Bulls have (interior scoring, vertical presence, pick-and-roll play, helpside defense, rebounding, and interior defense).

The Concerns

Collins is not a perfect fit. His defense is likely the worst of the four potential trade candidates but both of those skills have improved as he has developed and he is the youngest player on this list by a wide margin at 24 years old. His numbers as an isolation defender are not pretty. Play him with Vucevic and DeRozan and there are a lot of mismatches to hunt for opponents. That said, I think Billy Donovan plays well to his personnel. Collins' athleticism, helpside instincts, and improvement on that end give me a lot of hope that Collins could turn into an above average player on that end.

More concerningly, his shooting is certainly a mirage. He is likely in the same vicinity as Jerami Grant as a shooter. Isolating his shooting by the closest defender results in a concerning albeit expected trend. Most of his shots from beyond the arc are classified as wide open by NBA stats and tracking since he came into the league and his percentages drop precipitously when a defender gets closer. Playing with Trae Young yields a long of those wide open looks as defenses collapse onto him. Will he get those same looks on the Bulls?

The good news is that Collins has shot upwards of 35% on drastically reduced volume each of the past three seasons on open looks as well, which the NBA defines as shots where a defender is 4-6 feet away. Frankly, if defenders are closing out hard enough on Collins to prevent him from shooting, it is less of a concern because of his ability to put the ball on the floor and/or the defender on a poster. LaVine and DeRozan might not get him the same looks as Young but he won't have to jack up contested triples either.

The Decision

Collins has never played for a coach like Donovan who can play to his strengths defensively and let him do what he does best offensively. He would be a perfect stretch five for this team because unlike many other candidates, he can clean the boards. Meanwhile, his shooting could mitigate the fit issues playing next to Vooch in the frontcourt. It is a suboptimal defensive pairing but if the price is right, AKME should pull the trigger.

The Deal

Three-for-one trades are notoriously hard to pull off midseason but with the number of two-way players this season, the Hawks and Bulls can figure something out even if it means waiving some players. I think I would pull the trigger even if the young player was Patrick Williams instead of Coby White or if the Bulls had to include a first-round pick with White to get it done but those types of decisions are why AKME gets paid the big bucks and I am a lowly blog boy posting from my couch.

Can John Collins take this team to the next level? Are Grant, Barnes, Siakam or someone else the real answer? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

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