John Collins is 19 years old, but his game resembles that of another era.
At 6-10 and 225 pounds, the Wake Forest big man is methodical in everything he does. With his back to the basket and an array of post moves at his disposal, Collins was the most efficient player in college basketball last season, averaging 19.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. It was the best stat line by an ACC player since 1996-97 – when Wake Forest’s star big man, Tim Duncan, won the Naismith Award before going No. 1 overall to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Draft.
A lot has changed in 20 years, though. Collins isn’t the player Duncan was, and he doesn’t fit the mold of a modern-day post player.
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After working out Friday with the Charlotte Hornets – who hold the 11th pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft – Collins couldn’t remember how many teams he’s tried out for. He thinks it’s nine or 10, and he’s tried to show all of them the energy and athleticism that has made him a potential lottery pick.
But does Collins’ old-fashioned game fit in today’s NBA?
“I think it could be an advantage,” he said. “If teams go small-ball, you throw me in there. I can post up and go to work on smaller guys.”
That’s what he did with the Demon Deacons last season, when the sophomore All-American was named the ACC’s Most Improved Player. After a lackluster freshman season, Collins simplified the game and focused on what he does best: crashing the offensive glass, playing deliberately in the paint, making hustle plays and using his athleticism to get around taller defenders.
It’s the same set of strengths he tried to showcase in Friday’s workout, where he left an impression on fellow prospect Tony Bradley.
“One of the best guys I’ve gone against so far in workouts,” said Bradley, a 6-11 forward from North Carolina. “He’s just athletic; he’s strong and physical.”
One of the best guys I’ve gone against so far in workouts. He’s just athletic; he’s strong and physical.
Tony Bradley, UNC forward, on Wake Forest’s John Collins
But unlike Bradley, Collins isn’t built for the NBA – at least not in the traditional sense. Bradley’s impressive length and deft shooting touch make him a favorable fit with nearly every team, even if his limited playing time at UNC left something to be desired.
Collins is the opposite. After averaging 26.6 minutes through 33 games last season, he still has to prove he has the traits of a modern NBA player.
“I’m working on my game every day to become as versatile as possible,” he said.
Wake Forest’s John Collins knows his weaknesses. And while he played to his strengths at Wake Forest, he’s tried to show teams he’s more than a post scorer.
That starts with his outside stroke. Collins attempted just one 3-pointer in his college career – a miss – and he was off on 12 of his 25 outside shots to end Friday’s workout. While he can score inside, Collins hasn’t shown that he can stop opposing players from doing the same. His 6-11 wingspan is uninspiring, and he struggled to finish over longer opponents like Bradley last season.
Collins knows his weaknesses. And while he played to his strengths at Wake Forest, he’s tried to show teams he’s more than a post scorer.
“There have been times where I’ve pulled stuff out of the bag that I really didn’t have a chance to do a lot at Wake,” Collins said.
He’ll need it all if he wants to succeed at the next level. Short, score-first forwards with a knack for rebounding can always carve out a role in the NBA. But to approach the shelf life of a player like Duncan, a 19-year veteran, Collins will need to add a modern flavor to his old-school offerings.
He’s trying to convince lottery teams like Charlotte – who play two hours from Wake Forest’s campus – that he can do just that.
“I’ve been working on my skill set away from the basket,” Collins said. “So I think, in time, I’ll be able to develop that new NBA feel (and) put that in my game.”
C Jackson Cowart: @CJacksonCowart