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Hawks’ rebuild jumping off with John Collins

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LOS ANGELES – John Collins rose from his seat as the Rising Stars media session ended and groaned.

“I feel like an old man,” the 20-year-old rookie said to nobody in particular.

Hawks teammate Kent Bazemore had been warning him of this for a while. Collins, the No. 19 pick in last year’s draft, arrived in Atlanta bursting with athleticism and energy. The big man tried to dunk everything in practices and walkthroughs, even as the veteran Bazemore warned against it.

“He’s dunking and windmilling,” Bazemore said. “It’s like, ‘Dude, just save it. Save it. We know you can jump. Just lay it in.'”

After a couple months, Collins began heeding Bazemore’s advice.

Maybe it’ll help Collins soar at the optimal time.

The Hawks face a long road ahead. How many current Atlanta players will remain on the roster when the team next makes the playoffs? The answer might be zero. But Collins is the safest bet.

Collins – who turned 20 on Sept. 23 – is on track to lead the Hawks in win shares. The only players so young to lead a team in win shares: Karl-Anthony Towns (2015-16 Timberwolves), Kyrie Irving (2011-12 Cavaliers), Kevin Durant (2008-09 Thunder), Dwight Howard (2004-05 and 2005-06 Magic), LeBron James (2004-05 Cavaliers) and John Drew (1974-75 Hawks).

Atlanta is on pace to win just 24 games. So, obviously Collins leading the team in win shares means only so much.

But his early success has gotten so much of the Hawks’ hopes to be pinned on him.

Taurean Prince, the No. 12 pick in 2016 who had a promising rookie year, has stalled as he assumes a bigger role this season. Another 2016 first-rounder, DeAndre Bembry, has provided little value. Dennis Schroder, though still just 24, must progress to provide surplus value on his four-year, $62 million contract extension.

By contrast, Collins is the only one of Atlanta’s potential building blocks selected by current general manager Travis Schlenk, who took over last spring

“The way I’ve been playing, obviously people are going to expect a certain way for me to play going forward and are going to expect for me to progress and get better,” Collins said. “So, obviously, it’s a little bit of pressure.”

If he’s feeling it, he’s not showing it in the midst of a trying season for his team.

“He comes into work every day with – he’s just upbeat, kind of excited, happy, wants to get better,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It’s the human that I think I’m most excited about.

“When you’re maybe not having those tangible results at the end of games, if you have kind of the right mentality, the right disposition, and you get up the next morning, and you come to work excited about getting better and improving, really I think it’s the way to live life. And he’s certainly just, I think, naturally has been given that.”

That makes Collins an ideal early piece in Atlanta’s rebuild. His powerful dunks enthrall fans, and his teammates seem to like him, repeatedly kidding him about his endorsements.

Reinforcements should arrive soon.

The Hawks have all their own first-round picks plus Houston’s this year, Minnesota’s lottery-protected this year and Cleveland’s top-10-protected next year. Based on Basketball-Reference projections, the expected yield this year: No. 4 (Hawks), No. 22 (Timberwolves) and No. 30 (Rockets). The Cavaliers’ pick, which is also top-10 protected in 2020 and becomes second-rounders if it doesn’t convey that year, will obviously depend on LeBron James’ offseason decision.

And it’s too early to give up on Prince, who still shows promise. Schroder has become steadier as a playmaker, developed a nice mid-range shot and might look better in a smaller role. Bembry isn’t completely a lost cause.

But Collins, somewhat by default, has become the centerpiece of the Hawks’ youth movement.

He’s an elite finisher – including highlight dunks – and good offensive rebounder. He has looked surprisingly adept as a rim protector so far, and he’s nimble enough to become adequate switching onto the perimeter. His ball skills – shooting from mid-range, passing, dribbling – need development, and he must eventually become felt more defensively, including on the glass.

Atlanta is bringing him along slowly. Collins averages just 23 minutes per game (a redeeming factor in his team lead in win shares), as veterans Dewayne Dedmon and Ersan Ilyasova (bought out and signed with the 76ers) have earned playing time ahead of the rookie. Collins’ usage percentage is also just a below-average 18. (That limited role allows Collins to focus on his strengths and also helps explain his win-share lead.)

Like with everything else, Collins is eager for more minutes and responsibility. But he also sounds happy to defer Budenholzer’s growth plan.

“I’m in a blessed situation right now to be able to play professional basketball,” Collins said. “Whether we win no games or whether we win all 82 games, to be able to have the job I have is definitely a blessing. So, always have to be happy about that.”

Kevin Huerter’s 3-pointer gives Hawks first win in San Antonio in his lifetime (video)

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The Hawks beat the Spurs in San Antonio on Feb. 15, 1997.

The next year, Kevin Huerter was born.

Atlanta’s next win in San Antonio came Friday, when Huerter hit the game-winning 3-pointer in a 121-120 win.

The Hawks’ losing streak in San Antonio spanned Tim Duncan’s entire lengthy career – and continued a few seasons beyond that. The only reprieve came during the lockout-shortened 1999 season, when Atlanta didn’t visit San Antonio. So, the skid lasted 21 games.

Buddy Hield on Kings getting booed at home: ‘That’s how Sacramento fans are’

Kings guard Buddy Hield
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Buddy Hield is quite familiar with frustration amid the Kings’ disappointing season.

Sacramento fans showed theirs Wednesday, booing the Kings during their home loss to the Mavericks.

Buddy Hield, via James Ham of NBC Sports California:

“Everybody is frustrated, it’s not even them, we’re trying to figure it out too,” Buddy Hield said following the loss. “But it’s the home team and we get booed…we don’t agree with it, but they’re going to voice their opinion.

“I understand their frustration, but like I said, I’m going to keep shooting the ball,” Hield continued. “When I make a three they like me, when I don’t, they hate you. That’s how Sacramento fans are, man, so you’ve got to embrace it.”

Hield seemingly isn’t looking to pick a fight with fans. He made a point to empathize with their frustration.

But I don’t think he’s being fair, either.

Kings fans are far more loyal than swinging between love and hate depending whether or not a shot falls. They’re fed up after 13 – going on 14 – straight seasons missing the playoffs. This year has been particularly discouraging, as Sacramento has backtracked from fun and fast to sad and slow. Losing to Luka Doncica particular grievance – only adds to the irritation.

The Kings’ problems have spanned multiple owners, executives, coaches and players. So, booing this group isn’t totally fair, either. But this is who’s in front of the fans.

If this Sacramento team plays hard and together, fans will embrace it – and stick with it through thinner times.

76ers play 6-on-5 vs. Bulls (video)

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The 76ers found one way to solve their spacing issues.

Philadelphia showed good ball movement, finding Furkan Korkmaz for an open corner 3-pointer. The catch? Korkmaz got open, because the 76ers had six players on the floor.

I love Kyle O'Quinn trying to slink off the court. He wanted to get away with it. Tobias Harris, who jogged to the bench, was practically begging to get caught.

Honestly, I’m a little surprised how quickly the Bulls noticed the violation. It’s not as if their defense scrambling is anything new.

Thirty days after being called ‘day-to-day,’ Karl-Anthony Towns returns to Timberwolves

Karl-Anthony Towns
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Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders called Karl-Anthony Towns “day-to-day” with a left knee sprain.

That was 30 days ago.

Towns finally returned to Minnesota’s lineup, starting against the Pacers tonight.

While out due to his knee, Towns also battled illness. That undoubtedly complicated matters. But the Timberwolves repeatedly calling him “questionable” raises questions about their commitment to transparency. That’s important in an NBA embracing gambling.

Towns’ 17-game absence is a rare dent in his durability. In his first four seasons, Towns missed only five games – two due to a car crash.

Towns is Minnesota’s best player. He could provide a jolt to a team hanging in the playoff race. But, after a strong start, the Timberwolves began to tumble even before Towns went down. They’re probably won’t make the playoffs, though their odds are definitely better with him. At least he returns in time to make an All-Star case.