by CHARLES ODUM
John Collins sees a far more dramatic improvement in the Hawks’ outlook.
“Completely different,” Collins said Wednesday night after closing the season with a career-high 25 rebounds and 20 points. “I feel we have more of a foundation, more of a solid base than last year. I feel like that’s going to give us a lot of comfort going into next year.”
Rookie point guard Trae Young is the new face of the franchise, but Collins also is part of the foundation . The 6-foot-10 forward, only 21 years old, saw his scoring almost double from 10.5 points as a rookie to 19.5 in his second season while averaging almost 10 rebounds per game.
The Hawks’ makeover in 2018-19 included the additions of three first-round picks and coach Lloyd Pierce. More youth is coming with two first-round picks in the June 20 NBA draft.
Kevin Huerter, a 3-point shooter, joined Young as rookie starters. The third first-rounder, forward Omari Spellman, started 11 games.
Young, who averaged 19.1 points per game, was the key to reshaping the Hawks’ look.
Some second-guessed general manager Travis Schlenk’s decision to draft and then trade Luka Doncic to Dallas for Young and a 2019 first-round pick.
“I don’t think anyone is doubting anymore,” Pierce said.
Young was inconsistent early, especially with the accuracy of his frequent extra-long 3-point shots that helped fuel comparisons with Stephen Curry. Young settled in and proved to be both durable and dynamic with a flair for clutch, game-winning shots.
Young posted 30 double-doubles and led the Eastern Conference with 18 games of at least 20 points and 10 assists. He recorded the first triple-double by a rookie in team history on March 9 against Brooklyn and had a career-high 49 points with 16 assists against Chicago on March 1.
“It didn’t look like fluke performances because it looks like he’s legit and belongs,” Pierce said.
Young knew early in his career he belonged.
Asked after Wednesday night’s final game, a last-second loss to Indiana, if he was no longer a rookie, Young said “I didn’t feel like a rookie for a long time, to be honest with you.”
Young, Collins, Huerter, Taurean Prince and others provide a base for the rebuilding effort. The expected additions of two more first-round picks this summer give Pierce more reason for optimism.
“I can’t do anything but smile,” Pierce said.
Here are some more things to know about the Hawks’ 2018-19 season:
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Pierce made a pitch for Young to be named the league’s top rookie — and then noted awards aren’t the ultimate goal.
“He’s meant more to us than I think any other rookie has meant to his team and he’s done more for us than any other rookie has done for his team,” Pierce said. “I also want him to understand that award doesn’t define what he accomplished this year. It doesn’t define what we set out to accomplish next year.”
Vince Carter , 42, said he’d like to play another season in Atlanta after averaging 7.4 points, mostly as a backup, “if they’ll have me.”
Pierce said Carter “showed us what a true leader looks like. He showed us an unbelievable talent in this game can also be an unbelievable teammate. … We’re not worried about what decisions he’s going to make moving forward. I’m still in awe we were able to get him all year the way we got him.”
After finishing with the fifth-worst record in the league, Atlanta has a 10.5% chance to land the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery on May 14.
IDENTITY AND CULTURE
Pierce is most proud of the way the young players blended with such veterans as Kent Bazemore, Dewayne Dedmon and Carter to establish an identity and a culture. “I think those were home runs for us,” Pierce said, before applauding Young’s lead role. “We have an identity,” Pierce said. “We have a culture. We’ve created a style of play and he’s been at the forefront of that. His numbers back it up.”
Collins finished with 32 double-doubles, the high mark among members of the 2018 NBA draft class.