John Collins says ‘lack of ego’ is ‘refreshing’ in Utah after trade from Atlanta Hawks

The six-year veteran is looking forward to starting anew with the Jazz.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz coach Will Hardy talks with John Collins during an NBA Summer League basketball game against the 76ers on July 5, 2023, at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City.

It’s fair to say Utah Jazz forward John Collins is excited to be in his new environment.

Speaking to reporters at the Jazz’s practice facility ahead of training camp this week, Collins spoke about the chance for a fresh start.

“In some ways, I feel like a rookie again,” Collins said. “To meet new staff, new teammates, this new environment ... to get myself together in a new city.”

Of course, Collins isn’t a rookie. He’s a 26-year-old veteran who played six seasons with the Atlanta Hawks — six seasons that featured some real highs and lows. He averaged more than 20 points per game as a 22-year-old, and played a pivotal role in the team’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2020-21 season.

But last year, under two different coaches, Collins scuffled. He had the worst shooting year of his career, and clearly had a smaller role than he’d ever had in his career.

“I tried to do everything I could to continue to stay effective and productive. And sometimes things just don’t work out for whatever reason. I felt like I was doing a d--- good job,” Collins said. “But you know, when your usage rate drops lower than it was in your rookie year, I mean, that tells me a lot.”

After months of trying, the Hawks finally traded Collins to the Jazz in July.

Frankly, the scars still show. When Collins was asked what he found about Utah that was most surprising to him, he answered honestly — and drew a pretty clear line of demarcation between the Jazz and the Hawks.

“I’d say the one thing that has surprised me is the lack of ego here,” Collins said. “It’s refreshing to have a group of guys that truly emphasize playing team basketball and that want to do so; it’s nice for me to see. It’s exciting for me to be around, and you know, it helps me wake up in the morning motivated to go play.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) goes for a loose ball along with Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins (20) and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11), in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Atlanta Hawks at Vivint Arena, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.

That could be in reference to his reported issues with how ball-dominant star guard Trae Young tended to be in Atlanta. According to reporting from The Athletic, Collins “expressed a desire for more ball involvement and flow on offense” in a 2021 film session, criticism pointed at Young. Collins also called last Hawks season “a soap opera,” one that ended in a first-round exit to the Boston Celtics.

On the other hand, both Collins and Young have insisted that there’s no real ill will between the two, calling the discussion a simple basketball disagreement. Young expressed well wishes for Collins upon his trade.

Regardless of what happened in Atlanta, Collins feels that Jazz coach Will Hardy’s offense will fit his style of play better than what he saw last year.

“Coming into a different offense, Coach Will, he emphasizes a different way of basketball here. I’m just excited that, for me, the way that I move and the energy that I play with on the court, I feel like it will be rewarded in the best way,” Collins said. “Coach has obviously let me know that there will be space and opportunity for me to go earn what it is that I want on the court.”

In order to play effectively, Collins will simply need to shoot better. A busted finger led to a career-low 29% 3-point range, but he believes he can return to his 35% career average from deep — if not better.

“D--- right I can,” Collins said. “When your role changes from not shooting as many threes, to adjusting to shooting a lot more threes, there’s an adjustment period for that. I went back into the lab and worked on my game. ... Shooting the hell out of the ball — that’s all I think about doing, is making every shot I can.”

Early returns were positive: Word from his teammates in preseason scrimmages is that Collins has been shooting the ball well.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz draft pick Taylor Hendrick speaks with Danny Ainge, CEO of the Utah Jazz, left, alongside coach Will Harding, John Collins, Jeff Hornacek and Jazz General Manager Justin Zanik during an NBA Summer League basketball game Wednesday, July 5, 2023, at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City.

All in all, this is an important season for Collins — one that could define much of how the rest of his career goes. He understands that the league will be watching how he performs in a new environment, and taking stock in his game from that. Still, though, he says that he’s staying focused on his own internal expectations, not those of others.

“I’m really just proving back to myself that this is what I do,” Collins said. “Keep pushing, keep being a professional, keep trying to win games, keep continuing to be a competitor — that’s really the only thing that I think about.”

Well, he does have one other thing in mind: the Jazz’s first matchup in Atlanta on Feb. 27.

“It’s definitely circled on the calendar. For sure. Honestly, I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I get there,” Collins said.