John Collins, Evan Fournier, Duncan Robinson and more: Hollinger’s All-Change of Scenery Team
Hey, remember John Collins?
He was the Hawks’ leading scorer in 2018-19, when he was 21, and was second on the team in usage rate. A year later he was second only to Trae Young and averaged a career-high 21.6 points per game. He was the Hawks’ second-leading scorer for each of the next three seasons, even as he dipped to fourth on the team in usage by 2021-22.
And now, in 2022-23, on the second year of a $126 million contract, Collins is Atlanta’s fourth-leading scorer and fifth in usage. Collins should be in the prime of his career; he’s 25 years old, he’s worked to become a respectable 3-point shooter and his once highly suspect defense has become more dependable.
Watch a Hawks game, however, and there are long stretches when you forget he’s even on the court. In his sixth season, he’s never had fewer touches or scored less often. He’s averaging a career-low 18.7 points per 100 possessions, with a 16.0 usage rate that pales next to the 23.7 of his second season; it has declined every year since.
What once was an awesome Collins-Young pick-and-roll pairing has now become a rare sight; the acquisition of Clint Capela made him the screener most of the time, and the Hawks rarely play Collins at center anymore now that Danilo Gallinari is gone and Onyeka Okongwu has established himself as a solid backup. Collins played 47 percent of his minutes at center in 2019-20, according to Cleaning the glass; this season, that figure is 2 percent.
What’s bad for Collins is perhaps worse for the Hawks. He’s the second-highest paid player on a roster that is already at next season’s tax line, even before any money is spent to upgrade a bench leaking points nearly every night. Any prayer of re-signing Dejounte Murray in 2024 and still remaining below the tax line depends in part on rerouting one of Atlanta’s other big contracts prior to that time; Collins would seemingly be at the top of that list.
Perhaps not shockingly, our Shams Charania reported last week that Collins’ name has once again come up in trade conversations. This is pretty much a scheduled tweet by now, but it does underscore the current awkwardness of the fit between Collins, his contract and his team … and the difficulty of finding the right landing spot for a player who thrives when he can play the five on offense and as a four on defense.
As a result, Collins is the top name on my All-Change of Scenery Team — 10 guys who are pretty clearly wasting time on their current rosters but could do plenty more on a different one. This isn’t a trade rumors column per se, but the Venn diagram between this list and such a column would likely have significant overlap.
Free John Collins! Here are the other players around the league who could desperately use a change of scenery:
Payton Pritchard, PG, Celtics
Boston is going gangbusters but is so deep in the backcourt that Payton Pritchard has been squeezed into a bit role despite performing well in his limited minutes. With Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White ahead of him in the backcourt pecking order, it’s been near-impossible for Pritchard to break through. Pritchard is 25, shoots 41.2 percent career from 3 and has another year left beyond this one on a rookie contract that pays him peanuts. He’s valuable! He’s just less valuable to Boston right now than almost any other team.
In his case, one out would seem to be as a trade chip to get Boston another big man. The Celtics have thus far survived the absence of Robert Williams III, with the help of some solid contributions from scrap-heap pickup Luke Kornet, but the injuries to Williams and Gallinari exposed what is perhaps the one weakness on a loaded Boston team.
Evan Fournier, SG, Knicks
In Fournier’s case, it’s hard to say a 260-minute sample of subpar shooting really translates into a definitive case that he’s washed at 30. He’s perhaps stretched as a starter at this point and makes $37 million over the next two years (there’s also a team option in 2024-25), so he’s not the easiest player to move in a trade. Nonetheless, there are teams short of bench shooting and playmaking that he’d pretty clearly help.
It’s just not clear the Knicks are one of them, not with Quentin Grimes, Miles McBride and Cam Reddish pushing for minutes, Immanuel Quickley able to play both guard spots and Derrick Rose still in the mix.
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Jaxson Hayes, C, Pelicans
Jaxson Hayes was a starter for New Orleans as the Pelicans made their run to the playoffs last season. This year, with Zion Williamson back in the mix and Trey Murphy emerging, he’s had a hard time getting on the court. Missing time with a preseason elbow injury didn’t help, but Hayes has only played 44 minutes all season. He collected DNPs for nine straight games until finally entering in garbage time of Monday’s scrimmage against the Warriors’ JV squad, brought in as the closer to protect a 41-point lead with seven minutes left.
Hayes doesn’t fit the current iteration of the Pelicans, but last season was proof of concept for him as a poor man’s version of Collins, a rim-running big who can also step out and make the occasional 3. He’s on the final year of his rookie deal, making $6.8 million, and the Pelicans are already over next year’s tax line, so it seems hugely unlikely he’ll be back. Yes, he has his weaknesses, but he’s only 22, and he could help somebody. One hopes one of the rebuilding teams takes a look at him before the year is out.
R.J. Hampton, SG, Magic
The Magic declined to pick up R.J. Hampton’s fourth-year option last month, and if you look at their situation, it was understandable. The Magic already have 12 players under contract for 2023-24, plus they have three draft picks coming their way and enough cap room to make a splash too. Hampton was coming off an awful 2021-22 and would have had a $4.2 million cap hit, and the Magic already have two other young combo guards (Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs) who factor more prominently in their plans.
Here’s the thing: Hampton has actually played pretty well this season when opportunity has put him on the court. Those chances likely will vanish once Anthony, Gary Harris and Markelle Fultz return to the lineup, but thus far, the 21-year-old has been a pleasant surprise for a team that has not exactly been awash in elite guard play. Of particular note has been a shooting uptick (small sample warning) that has him at 14-of-32 from 3 and 20-of-24 from the line, both of which would smash his career high if he keeps them up.
The Magic are limited to offering him $4.2 million in free agency after the season, and unfortunately for Hampton, that limit would travel to his new team in a trade. It’s still possible he gets out — we saw it a year ago with Jalen Smith in Indiana — but the more likely scenario is that he’ll have to play out the season to get his wings.
Eric Gordon, SG, Rockets
Eric Gordon trade rumors are another one in the “scheduled tweet” category, but seriously … get this guy out of Houston. It’s borderline hilarious that the Rockets were using him as a defensive stopper against alpha wings while Jae’Sean Tate was out, but that says everything about his mismatch on this roster — a tough, veteran shooter on a young, wild team indiscriminately flinging the ball all over the gym and occasionally running back on defense.
Gordon turns 34 next month and has better things to do than this. He remains a productive player who could help a contending team, and his contract isn’t guaranteed beyond this season unless his team wins the championship. His $19.6 million cap number isn’t the easiest to work into a trade. But one hopes this is the year he finally lands someplace where his contributions will matter.
Mark Williams, C, Hornets
Do you remember when the Hornets took Mark Williams in the lottery and we thought he might be their starting center? Do the Hornets? Banished to the end of the bench by the emergence of Nick Richards and the continued employment of Mason Plumlee, Williams has played only 13 minutes this season.
Charlotte banished him to the G League instead, where he played four games and absolutely murdered everybody, averaging 23 points and 15 rebounds and ranking second in the G League in PER.
A change of scenery in this case appears unlikely, given that the Hornets just drafted him. More likely is a change of scenery around him, actually. With Charlotte mired at 4-14, the question is when they might make an early pivot to tanking in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. If so, trading a veteran like Plumlee and opening playing time for Williams would seem to be the right move.
Either way, free Mark Williams! He can’t prove anything else by dunking on people in Greensboro. He needs NBA minutes now.
Matisse Thybulle, SG, Sixers
Matisse Thybulle is a two-time All-Defense selection who is such a potent ball thief that his league-leading 3.4 percent steal rate last season was actually a career low. He’s also fallen out of the mix almost entirely in Philadelphia, as the Sixers look to add more shooting and spacing around James Harden and Joel Embiid.
It’s true that Thybulle’s offense has made it difficult to keep him on the court at times, but it still says here that the fourth-year wing can find the right fit on an up-tempo team. He is a one-of-a-kind defensive disruptor with frog-tongue hands and an uncanny knack for blocking shots from behind.
The guard makes only $4.4 million and will be a restricted free agent after the season, which would put an acquiring team in a favorable position to retain him long term. Philadelphia isn’t the right team for him, but that club is out there. The Sixers are likely interested in finding that team too, as Thybulle’s expiring contract is one of their few remaining trade chips.
Richaun Holmes, C, Kings
This one might be harder to pull off, as Richaun Holmes is a center who makes $36 million over the next three years. Moving non-elite centers is hard at any time, but particularly when their own team isn’t playing them.
The lord of the big-man floater, Holmes was zapped from the Kings rotation after just eight games, only resurfacing to close a blowout win over Brooklyn. It’s hard to argue that Holmes played well in those first few games, with massive declines in rebounds and blocks and an infinite decline in assists (he had, um, zero).
Nonetheless, I have a hard time believing this is truly his new ability level. Holmes is 29 and was a solid starter a year ago; the two years before that, he was one of the Kings’ best players. I’d like to see him get a chance on the court someplace.
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Duncan Robinson, SF, Heat
Unlike a lot of the other players on this list, Robinson still plays in Miami … sort of. The Heat steadily moved away from him as last season wore on, replacing him in the starting lineup with Max Strus and then severely limiting his minutes in the playoffs. If you follow their rotation choices, the Heat seemingly would be doing the same this season if they could ever field a full roster.
In the meantime, have we figured out what happened to his shot? Robinson panicked defenses in the Heat’s run to the NBA Finals in 2020, shooting 44.6 percent from 3. Since then, it’s been steadily downhill: 40.8 percent in 2020-21, 37.2 percent in 2021-22 and a ghastly 30.6 percent this season. For a guy who shoots 2s about as often as I drink decaf, that’s a disaster.
Confounding matters is the fact that Robinson makes $75 million over the next four years. No, moving this contract will not be easy and likely only as part of a much larger blockbuster for Miami. Nonetheless, I’d like to see him get a fresh start; there doesn’t seem to be a logical reason why he couldn’t revert to 40 percent from distance, and that version of Robinson is still a valuable player. It’s just getting harder and harder to see that happening in Miami.
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(Illustration by Sean Reilly / The Athletic; photo of Duncan Robinson: Megan Briggs / Getty Images; photo of Evan Fournier: Dustin Satloff / Getty Images; photo of John Collins: Todd Kirkland / Getty Images)
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