Surprised Hawks grab John Collins No. 19 overall in NBA Draft

RAW: Hawks GM Travis Schlenk explains trading Dwight Howard

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Hawks drafted Wake Forest's John Collins No. 19 overall at the NBA Draft on Thursday.

Collins is a big man who can play power forward and center. The 6-foot-9, 225-pound sophomore averaged 19.2 points per game last season. He averaged just less than 10 rebounds per game and almost two blocks per game.

"There’s a winning culture that goes with being an Atlanta Hawk," Collins said via FaceTime. "The playoffs is a normality for you guys. It will be big time for me to come as a young guy and grip some of that winning culture."

Collins is Hawks General Manager Travis Schlenk's first draft pick since joining the organization. He pointed out Collins' improvement from his freshman season to sophomore season as one of the main reasons for taking him.

"Last year, you saw his athleticism and then the big jump that he’s made from his freshman year to his sophomore year. Obviously being the most improved player in the ACC, you see the growth he’s made, and he’s still a 19-year-old kid," Schlenk said.

Collins' athleticism and size allow him to be a strong presence in the paint getting rebounds and finishing plays. He has a mid-range jump shot, but does not contribute to offense much outside the paint. The Hawks would like to see that range extend. But when Collins did contribute, he shot 66 percent from the floor.

Collins said he's expanding his range and trying to improve defensively while staying out of foul trouble, an area his head coach and former Hawk Danny Manning made him work on throughout the season. 

But as the season progressed, so did Collins, finding an offensive upside. Entering the Draft wasn't even a thought at the start of the season.

"The year progressed, and my play elevated and obviously thoughts creep in your mind about going to the next level," he said.

Schlenk did not speak with Collins before the Draft. He only communicated with his agent on Thursday night. Collins was at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn where the Draft was held. Schlenk said he watched Collins at Wake Forrest three or four times this past season, and even more during his freshman season.

The Hawks interviewed him at his Pro Day before Schlenk joined the organization. He said he trusts the Basketball Operations group, including head coach Mike Budenholzer who is no longer the President of Basketball Operations after the organization's restructure. But Schlenk said he was very much involved in the pick.

"It doesn’t do us any good to take a guy he doesn’t like, so he’s got a voice for sure," Schlenk said.

It is the first NBA Draft for Schlenk. He was the assistant general manager at the Golden State Warriors prior to joining the Hawks. He said going into the Draft his strategy was to select the best player available regardless of team needs. 

The Hawks attempted to move up in the Draft to take a player they were targeting, but were unsuccessful, according to Schlenk. They thought about trading back, but when they saw Collins was still available, they threw that idea out the window. Collins' drop to No. 19 overall surprised Schlenk and the Hawks.

One of the team's owners, Mitt Shaw who is a former Demon Deacon, told Collins that the Hawks would take him if he was still available.

"He was always hinting and nudging, ‘If you’re around at 19, we’re definitely going to take you.' He came through on his word," Collins said.

Collins will help fill a lack of depth in the front court. He was third in the ACC in scoring and second in rebounding. He led the Demon Deacons to their first NCAA appearance since 2010. He was the ACC's Most Improved Player last season. He's worked out with former Wake Forrest player Chris Paul III, who Collins said has advised him a lot on how to proceed in his career.

"He’s helped me and guided me every step of the way. Tells me to grip everything. Make sure everything’s in front of you, know what you’re signing, know what’s going on with your career because it is your career. Gotta have fun. That’s the biggest thing. A lot of guys get caught up in the lifestyle. You just gotta have fun and keep improving on your game."

On Tuesday, the Hawks traded center Dwight Howard to the Charlotte Hornets for Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli and the 41st pick in the NBA Draft. The Hawks also traded away their 31st pick to Charlotte.

The Hawks drafted Tyler Dorsey from Oregon at No. 41 and French player Alpha Kaba No. 60.

Collins is from Layton, Utah. He comes from a military family and has lived in several places around the world, including Turkey. His dad was in the Navy and his mother in the Air Force.

Key free agents are Paul Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr., and the likelihood of them signing new deals with the Hawks appears less and less likely.

PHOTOS | Atlanta Hawks postseason ends

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