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Sleeper Deep Dives: Coleman Hawkins
Illinois junior forward Coleman Hawkins is having a breakout season for the Illini; his strong all-around game might have developed enough for him to end up in the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft.
Coleman Hawkins entered this season as more of a draft curiosity than a solidified prospect. The Sacramento native and former Prolific Prep standout did not crack the RSCI Top 100 for his high school class, and he was little more than a bit player in his 25 games during his first season for Illinois. He began to generate some momentum last season, cracking the starting lineup in 14 of his 33 games and filling some gaps for the Illini. Despite his playmaking talents, though, the 6’10” forward was far from the focal point of the offense.
This season, however, has been a very different story for Hawkins. He has started all 14 games for Illinois this season and has been a key building block on both ends of the floor for the Illini. Even with two highly-touted transfers in Terrence Shannon Jr. and Matthew Mayer in the mix, along with four newcomers who ranked in the 2022 RSCI Top 100 (led by Skyy Clark at #32 on the list), Hawkins has arguably been the breakout star—even with Shannon Jr. having a hot start to the season.
Hawkins has absolutely stuffed the stat sheet this season, averaging 9.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.1 SPG, and 1.3 BPG in his 29.9 minutes per game. While his scoring numbers might not be quite where evaluators might want them to be, his contributions in virtually every other area of the game are becoming impossible to ignore.
The latest rankings around the draft community line up with that assessment. After not ranking at all in the first edition of the $DRFT stocks compiled by our own Corey Tulaba, Hawkins climbed to 33rd in the most recent $DRFT rankings.
Coleman Hawkins is in the midst of a breakout season, and draft evaluators are starting to take notice. If he can keep up his strong start to the season, he could very easily climb his way into the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft. So…let’s dive deep!
Offense: Passing Wizardry
The place to start with evaluating Coleman Hawkins on offense is his exceptional passing skills. The raw assist numbers certainly jump off the page—Hawkins is eighth in the Big Ten in assists per game and is the only non-guard in the top 10—but even those numbers don’t quite do justice to Hawkins’s playmaking abilities. He is comfortable passing both from a standstill and off the dribble, and he can dime people up with his back to the basket as well. Hawkins can absolutely dice defenses apart from the top of the arc, whether he’s bringing the ball up himself or operating off dribble hand-offs. The Illini will frequently reset their offense by pitching it back to him beyond the arc and letting him create something out of nothing.
Hawkins isn’t just a by-the-book passer making simple reads, either. He has excellent court vision and rarely misses the simple reads, and he often makes more difficult passes look much easier than they actually are. He also isn’t afraid to attempt more audacious passes when the situations call for it:
While his passing brilliance certainly stands out, the rest of the offensive game for Hawkins is a bit of a mixed bag. He has a great handle for his size, which pairs quite well with his passing game. He does pretty well as a scorer inside the arc, converting 54.8% of his two-point attempts this season. He is decent in transition as well, grading out as Average on those plays, per Synergy.
However, Hawkins’s overall efficiency is dragged down by his still-developing shooting touch. Despite taking nearly half of his shot attempts from three-point range (averaging 3.8 3PA/G in his 8.2 FGA/G), Hawkins has knocked down just 28.3% of his long-range tries this season. He hasn’t fared much better from the free-throw line, either, with a 63.0% mark this season and a career 65.1% hit rate from the stripe.
There is, however, plenty of reason for optimism for Hawkins’s continued development as a shooter. The first reason is his form on his jumpers. Hawkins has a high, quick release, and his upper body is pretty consistent from shot to shot. Most of his misses are long on catch-and-shoot threes and short on pull-up looks; he rarely misses side-to-side, especially when he isn’t shooting off the dribble. Hawkins also takes some pretty difficult long-range attempts; he is willing to pull the trigger from well beyond the college line already, which is another encouraging sign in terms of his long-term value as a floor spacer. When watching him shoot, even when he misses, Hawkins does look like someone who should be shooting better than his current sub-30% mark from distance:
While I am not a shot doctor and don’t claim to be, the film for Hawkins does do a lot to bolster my confidence in his shooting growth long-term. He is clearly not afraid to take those shots, which is the first step—teams at least have to acknowledge that he might pull the trigger from beyond the arc, which opens up his passing game. The second step is the nature of the misses; Hawkins is consistently missing long on catch-and-shoot looks but short on pull-ups, which tracks quite neatly with his solid upper body mechanics and dicier lower body mechanics.
The numbers might not quite match the film yet when it comes to Coleman Hawkins as a shooter, but he has shown positive signs of long-term shooting potential this season. If he goes on a hot streak from deep and boosts his percentage on those looks into the low-to-mid-30s, that might be enough to boost his draft stock from early in the second round to somewhere in the first round by this June. Even if his shooting splits stay where they are now, however, Hawkins does enough as a playmaker and play finisher to be an intriguing prospect for NBA teams—especially when taking his defensive potential into account.
Defense: Versatility and Playmaking Prowess
Although there are pluses and minuses with Coleman Hawkins on the offensive end, his defensive impact is much more straightforward. Hawkins is a playmaking machine on defense and an absolute menace as an off-ball defender. He moves exceptionally well laterally for his 6’10” frame, can stick to opposing guards on the perimeter for stretches, and can hold his position on the block against all but the beefiest opponents. The Fighting Illini have started Hawkins at center following the departure of Kofi Cockburn, but Hawkins has covered essentially every kind of player this season—from Judah Mintz to Jaime Jaquez Jr. to Kadin Shedrick. He will often start possessions by picking up the opposing point guard in the backcourt and end them by switching onto a big man and walling off their path to the basket.
This isn’t to say that Hawkins is perfect as a defender—he does occasionally sell out for the shot-blocking opportunity, and he can sometimes struggle to keep quicker opponents in front of him when guarding on-ball. However, those lapses are fewer and farther between than they are for most young big men—and Hawkins more than makes up for them on the highlight reel front:
Unlike the discrepancy between his film and his shooting numbers on the offensive end, however, the defensive numbers certainly match the film for Hawkins. He ranks seventh in the Big Ten in blocks per game and 18th in steals per game—Minnesota’s Ta’Lon Cooper and Northwestern’s Chase Audige are the only other player to join Hawkins on both lists, and Hawkins is the only one of the three averaging more than both one steal and one block per game.
In addition to his steal/block prowess, Hawkins also grades out well via advanced defensive metrics. He allows just 0.755 points per possession on defense, ranking in the 68th percentile per Synergy. Hawkins also ranks 11th in the Big Ten in both Defensive Win Shares and Defensive Box Plus-Minus, per sports-reference.
People often overstate the ability of some prospects to actually cover 1 through 5 on the positional spectrum defensively. Coleman Hawkins is one of the rare few who have actually been relied upon by their team to cover the opponent’s best player regardless of position—and one of the even rarer few who have lived up to that task more often than not. He won’t be able to cover most centers at the NBA level, especially not right away, but Hawkins has the requisite skill set to be a multi-positional defender at the next level. He has the athleticism to cover on the perimeter, the defensive awareness to switch seamlessly when needed, and the shot-blocking prowess to be a menace as a weakside defender. Even if his offensive game never develops beyond his stellar passing and solid finishing, Hawkins does more than enough on the defensive end to make a case for himself as a potential first round pick this June.
Coleman Hawkins has been a bright spot for an up-and-down Fighting Illini squad this year. Illinois sits at 9-5 through their first 14 games, but they are 0-3 to start Big Ten play, including a brutal 93-71 loss to Missouri in which Hawkins struggled mightily.
Although the team has been inconsistent, Hawkins has done an excellent job of filling gaps on both ends of the floor. His defensive versatility is absolutely vital to the Illini’s scheme, and his playmaking wizardry has been a necessary element of keeping the offense running.
There is still plenty of room for growth for Hawkins, especially in terms of his shooting. However, there are already positive signs that he can become a dependable option from long range. If he does manage to improve his shooting, he will become even more of a menace. A few hot shooting games from him could help him make the transition from a developing shooter to a dependable shooter in the eyes of some NBA scouts.
Even if he doesn’t manage to make that leap as a shooter, however, there is certainly cause for optimism about his NBA future. He has the chance to truly be a game-changer on that end of the floor as a defensive playmaker and as a key cog in a switching scheme.
Coleman Hawkins might not have been on the draft radar for many evaluators heading into the season, but he has rapidly risen in the collective draft consciousness with his play on both ends of the floor this season. If he can keep up his early success throughout the season, he will make it very difficult for NBA teams to pass on his two-way potential in the later picks of the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft.