We’re officially one third of the way through the 2017-18 NBA season, reaching the point where player and team statistics move from “small sample size” to truly indicative of performance. Of course this only holds true for players that have played consistent minutes throughout the season. That’s definitely not the case for Trail Blazers rookie big man Zach Collins. Drafted with the 10th overall pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, acquired from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for picks 15 and 20, Collins was a 19 year old project big; supposedly oozing with potential, but expected to make little immediate impact due to his unrefined offensive skills and need to put on muscle to handle NBA sized big men.
This held true for the first six weeks of the season. Collins managed to get garbage time in six of Portland’s first 24 contests, racking up a total of three points on .111 shooting. Collins wasn’t going against starting level competition, he showed rare flashes of defensive positioning, more often getting pushed aside by opposing second string bigs. It was way too early to call him a bust, but things weren’t looking promising.
With starting center Jusuf Nurkic missing time after spraining his ankle, Collins got his first real run of the season on December 9 against the Houston Rockets. Backing up Meyers Leonard, Collins racked up five points, two rebounds, and three blocks in 18 minutes of action. Since that game, Collins has seen 20 minutes of action a night and has managed to look passable, averaging 6.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in the last week. Based on what we saw through the first week of December, I’m highly, but pleasantly, surprised.
Collins is still not an effective offensive player. He rushes his shot in the post, but he’s seen success cleaning up some misses, slipping screens, and getting point blank looks. He’s taking nearly two threes a game over the last week, but has hit only one during that time. Coming out of Gonzaga, he was touted as having three-point range and, while fans were a little skeptical, he has a solid shooting form and there is little doubt that he will develop into an adequate three-point shooter.
Due to a lack of strength, Collins still struggles to bang with big men. His screens aren’t particularly effective and he simply can’t muscle his way into rebounding position. Nothing can be done about that this year, so there’s no point in worrying about it. He has a knack for grabbing rebounds that aren’t directly in his space. Collins shows flashes of superior defensive instincts when guarding the ball, utilizing solid positioning and verticality, but then just as often looks out of sorts checking players off the ball; hitting assignments late and letting cutters go by. As is typical with young bigs, Collins also commits his fair share of fouls. All of these issues should correct themselves in time, but they’re a real thing right now.
Though it would be foolish to declare him either a bust or a future stud, we do have a better idea of what he is: a player that makes occasional stellar plays on the defensive end, grab rebounds at a decent rate, but plays inconsistently on the offensive end. He’s not a key contributor yet, but he’s already taken a step since the first month of the season. That’s a great sign for a project seven footer.
It’s important for Collins to continue to get consistent floor time, even fewer than 10 minutes a night. He has clearly benefited from seeing the court more than once every four games. While Head Coach Terry Stotts has a glut of bigs, with Meyers Leonard, Ed Davis, and even occasionally Noah Vonleh joining Collins in backing up Jusuf Nurkic, he still seems to be grasping for a solid rotation. If the season goes sideways in a hurry, Blazers fans may see a much heavier dose of Collins in the second half. In the meantime, considering his status as a nowhere-near-NBA-ready-prospect, his progression has been a nice development in this season’s storyline.
What are your thoughts on Zach Collins so far? Are you disappointed in his performance relative to his draft position, or are you excited by his potential? Let us know below.