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Zach Collins’ NBA Future Looks Bright

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Steve Dewald of Blazer’s Edge chats with Gonzaga expert Peter Woodburn about Zach Collins’ time in Spokane.

NCAA Basketball: St. Mary's at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Trail Blazers’ selection of Gonzaga’s Zach Collins in the 2017 NBA Draft took some fans by surprise. This provided an opportunity for Steve Dewald to reach out to someone who is familiar with Portland’s new 19-year-old big man. Peter Woodburn of The Slipper Still Fits - Gonzaga’s SBN site - was kind enough to assist us in our pursuit for knowledge of all things Collins.

Steve Dewald (@SteveDHoops): Gonzaga finally lands a McDonald's All American in Collins, only to have him bolt a year later, how surprising was his departure given that he didn't get a chance to start under coach Mark Few?

Peter Woodburn (@wernies): Honestly, a lot of people in Gonzaga-land were quite surprised. Zach Collins is the first one-and-done in school history, and I think much of the fanbase just assumed that every single player would return from the championship-almost squad and make another run at it. Looking back on it now, I forgot that I even wrote about him leaving early after only his third game.

That said, when you look under the hood, it isn't really that much of a surprise. Collins might have the highest ceiling out of all the big men in the draft this season, and the NBA, as everyone knows, drafts just as much on potential as it does on actual skill. Ivan Rabb is also the perfect example. He was a projected lottery pick last season, decided to go back to college for a year, and ended up not getting drafted until the second round. It took some time for people to figure out, but the decision to leave early made a lot of sense. There is no guarantee Collins would be a top-10 pick next season, so he had to strike while the iron was hot.

Steve: One of the negative things we keep hearing about Collins is that he was only a bench player during his stint in Spokane. Did his inability to crack the starting five have to do with his ability, or did it have more to do with Gonzaga's culture and commitment to Przemek Karnowski?

Peter: That negative is going to be coming out of people who literally didn't watch a single game of Gonzaga last season. There wasn't an inability to crack the starting five, solely because Przemek Karnowski was a better all-around player than Collins (and you are right--Coach Few loves his starters), and Collins was thriving in his role as first man off the bench.

It was more that there wasn't a need for Collins to crack the starting five, because Gonzaga lost a total of two games last season--their last game of the regular season, and then the title game against North Carolina. Everything was humming so perfectly, that there wasn't much of a point of upsetting the rotation.

But back to the matter at hand. If Karnowski wasn't at Gonzaga, Collins would have been starting. Karnowski was one of the top centers in all of college last season, and after everything he had been through (potentially career-ending back surgery his junior year), his recovery was also one of the better storylines of college hoops.

Steve: Judging by the various scouting reports available to the public, it looks like Collins has the potential to blossom into a post player capable of impacting the game on both ends of the court. Are those reports correct, or is one of his strengths not getting enough attention?

Peter: Those scouting reports are spot on. Collins is a straight up competitor on both sides of the court that just doesn't give up. If any Trail Blazers fans want the true look of what he can do, just watch the Zags' Final Four game against South Carolina. Collins finished that game with 14 points, 10 rebounds, and six blocks in just 23 minutes against what was the No. 2 defense in the country.

He is crafty when he gets it into the post. He can run the floor incredibly well. He has range and can hit the three. He actually can shoot free throws! Defensively, he has the length to get some weak side blocks, and he has the quickness to defend the 3-5 spot. His all-around game in college is to the point that he, as mentioned before, he should've been starting on the team that went to the NCAA championship game in a world where a seven foot Polish mountain doesn't exist. The thing is, Collins showed great growth in his one year, and it really truly seems like his true potential is just starting to show.

Perhaps the one thing that won't come up in any scouting report is his demeanor. Collins is a workhorse, and character-wise, he is a fantastic kid. You'd be hard pressed to draft a better person for the locker room, and although that maybe doesn't mean much to some people, he will be an easy person for Trail Blazer fans to fall in love with.

Steve: Looking at the other side of things, is there a weakness of his that doesn't raise an adequate amount of concern?

Peter: The one thing you will hear quite a bit is about fouls. Collins per 40 minute averages last year were off the charts, fouls included, where he would have averaged 6.2 fouls per game. Not exactly sustainable....

A lot of that came from dumb freshman fouls, and adjusting to the NBA will mean people will have to suffer through some dumb rookie fouls. Collins, sometimes, had a tendency to do the unthinkable: pick up your second foul (remember in college you only get five) with a few minutes left in the second half and then promptly pick up your third on the laziest swipe ever.

You don't have to worry about Collins being some sort of hot head who is going to pick up technicals. Instead, what he needs to work on is his maturity level there, which isn't exactly a rarity for NBA rookies. Sometimes, the calls don't go your way. That doesn't mean you take your head out of the game. Sometimes, Collins' head vanishes, and he picks up a dumb foul.

Steve: Collins joins Domantas Sabonis and Kelly Olynyk as former Bulldogs that have been selected in the lottery in the last five years. Where does Collins fit in with that group in regards to his potential and NBA-readiness?

Peter: Out of all three, Collins is probably the most NBA-ready. Olynyk landing with the Celtics and Brad Stevens was a godsend. He isn't the most athletic person in the room, and Stevens has a way of maximizing the potential of those players (he made a career out of it at Butler). Sabonis, although fantastic in college, had to adjust his game to fit into the NBA style of play.

Collins isn't going to have to do that. He already has the range to shoot the long ball. He is fast enough to be able to run with teams that are charging up and down the court. He is versatile enough to remain on the court when the opposition goes small. He can hold his own (with a bit more muscle added as the years go) if he has to pound it down low for the entire game. He has the drive and the desire to be in the NBA for a long time.

I know a lot of Trail Blazer fans weren't *too* keen on this pick, especially because of coughing up the draft picks to move up for it. But, my completely unbiased viewpoint (believe me!!!) is Zach Collins is one of the best value picks in the draft. He probably isn't going average 35 minutes per night right out of the gates, but he is by no means a project player either. Once he has adjusted to the rigors of the NBA schedule, he is going to work his rear off until he is a perennial All-Star. People that are down on this pick will not be down on it for very long.

Thank you again to Peter for taking the time to answer our questions. You can check out more of his work by visiting The Slipper Still Fits.