Halfway through the 2017-18 NBA season, Portland Trail Blazers rookie big man Zach Collins is rounding into form. Following a solid performance in a victory over the Phoenix Suns, he sat down with Blazer’s Edge after practice on Wednesday to discuss his NBA journey and individual development so far.
How are you feeling after last night’s game?
“Good. One of the things I’m struggling with right now is rebounding and I’m playing on the perimeter a lot more than I did really my whole life, so it’s tough to adjust to playing on the perimeter but also knowing when to go in and get offensive rebounds and when to go in and get defensive rebounds. Because while I’m on the perimeter while I’m on defense, so is my guy; he’s probably on the perimeter. I know that’s how the league is going now with fours—fours stretch the floor—so that’s one thing I think I’ve developed well so far this season, but one of the things I need to get better at is rebounding. Just because my whole life I’m in the paint, mid-range, but I’m close to the basket, so being in position to rebound is a lot easier. I just got to figure that out.”
So, talking about stretching the floor and playing the four, what was your containment strategy for Dragan Bender, who has also been playing very well lately?
“You just got to make him put the ball on the floor, you got to know your screen coverages with him. Obviously, he’s a really good shooter and he’s got a quick release, so just getting out to him, closing out, like I said, making him put it on the floor is the biggest thing and make him make a play, not just be a jump shooter.”
And how do you think your game has changed the most since you started the year?
“I think I’ve just kind of relaxed on offense a little bit and kind of figured out my role a little bit better, knowing that my job is to get guys open and when I have an open three or an open shot I need to take it and shoot with confidence. I think I’ve done a pretty good job with that so far. Obviously, the beginning of the year is a big change—it’s the NBA—I was a little nervous at some points, but now I feel like I’ve gotten into a groove a little bit. I know what to expect every night with routines, even off-the-court stuff. I think the comfort level has just increased a lot.”
Was there a point where you felt you were kind of turning that corner?
“I don’t know if there was a certain game, it was all just kind of gradual. Each game, I got more and more comfortable, but I don’t think there was one moment where I was like ‘Okay, I got this,’ but I think definitely now, confidence-wise, I know I belong in the NBA. I’ve definitely had a couple moments like that.”
So how would you assess your comfort level now?
“It’s high. First of all, it’s way easier to go out there and play confident and be comfortable when you kind of know when you’re going to get in the game. Now that I have kind of a consistent role with me and Ed [Davis] coming off the bench together, things like that. So, when you know your role, it’s a lot easier to play and I think that’s been a big help for me and it’s been a big help for my comfort level.”
Can you more specifically define that role for me?
“Coming off the bench—for anybody—you need to go in and bring a spark, bring energy. If the starters can’t get it going early, you have to come in and you have to pick it back up; there can’t be any drop off. So I think that’s my role. Another part of my role is setting good screens, getting people open because our guards are so good at scoring. When they’re open, they’re tough to contain, so getting them open and rebounding and protecting the rim is the biggest things.”
How does it feel to be getting consistent minutes, especially as you have seven through nine in the west just really tight, and this is typically the time of year when coaches kind of narrow the rotation to guys who are consistent plusses on the floor? And that’s you.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s awesome. I know this team has a history with rookies that kind of take their time. Obviously, there’s exceptions like Dame [Lillard], so coming in, I kind of knew that it was going to be a slow process and a while before I kind of got a consistent role. It happened, actually, earlier than I thought it would just because, strength-wise, I didn’t know if the coaches were comfortable with putting me on the floor and all that stuff. But, obviously, they are and, obviously, I think it’s paid off. I think I’ve done a pretty decent job, so hopefully I can keep giving them reason to put me in the game.”
And how are you doing, strength-wise? Are you progressing physically since you’ve entered the league?
“Yeah. I mean, if you look at me during summer league and look at me now, it’s a pretty big difference. If you can’t see it, I know it myself; it’s a big difference. I feel so much more comfortable on the court, stronger, and I’m starting to hit guys now and not so much getting hit, so I definitely feel a lot more comfortable. I put on a lot of muscle even since the beginning of the season. Even in the last couple weeks, I have.”
Oh wow. Do you have a—I mean, not that’s it’s super important—but, like, a number on the weight change?
“I put on six or seven pounds of muscle since training camp started. The training staff here is second to none, in my opinion. Obviously, I haven’t been anywhere else, so I don’t really know, but they’re always telling me to eat, eat, eat, and they know exactly what lifting, you know, workouts we need to do, how much rest we need. That’s been huge. When you’re in the NBA, you’re blessed with all the resources, all the things with you at your disposal whenever you need them. I’ve just been trying to take advantage of that and, like I said, the training staff has been great. They’ve been patient with me, they’ve pushed me, and they’ve made sure that—you know, one of the biggest things for me, coming into this league, that I need to work on is getting stronger. They’ve done a great job with that.”
That’s great. I mean, six or seven pounds of muscle is pretty substantial. If you could look back at yourself when you entered day one and give yourself one piece of advice or tell yourself something that you know now, what would that be?
“Relax. I did the same thing—every level I’ve grown up with in basketball, I’ve always done the same thing when I get to that level. Like, I played up my age when I was in AAU and I always thought, like, if you play up, guys are going to be so fast, you got to play fast, you got to play quick, and I did that at every level; middle school, high school, college. I realized that it’s still basketball at the end of the day and it’s more important to be calm and make smart decisions and not rush yourself. I think that’s one piece of advice I’d give myself earlier, because that’s something I figured out during the season this year. That’s be the main thing.”
Awesome. Now just one more question; do you have any goals for yourself for the rest of the season?
“Yeah, I mean, like I said earlier, rebounding. I need to be a better rebounder. Coaches have talked to me about being more vocal on the court—and I think I am being vocal, it’s just I got to be louder. My voice has to have more of a presence on the floor. So those two things are big and, obviously, just to keep increasing my role. I got to be more consistent shooting the ball and I think I’ve done that recently. So I just have to get the going. As far as goals for me, for the team, is just make the playoffs and make a run at this thing.”
Are there any steps you’re taking, individually, behind the scenes to meet those goals?
“Yeah, every day I’m trying to get shots up with the coaches, stay after practice, get here early, take care of my body, lift; I want to make sure I’m doing everything in my power to make myself better. At the end of the day, I don’t want to look at myself in the mirror and say ‘I’m not doing something.’ That’s just kind of how I’ve been basically my whole life, working with basketball and trying to develop that work ethic. I have to make sure that I’m doing all the things I need to to get better. And if I’m not getting better, I’m still going to do them, because I know one day it’s going to happen.”
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