Portland Trail Blazers fans know that it’s easy to get carried away early in the season. Each new year features a player coming like gangbusters, throwing up eye-popping numbers that inflame hope. This year, it’s Portland’s second-year big man Zach Collins and his ridiculous efficiency numbers. Acknowledging the lack of data may be the smart move, but no matter how unsustainable his small-sample stats may be, Collins’ performance merits more playing time.
So far on the season, Collins is averaging nearly 11 points, five rebounds, and two blocks a night. He is shooting 69 percent from the floor, 55 percent from the 3-point line, and 86 percent from the free throw line. Collins’ offensive rating so far is an outrageous 146, good for 5th overall in the entire NBA.
It’s not likely that Collins will shoot at such a high clip all season, but the numbers don’t lie entirely. His game has improved. He’s more confident in his shot, both at the rim and on the perimeter. He’s improved his already solid timing on the defensive end.
The real challenge for Portland isn’t whether to play Collins, it’s where to find him extended minutes in the long term.
With Moe Harkless out of the immediate picture, more front-court minutes are available. Al-Farouq Aminu could slide over and play the three for a spell, freeing up minutes at power forward as well as center.
As a center, Collins still prone to fouling, as young bigs often are. He needs to put on weight. If you think he’s thin on your TV screen, you should see him in skinny jeans and a t-shirt after post-game locker room interviews. But Collins can hold his own against a lot of reserve centers enough to justify playing him. He can’t keep Joel Embiid out of the paint, but with much of the league going small - especially in late game situations - he can see time on the floor when Jusuf Nurkic is a poor defensive matchup.
The real question I hear whispered around the team is, if Collins keeps up this production, how long until Terry Stotts has to consider starting him? That would mean taking minutes and position away from Aminu at the four. Chief is a plus defender and a great rebounder - especially this season. But his offense has been downright atrocious. Portland’s starting power forward is shooting 34% from the floor. That’s not good.
The same small sample size that applies to Collins applies to Aminu, but Aminu has shot below 40 percent each of the last two seasons, as well. He can get hot from the 3-point line, but dude misses shots, barely finding the rim with some of his looks.
I don’t fully buy him as a starting power forward in the NBA. With Collins showing improvement, especially after declining to re-sign Ed Davis in order to make room for the guy, the time is right to give him some extra burn.