The idea of a sophomore breakout is popular in sports. The thinking is that players have been professionals for a year, understand how the league works, and are adjusted to their teammates, so it stands to reason that they take a step forward. On the other hand, there’s also the fabled sophomore slump, where other teams have recognized the player’s talents, and now have game plans to stop them, resulting in a down year. Zach Collins of the Portland Trail Blazers was counted on heavily to make a jump in his second season. He came on strong to end last season, and impressed with his potential to impact both ends of the court. However, he hasn’t made the leap some people expected in his sophomore season. Or has he? Here’s an in-depth dive into some of Collins’ numbers so far this year.
Looking purely at box score stats, Collins’ season isn’t very impressive. He’s averaging 7.6 points and 4.2 rebounds in 19.1 minutes per game, with 0.9 assists and 0.9 blocks added for good measure. Solid, certainly, but nothing special. Turning to stats per 100 possessions, the only two notable increases for Collins have been in points (13.9 to 19.3) and blocks (1.5 to 2.4). His rebound and steals rates are right around where they were last season, and he’s assisting somewhat less while turning the ball over more. So, he would appear to be a better scorer, and perhaps rim protector, but that’s it: no large, seismic jump.
However, Collins’ advanced stats have jumped almost across the board. His 0.03 win shares per 48 minutes last year placed him as a below replacement level player, while his 0.11 mark this season has him as an above average one. Similarly, his BPM has leapt from a negative -3.2 to a positive 0.8, with all of the improvement coming on the offensive end of the court. His RPM, too, has made a substantial jump, going from -3.68 last season to -0.23 this season. The only widely-available all-in-one advanced stat that doesn’t paint a picture of significant improvement is PIPM, which is -2.2 this season after being -2.02 last year. Still, while these stats are all a bit shaky, the fact that most of them point to Collins being a far more positive presence on the court this year is good evidence that he’s made real strides as a player.
Breaking things down a bit further, much of Collins’ improvement has come as a scorer. His scoring has gone up, but more importantly, his efficiency has soared. Collins had a TS% of just 47.5 last season, a pitiful number for a big man. This year, that number is all the way up to 61.4%, a massive leap. Interestingly, his efficiency has not improved through increased outside shooting, but a focus on scoring around the rim, and getting to the line.
Last season, 26.6% of Collins’ shots came from within 0-3 feet of the basket. This year, 40.2% of his shot attempts are coming from that range. Basically, Collins has worked his way inside a lot more, taking it to the basket rather than settling for jumpers. To wit: the percentage of his shots from 10-16 feet, 16-23 feet, and from three have all dropped this season, suggesting a focus on avoiding taking the easy look. And not only is Collins getting to the basket, but he’s also finishing better there too. That attacking mentality has also led to a surge in free throw rate, which, along with his incredibly improved free throw shooting, has given him another boost in scoring efficiency this year.
Not all is groovy. Collins’ early shooting percentage from 3-10 feet (a staggering 69.7%) is unsustainable, and when that drops so will his efficiency. While it’s great that he’s getting to the hoop, it would also be nice to eventually pair that with an improved three-point shot, which hasn’t really happened this season. For him to put everything together on that end, the outside shot will need to come, as that will really open up driving lanes and the inside game for him. Similarly, other attributes of his game such as rebounding and playmaking will hopefully start to improve as well if he is to become a star.
Overall, Zach Collins has not made a huge jump in his second season. He’s not De’Aaron Fox, going from shaky rookie to star seemingly overnight. He has, however, made significant, important improvements to his game, and is a far more dangerous scorer this season than last. If he has a couple more step forwards on this level over the next couple seasons, he will be a very, very good player in his prime.
Note: All stats were taken before the Blazers-Grizzlies game on Wednesday night.