When the Portland Trail Blazers selected Zach Collins in the 2017 NBA Draft, terms like “project” made Blazer fans antsy. Collins didn’t start at Gonzaga and his tendency to foul showed up in the NCAA Championships. Injuries and poor play by teammates have opened the door for the rookie, and Collins is now a bench unit mainstay. He stretches the floor like Meyers Leonard, showing rim protection like Jusuf Nurkic. At 20 years of age, he’s still is a project, but as Jonathan Tjarks of the Ringer highlights, he may become much more.
Collins has flashed the ability to do three key things. At 7 feet tall and 230 pounds with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, he can shoot from the perimeter, defend out in space, and still protect the rim. He’s still a long way from being able to do those things consistently, though. Collins has taken only 70 3s during his past two seasons in college and the NBA, and he’s not yet strong enough to hold his own in the paint. He’s not even playing center right now. He plays primarily at power forward on their second unit next to Ed Davis, a more traditional big man.
Those skills should make teams question if the Blazers really did find a gem in the 2017 draft. Collins is an attractive young big. But the Blazers are in a tricky situation. They need a franchise center to make the most of Damian Lillard’s prime, which is right now.
As Tjarks points out, if Portland wants to make the most of Lillard now, trading Collins is a possible option:
Collins could eventually combine Nurkic and Leonard’s strengths into one player. The question is when. He will be only 21 next season. He needs to play as a center on the second unit before he’s ready to be one on the first.
Collins may end up being trade bait either way. Lillard is ready to win now, and Collins is still more than half a decade away from his prime. They are on different timetables. Portland could be developing Collins to use him in the same way the Thunder used another ex-Gonzaga big man (Domantas Sabonis) in a deal for Paul George. However, they would have to get rid of some of their bad long-term salaries before a trade like that would even be possible. No one takes back money when giving up a star, which is the issue they would face in any deal for DeAndre.
Tjarks highlights possible rumors around the Blazers and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. Consummating that trade would basically squash any chances of Collins starting for several years. And the Clippers might even prefer to acquire Collins themselves over a possible package headlined by Nurkic.
You can read of Tjarks’ in-depth piece here, which ends with an ominous claim: “There is hope on the horizon in Portland. It just may not be coming fast enough to keep Lillard happy.”