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What Does the Development of Zach Collins Mean for Jusuf Nurkic?

Michael Pina of VICE Sports wonders whether the rookie’s continued development will lead the Blazers to let Jusuf Nurkic walk this summer.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Collins is starting to look like the player the Portland Trail Blazers must have envisioned when they traded up to get him in the 2017 draft. The big man has steadily improved throughout the season, but it’s his recent play during the team’s 10-game winning streak that has caught the attention of people outside Portland.

Michael Pina of VICE Sports, in a wide-ranging NBA round-up column, wonders aloud whether the rookie could even supplant the team’s incumbent center, Jusuf Nurkic, as early as next season:

The timeline isn’t ideal, but Collins should develop into starting-caliber help while McCollum and Lillard are still in their prime, and that begs a few important questions: How much is Portland willing to spend on Jusuf Nurkic this summer? Do they think Collins is a center? Can those two play together in crunch time?

If the organization believes Collins’s length and anticipation on the defensive end are good enough to slot him in as a stretch five, then it doesn’t make much sense to re-sign Nurkic to money that pegs him as the full-time starter for the next four years. The two have not really spent any significant time on the court together, and it’s too early to tell if starting them both as early as next season, then playing Collins as the backup five, can work. (Ed Davis—the Murtaugh to Collins’s Riggs—is an unrestricted free agent this summer.)

Pina also notes that Collins “will probably be better than Nurkic at some point over the next two years,” and cautions against a long-term contract for the team’s current starter, who is set to be a restricted free agent after the season and will turn 24 in August.

Collins, 20, is averaging 4.4 points and 3.5 boards in a little under 16 minutes a night, while Nurkic is averaging 14.2 points and 8.5 rebounds in just over 26 minutes a game. Both are currently playing their best stretch of the season, coinciding with the team’s winning streak.

Do you think that Zach Collins is the center of the future? Could he be ready to start next season, or is re-signing Nurkic a must? Let us know in the comments.

And you can read the rest of Pina’s piece here.