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Duncan and Leroux discuss Zach Collins

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Collins has impressed in recent games, but a holistic analysis is important, too.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Dunc’d On Podcast hosts Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux held a conversation about the recent play of Trail Blazers center Zach Collins in their Monday publication.

Collins, 20, has quietly moved onto a promising trajectory after a slow start to his rookie campaign. Duncan and Leroux jump in following a big night against the Thunder on Saturday.

Timestamp [29:32]

Leroux:

They got a big win at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday and a series of different standouts in that game, but the one that was most interesting to me, just by virtue of his role and everything like that was Zach Collins. He’s kind of struck a cool balance with this team because he is not the starter but he can get minutes if they need it because Meyers Leonard—despite getting paid like a backup center—is not better than Zach Collins has been. They played him with Ed Davis a lot and he really did bring some energy, some shot blocking, and he hit a couple threes in this game as well.

Duncan:

Yeah, the 3-pointer, as we’ve mentioned, looks better for him now than it did early on in the season when her really was taking longer to get it off, was really jumping forward quite a bit. Just his release is quicker. It looks better.

What most stood out to me in that game was the shot-blocking. He had three blocks in the fourth quarter, one of which was erroneously called a goaltend, and had another really nice contest where the guy was able to just rim in a layup—I think it was Jerami Grant coming out of the corner—and Collins is quick off his feet, man. He is both quick in short areas, laterally, and he gets up pretty quickly. He just completely stoned—and Josh Huestis is a pretty good athlete—a Josh Huestis dunk attempt where I think he really surprised Huestis with how quickly he got off the floor. That’s, uh, maybe being a white boy can actually help a little bit with the stealth defense—doesn’t help with getting a lot of foul calls.

He’s on a nice run since the All-Star Break. He’s shot better than 50 percent every game since the break. Still not a huge usage. His 28 minutes against OKC was pretty close to a season-high. I think the only other one was when they got blown out by 17 points, so that was—and he did play 30 minutes against the Lakers in December—but I thought he was a nice presence, but also worth noting just where his stats are for the season.

His finishing has not been particularly good. Any time he tries to post up, it’s not really working for him. He’s shooting, on twos, outside of the restricted area, he’s under 30 percent for the season, and shooting about 33 percent on threes, which is solid and seems to be improving. It’s one of those things where it looks good, he makes a couple, and it’s like ‘Alright, you know what? Let’s not go crazy here. We’re talking about 24 out of 71 from three on the season.’ And then his 2-point percentage is really ugly. It’s only 44 percent.

That’s where I think he’s disappointed the most, to me, is offensively around the rim. Only seven dunks on the season, which is less than five percent of his field goal attempts. Part of that is because he’s had to play a lot of four, he’s had to space out a lot more. I’d like to see him as a five, which we haven’t much. I mean, the closest we’ve seen him as a five is he’s played with Ed Davis, and he’s still pretty skinny.

So, a little premature probably to say ‘Hey, you know what? He’s going to take over next year for [Jusuf] Nurkic. Nurkic is now expendable.’ I do caution against overpaying for Nurkic—we talked about that in our center ranking podcast—but I think Colins has shown some signs more than maybe people appreciate. It’s just he’s going to have to keep playing a lot better to play a 21-year-old center for a team that has some aspirations where they’re also losing Ed Davis, potentially, unless they want to re-sign him with Bird rights. I might try to go with a lower cost kind of one-year style stop gap option and hope that, by the end of next year, Collins can kind of step in as the starter, but I’m not counting on that yet.

To hear them continue this conversation, listen to the full 15 in 60 (Western Conference 03.05.18) Dunc’d On podcast, or pick up at the 32:56 mark.

Since the NBA All-Star break, Collins has averaged 5.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, on 54.2 percent shooting (44.4 percent from three). These figures are all above his season averages but do not capture his positive contributions on the defensive end, where his impact has been felt the most.