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Comparing Zach Collins’ Rookie Season to Other 10th Overall Picks of the Last Decade

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Zach Collins has had a nice rookie season for the Blazers. But how does it stack up against those of his fellow 10th picks in recent years?

Portland Trail Blazers v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Zach Collins has had an interesting season for the Portland Trail Blazers. Not many 10th overall picks are rotation players on strong playoff teams in their rookie seasons, yet Collins has been exactly that. He started off the season getting minutes mostly in garbage time, but worked his way into the rotation in early December, and has not left since. He’s a part of some of the Blazers’ best lineups, with solid on/off numbers. However, his own statistics aren’t as impressive. How does Collins’ rookie season compare to other 10th picks over the last decade? Is he on the right track, or has he gotten off to a slower start than most?

First, let’s examine the roles that these players all played on their respective teams.

Collins’ Role

Three previous 10th picks in the last 10 years were full-time starters right out of the gate in their rookie seasons: Brook Lopez, Brandon Jennings, and Elfrid Payton. Four more were solid rotation players who appeared in most of their team’s games, and played over 15 minutes per game: Justise Winslow, Austin Rivers, Jimmer Fredette, and Paul George. The final two, who were smaller factors in their teams’ plans their rookie seasons, were CJ McCollum and Thon Maker. Note that the players’ roles in their first year of play hasn’t had much a bearing on future success or progress. CJ McCollum is the second-best player on this list, yet he barely played his rookie season—and he was old for a rookie to boot! Elfrid Payton received a ton of minutes straight away; look where he is now (forgotten on the Suns). So, while Collins received fewer minutes per game this season than all but Maker and McCollum, that’s not an indictment of him or a bad sign for his future development. It just means he’s on a better team than most of these guys were, and therefore had a tougher road map to big minutes.

Numbers

It’s tough to judge players against one another when they not only play at different positions, but also had such vastly different seasons. However, advanced stats attempt to provide “catch-all” production values, so looking at them can’t hurt. Judging by Win Shares per 48 minutes, Collins was better than only three of the rookies on this list. However, while one of those players was Jimmer Fredette, a massive and costly bust, the other two were McCollum and Rivers, both of whom will have long, productive NBA careers. Thon Maker also had the highest mark in that statistic, and he… does not look like a very good NBA player right now.

VORP, another advanced stat calculated differently, also doesn’t view Collins particularly favorably. Here, again, Austin Rivers and Fredette fall below him, while he’s tied with McCollum. These advanced stats are generally relatively accurate in calculating an NBA player’s value—at least at the extremes: the best players in the NBA fare well with them, while the worst do poorly. It’s the middle that’s tough to sort, and that’s where Collins seems to fall. The thing that really does him in is his poor efficiency. A True Shooting of 47.9% is dreadful, especially for a big man. Collins isn’t even shooting 40% from the field this season, and that simply needs to improve if he wants to have a long and lucrative NBA career.

10th Round Pick Production

Name Games Played Minutes Per Game Points Per Game Rebounds Per Game Assists Per Game TS% Win Shares/ 48 Minutes VORP
Name Games Played Minutes Per Game Points Per Game Rebounds Per Game Assists Per Game TS% Win Shares/ 48 Minutes VORP
Brook Lopez 82 30.5 13 8.1 1 56.8 0.112 1.2
Brandon Jennings 82 32.6 15.5 3.4 5.7 47.5 0.075 1.9
Paul George 61 20.7 7.8 3.7 1.1 54.2 0.091 0.6
Jimmer Fredette 61 18.6 7.6 1.2 1.8 49.5 0.012 -0.7
Austin Rivers 61 23.2 6.2 1.8 2.1 43.1 -0.038 -1.3
CJ McCollum 38 12.5 5.3 1.3 0.7 52.1 0.019 -0.3
Elfrid Payton 82 30.4 8.9 4.3 6.5 45.6 0.044 0.8
Justise Winslow 78 28.6 6.4 5.2 1.5 48.9 0.054 0.8
Thon Maker 57 9.9 4 2 0.3 55.8 0.113 0.1
Zach Collins 65 15.8 4.5 3.3 0.8 47.6 0.03 -0.3

Projecting Forward

On the whole, Zach Collins’ individual numbers don’t stand out. They aren’t among the worst in his draft cohort, yet they are far from the best. On the other hand, there are several large, positive factors to take away. First, Collins is young. Just 20 years old, he has years and years to improve as a player, and he’s clearly shown enough promise to be worthy of that kind of time and development. Second, defense is probably the most promising feature to come out of his rookie season, and defense is notoriously tough to capture in advanced statistics. There is every possibility that he was worth far more to the Blazers this season than what his individual numbers showed. Third, as mentioned at the top, his “team” data is far more encouraging. Almost all the lineups which Collins played in performed admirably, and while that is a credit to his teammates as well, he was clearly a key component to some very strong units. Even if Collins never becomes a star, or even a starter, there is every hope he could continue to improve as a nice rotation piece for years to come. And while that type of career wouldn’t measure up to stars like George or McCollum, it would fit in snugly with Austin Rivers or Brandon Jennings.