“It’s our responsibility to move him back closer to the basket. We compared him a lot to like a Kevin McHale, LaMarcus Aldridge when he was younger – even like a young Rasheed [Wallace]. And we moved him away from the basket…What I’d like to see is him getting back to being more of an inside-outside threat.” - Neil Olshey on ESPN at the Draft Combine
This is what the Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations said when discussing plans for Zach Collins heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. I’ve seen some say “well you can’t take that literally” to which I reply, “Yes, I can.” Why? Because I believe Olshey chooses his words wisely and if he’s going to talk up his young lottery pick he’s going to be very pointed and particular about what he says.
My overall take on this is simple, it’s not a good look and it isn’t entirely fair to either Collins or the fan base. It’s one thing to be excited and to build Collins up. There are ways to do that without likening him to a Hall of Famer and the two best power forwards this franchise has ever had...particularly on the offensive end where Collins hasn’t shown near the promise he has on the defensive end.
*One thing to note here, this is about his offense, strictly and entirely his offense. Collins has shown plenty for fans to be excited about on the defensive end and this doesn’t take away from that at all.
Let’s take a look at what Collins achieved in his rookie year. In 66 games, he shot under 40 percent from the field, 31 percent from deep and 64 percent from the line. These are not exactly hallmarks of an aspiring hall of famer. Just for giggles I ran a filter through Basketball-Reference to see how many rookies struggled from the field overall in the three-point era. What I found wasn’t exactly heartening. Most of the guys that popped up on this list never really figured out the whole efficient shooting thing that’s become so popular in the league today.
Back to the idea of Collins playing inside-out, there are a lot of things that need to be tempered when talking about expectations for Collins’ offensive output next season.
When it comes to just pure shooting, among the 213 players who attempted 100 plus wide open shots, Collins ranks 203rd in field goal percentage (34.9) and just inside the Top 200 in effective field goal percentage (48.2). For a guy that is supposedly modeled after Rasheed Wallace and LaMarcus Aldridge, the perimeter shooting isn’t exactly bearing out early. It’s not even close to time to panic here, but it’s not time to call him young Dirk Nowitzki either.
Collins had seven games where he made more than one three-point shot. He had 10 games where he missed three or more as well. This is pretty much the shrug emoji personified. If you think that it’s indicative one way or the other for his future...well it’s not. Three-point shooting doesn’t normalize until roughly 750 attempts. Collins had 113 attempts, so let’s check back in roughly four more years and see what’s up before making any conclusions.
How about Collins’ ability to finish inside? If you look at the list from BBR earlier you’d notice that a large portion of that list is filled with guys that struggled from the outside early in their career and really never figured it out. However, it was also populated by players that absolutely destroyed opposing teams at the rim.
Among qualified centers only four bigs shot worse in the restricted area than Collins. Much of the early season last year was spent maligning how ineffective Jusuf Nurkic was at the rim. Collins just did that for an entire season. That’s probably a bit much, but I think it goes to emphasize where Collins is at offensively around the rim and how he should be measured going forward. It’s about building on something, not about being elite, not yet at least.
If you’re a big proponent and believer in Collins’ offensive upside, I wouldn’t look at his shooting in the ranges in-between the rim and the 3-point line — it’s not a pretty picture.
So what should you expect from Collins’ offensive game next season? What’s a realistic expectation for his development in year two?
There have already been reports of Collins adding weight and strength heading into the next campaign. That’s a great place to start. Being able to absorb and even give contact while elevating and finishing at the rim is the first step in improving his offensive outlook. I’m not doom and gloom on his chances either. He’s shown he can finish on the move at the rim well enough that there’s hope for growth there with the added strength.
So the goal I’d like to see for him is 65 percent or better in the restricted area. League average is 58 percent, so expecting Collins to be able to reach that level is a decent benchmark for next year. If he reaches that with an increased usage rate that will be a mark that he’s capable and ready to make an impact in the paint offensively.
As far as shooting from the perimeter, Collins has a solid jump shot in appearance. Most of his misses are due to an inconsistent base and being off balance. Again added strength, particularly core and leg strength, could be huge here for him. But also working with coaches to make his base very simple and repeatable. Beyond that, the actual production on the floor should translate if he’s able to get that squared away. If Collins is able to get to 35 percent from the three-point line and a respectable 40 to 42 percent from outside the paint that would go a long way to advancing his offensive game.
Now, if Collins falls short of any of these bars, that shouldn’t be taken as a shortcoming, fault, or indicative sign of failure. It’s just a measuring stick. I hope he outperforms everything I’ve laid out here. Being wrong about this kind of thing is awesome. It means someone is doing really well. Who cares if I get that wrong in the long run? I don’t.
So, what are the reasonable expectations you have for Collins’ offensive growth next year? What are the benchmarks you hope he reaches? Let us know in the comments below.