The shine surrounding Zach Collins’ superb start to his second year with the Trail Blazers is starting to fade. After receiving a larger role to finish his rookie campaign, it appeared that Collins was in the midst of a massive leap through the first 10 games of the 2018-19 season. Instead, opponents have adapted and the former Gonzaga standout is enduring a rough shooting stretch from beyond the arc. After a stretch of dismal outings, it has raised the question: how concerned should the Blazers be about Collins’ struggles?
Before the Slide
Portland’s hot start to the season was directly tied to its bench production. Revamped over the summer, the second unit was firing on all cylinders through the first 10 games of the year. Closely followed by Evan Turner, Collins was leading all reserve scorers with 10.8 points per game. The Blazers were off to a 7-3 start, and Collins recorded six double-digit performances over that span—the most productive stretch of his young career.
It suddenly seemed like Collins had arrived, and that his development wasn’t going to take as long as originally anticipated. Collins was the Blazers’ fourth-leading scorer—connecting on 57.6 percent of his shots from the field. After struggling with spacing and depth in recent years, the Blazers had a stretch four that was flourishing with a solid 42.9 three-point percentage.
Then, in what seemed like an instant, Collins’ scoring slowed to a crawl.
Welcome to the Opposing Scouting Report
In Portland’s last 28 games, Collins has endured a steep decline across the board on offense. His scoring average has dwindled to 5.8 points and he is shooting a paltry 22.7 percent from beyond the arc. After producing six double-digit scoring performances in the first 10 games, Collins has only surpassed the 10-point threshold on five occasions. The Blazers registered a pedestrian 15-13 record over that span, which has moved them from the top of the Western Conference to the middle of the pack.
Instead of being greeted by the lumbering second-unit centers of the NBA’s yesteryear, Collins is now facing off against athletic forwards.
When facing traditional big men like Mohamed Bamba, Greg Monroe, Ivica Zubac, and Jakob Poeltl, Collins produced at a steady rate of .58 points per possession. Opponents soon switched to a strategy that involved smaller defenders like Jeff Green, Jae Crowder, P.J. Tucker, and Thaddeus Young; against these kind of defenders, Collins recorded a minuscule .09 points per possession.
Collins was left with a catch 22 on offense. His body is still adapting to the rigors of NBA competition, so he doesn’t have the tools to punish smaller defenders in the paint. On the perimeter, Collins is forced to shoot over opponents that can close gaps quickly. Along with his individual hurdles, the erratic play of his reserve counterparts does very little to relieve the pressure he faces on offense.
Cause for Concern?
Collins’ hot start makes his decline jarring. It is important to remember that his problems are largely tied to his body’s development. Until he can bully opponents into presenting him with favorable matchups against traditional post players, these type of struggles could persist. As an athletic 7-footer with a decent shooting touch, Collins is built to exploit matchups against big men who are more comfortable near the interior.
The biggest question revolves around the Blazers’ ability to surround Damian Lillard with a strong supporting cast in his prime. Will Portland look for outside help as Collins develops? Or will the Blazers remain patient as the big fella matures?
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com