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Zach Collins vs. NBA Western Conference Big Men

The Blazers are going to lean heavily on Collins this year. Is he up to the challenge?

NBA: Playoffs-Portland Trail Blazers at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers are going to be relying on Zach Collins heavily this year. With Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless there are going to be a lot of minutes available at power forward. The Blazers have few other options outside of Collins to fill that time. Collins’ long-term position might well be center, but this year, he’ll need play more at forward, as the Blazers acquired Hassan Whiteside specifically to mop up center minutes in the absence of Jusuf Nurkic. While Collins is highly regarded in media circles, he’s not necessarily someone a lot of casual NBA fans are familiar with. Here’s a brief look at how he compares statistically to other significant big men on Western Conference teams who aren’t stars and fly somewhat under the radar, with stats coming from the 2018-2019 NBA regular season.

Western Conference Big Men Stats 2019 Season

Zach Collins 21 17.6 6.6 4.2 0.9 0.3 0.9 0.1 -0.53
Kevon Looney 23 18.5 6.3 5.2 1.5 0.6 0.7 3.7 3.48
Montrezl Harrell 25 26.3 16.6 6.5 2 0.9 1.3 4.2 0.36
Maxi Kleber 27 21.2 6.8 4.6 1 0.5 1.1 1.5 1.53
Jakob Poeltl 23 16.5 5.5 5.3 1.2 0.4 0.9 4.2 1.03
Jerami Grant 25 32.7 13.6 5.2 1 0.8 1.3 0.3 0.6
Richaun Holmes 25 16.9 8.2 4.7 0.9 0.6 1.1 1.4 0.1

At first glance, Collins doesn’t stand out. In fact, he rates the lowest by both BPM and RPM by a substantial margin, though he’s still a roughly net positive impact player by advanced metrics as well. Looking at box score stats, two areas of improvement are fairly clear: playmaking and rebounding. If Collins is playing alongside Whiteside, the rebounding might not be as important, but he still will receive minutes as the lone big man, and he’ll need to step up his rebounding at those times. Playmaking, however, might be more important. Jusuf Nurkic excelled last year as a passer and roller when Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum got doubled off of pick and rolls and he was able to operate in space as the short roller. Whiteside is notorious for being a black hole, meaning Collins might get a lot of those opportunities this year. If so, he’ll need to work at keeping his head up, his dribble alive, and his passing goggles on.

The other major difference between Collins and the other guys is, of course, age. Collins is younger than the rest of the group by over a year, and therefore has more room to improve. Montrezl Harrell was still at Louisville when he was 21, while Kleber was in Europe. The fact that Collins is already as good as he is, as young as he is, and with as little NBA experience as he has, is extremely promising. However, the Blazers are interested in contending next year, not in four years (though they might be then, as well), and they need Collins to step up accordingly.

The Western Conference will field a plethora of talented big men this year. Less-heralded forwards and centers will join superstars like Nikola Jokic, Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Draymond Green. While Collins is not close to those august ranks yet, that’s the competition he’s going to be seeing on a nightly basis now that he’ll be receiving starter-level minutes. Considering his age, he compares fairly favorably to many other high-quality big men populating the conference. The Blazers just have to hope he makes a leap to land more squarely in their company this season.