The Portland Trail Blazers will be expecting big things from Zach Collins next year as they rely on him to fill big shoes at the power forward position.
The Portland Trail Blazers are poised to fill the vacancy at the starting power forward spot with scrappy, seven-footer Zach Collins this coming season. However, the 21-year-old will be navigating uncharted waters as a starter. Through 39 games in college, and 163 games with the Blazers, Zach Collins has tallied only one career start.
The Trail Blazers let nine-year veteran, Al-Farouq Aminu, walk to Orlando this offseason, clearing the path for Collins to step into the starting role — whether he’s ready or not. There is plenty of valid speculation surrounding Collins, yet he is also gaining traction as a fan favorite and NBA media pick to catapult into stardom. With that said, let’s breakdown the situation, expectations, and goals for Zach Collins this season.
Portland — and more specifically, general manager Neil Olshey — had their eyes on Collins long before he became a Trail Blazer. The post-LaMarcus Aldridge Blazers had a gap at the power forward spot and Olshey had clear intentions to fill that void heading into the 2017 NBA Draft. After trading the No. 15 and No. 20 picks to move up, the Portland Trail Blazers selected Collins tenth overall. Now in his third season in Portland, Collins will finally have the chance to prove that Olshey made the right decision.
While Collins is ready to dive in, he is still a work in progress, especially for a championship level team. Collins adjustment to the starting roster will surely come with hiccups and many nights could end with less than impressive numbers on the stat sheet.
In last years playoff run, the Blazers gave Collins a significantly larger role. He impressed. Collins had several opportunities to showcase his never back down mentality. Collins even gave us glimpses into the type of player he will become. Yet it isn’t clear what the playoff numbers actually mean and if they will translate into this coming season.
The past two years, Collins has been praised as a player with plenty of “potential”. However, the time for potential has passed. It’s time to produce. It’s extremely rare for a third-year player to jump into the starting lineup and generate high production. Even hitting league average numbers for a starting power forward would be a major win. First, Collins should focus on replacing the production the Blazers relied on Aminu for.
At the end of the day though, the numbers and stats that Collins produces are not what will be important to the team. With the current makeup of the Blazers roster, the usage, touches, and shots will not be available to post astonishing numbers anyway. What Portland needs is for Collins to step up into the roles that will complement the play of their two stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
Namely, the Portland Trail Blazers need Collins to space the floor offensively to create lanes for the backcourt duo. In recent years, the Blazers have not asked for a lot of offensive output from their forward. But in order to make the offense work, Collins will need to start consistently posing as a spot-up threat from deep. He has yet to prove himself as a threat from long-range and has been a shaky three-point shooter thus far in his career.
If Collins does find his shooting groove, defenders will be have to play him tighter on the perimeter. By doing so, Collins will hinder the ability of opposing defenses to play help defense in the driving lanes. It will reduce the amount of double teams for Dame and CJ and will leave gaps for them to penetrate to the basket. Collins finding a consistent three ball will be instrumental in his development and key to the Blazers success.
Nevertheless, offense may not be Collins largest concern. The Blazers relied heavily on the defensive prowess of Aminu and Maurice Harkless last season. After losing both players, Collins’ defensive production will be more important than what he does on the other end of the court.
Collins is a spectacular shot blocker. In fact he averaged four blocks per 100 possessions in last year’s playoffs. On the flip side, his aptitude to alter shots causes some bad habits. He repeatedly gets caught relying on his instincts rather than his head. Collins has a knack for getting beat on defense. He regularly falls for pump fakes and gets caught out of position. All too often, those mistakes from Collins will lead to a foul.
In order for Collins to be the defensive player the Blazers need, the unnecessary fouling must cease. Collins will likely have a height advantage in most match-ups against opposing power forwards. This should give Collins the much needed opportunity to step up his production on the glass.
Rebounding will be vital for Collins against smaller opponents, yet there is always a counter. With the way the league is trending, most power forwards will pose a threat from downtown that Collins will need to stop. Collins is not praised for his perimeter defense, and rightly so. The seven-footer is not accustomed to guarding players all the way out on the three-point line, and will face a tough adjustment.
In all, the goals are clear for Collins. Offensively he must focus on spreading the floor, knocking down open shots, and be efficient in doing so. Defensively the priority is to play smart basketball and avoid dumb fouls while crashing the boards for rebounds. If Collins can improve in all of those areas, the Portland Trail Blazers will be one step closer to building their championship roster.
However, we can’t expect Collins to show leaps in all of those categories right away. Collins will not shoot 42 percent from beyond the arc. He is not realistically going to double his rebound percentage. He will still sometimes make stupid fouls and bonehead mistakes. He surely isn’t going to be scoring 20 points per game while shutting down opponents on the other end.
What we can expect from Collins is the intangibles. Tenacity, unmatched effort, and a will to win are what will elevate Collins to the next level this season. As far as upside goes, the sky is the limit as to what the 21-year-old can do. The Blazers can hope for massive improvements, and rapid development, but as for now Zach Collins is far from a polished piece.