The Portland Trail Blazers need front-court offense. With Jusuf Nurkic still sidelined, can Zach Collins step up and fill the role?
The Portland Trail Blazers are fresh off the back of their first Western Conference Finals appearance since the year 2000. For years, Portland’s trademark has been their continuity and chemistry, but this summer, they shook it up a little. While it was not on the same scale as the summer of 2015, when four-fifths of the 50-win team left town.
The Blazers did lose a fair few, including Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard. Granted, Aminu and Harkless’ strengths were on the defensive end as opposed to offense, and aside from catching fire for 20 minutes in the postseason, Leonard wasn’t anything special either. But they were all key to the Blazers success last year, and someone needs to fill that hole, even if it is a small one offensively.
Enter Zach Collins. The Blazers have big hopes for the former Gonzaga big man, as do I. After being picked 10th in the 2017 draft, Collins has been solid at best in his first two years as an NBA professional. Last season he averaged 6.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and just under a block a game off the bench; these numbers are okay.
With Jusuf Nurkic playing at a fringe All-Star level for most of 2018, the Blazers didn’t really need Collins to be special. But now, they need more. Defense has always been his strong suit, and he did experience a mini breakout period in the 2019 postseason, upping his blocks to 1.4 per game, and providing a few highlights as well. Defensively, he’s smart and athletic, and will only get better; however, his offense remains a question mark.
To be clear, Collins is far from a liability on offense. If given space, he can shoot the three at a decent rate, and can finish around the basket as well. But this year, he’s looking like the Blazers starting power forward, and 6.6 points will definitely not cut it for this role. Collins’ immediate concern on offense is simply figuring out what sort of player he is. Can he be trusted to make the right decisions in the post?
With the addition of Kent Bazemore and re-signing of Rodney Hood, the Blazers should always have a couple of sharpshooters on the floor, so the kick-out option will always be there. In Tuesday’s preseason game vs Denver, Collins hit a few smooth-looking midrange jumpers that got me extremely excited. Weapons like that will be crucial if he’s going to take some scoring load off of his back-court, especially with Nurkic still out.
As of right now, it looks as if Terry Stotts is planning on Collins at the four, with new addition Hassan Whiteside occupying the center position. These two have huge defensive potential, and until Nurkic returns, they look to be the smart tandem moving forward. But something I would like to see a little of is a small-ball lineup with Collins at the five, Anthony Tolliver at the power forward position, and three more guards who can shoot.
With the rumor that Collins has put on an extra 30 pounds now since being drafted, this lineup can become a factor in the right situation. I liken Zach to a Serge Ibaka type player — physical, defensively smart, with the ability to provide the right amount of offense. If he adds that midrange jumper, he also becomes a factor in Damian Lillard’s offense. Lillard’s absurd range leaves gaps in the defense when he requests a high screen, and if Collins adds that midrange (plus the inside game), he can be Dame’s pick-and-pop partner, similar to the offense Denver runs with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.
We know how great Collins can be defensively. But if he wants to tie down a starting berth, he needs to unlock his offense. I see three keys. Shoot the three when given space, keep developing the midrange, and make smart passing decisions out of the post. I hope he is trusted and given time with the starting role, because the skillset is there. Come playoff time, Collins can be the guy at power forward.