With the NBA on hold, Portland Trail Blazers big Zach Collins has additional time to recover from his injury. Where does he slot in when he returns?
The suspension of the NBA sucks for a lot of reasons, but for the Portland Trail Blazers, there are some interesting positives. In a season marred by injuries, the Blazers have now been granted additional time to rehab their starters back to health.
Jusuf Nurkic was just about ready to go before the suspension set in, with the Bosnian planning on making his return vs the Rockets on March 15. Rodney Hood meanwhile, was a while away from returning, but even with the length of this suspension unclear, Hood could potentially play a little if it stretches into October/November.
Zach Collins, however, is the biggest silver lining for the Blazers. The power-forward played just three games this year, but was posting career highs in every category, and looked much-improved. Collins went down with a dislocated shoulder in October’s win over the Dallas Mavericks, and hasn’t played since.
But according to Collins’ Instagram page, he’ll be ready to go when the NBA returns.
So, Collins seems to be good to return. But where to? Back into the starting line-up? Off the bench? This is a question for both the rest of this season, and the future.
I’m a big believer in Zach Collins‘ ability, but his potential alone isn’t the only factor in this discussion. For instance, what happens to Carmelo Anthony? Trevor Ariza? Nurkic is also returning, and his minutes will need to be staggered with Hassan Whiteside‘s.
Let’s start with this season. Assuming everyone is healthy and ready to play (aside from Hood) when the NBA returns, I believe the starting 5 should be as so: Lillard, McCollum, Ariza, Collins, Whiteside. Here are my reasons.
- The Blazers lack defense. Badly. Ariza has helped patch this up slightly, and Collins will help this significantly, as he can defend the paint exceptionally, and the perimeter decently.
- Whiteside and Collins have a little bit of chemistry, after playing together in pre-season and the first few games of the season. From what we saw, it worked.
- Nurkic shouldn’t be handed the burden of going straight into the starting line-up. His injury was rough, and he probably won’t have played for a year and a half at this point. Whiteside should continue to start this season, at least for a stretch of games.
- Melo off the bench can help the second unit’s struggles. The Blazers rank bottom in bench scoring this year, and Melo can give them some stability.
Collins return hands the Blazers a terrific chance of sneaking into the playoffs, as he makes up a front-court trio who could also cause some problems for the Lakers too (Collins, Nurkic, Whiteside). The bench too, is significantly improved, with Melo for added scoring, and Nurkic for added defense (a vet PG is needed too, but that’s another story).
Now, lets look towards next season, and this summers free recruitment plans.
Rip City Project highlighted some potential free agent targets for this summer, and one that intrigues me is Jae Crowder. Crowder, currently of the Miami Heat, is a tough, defensive wing, that can shoot the three and guard both the 3 and 4 spots.
The Blazers will likely have the cap space to add one free agent, and I believe they’ll target the defensive wing area. Now, I like Zach Collins as our future PF, but does he work with Nurkic? Does he shoot the ball well enough the stretch the floor? Collins’ shooting looked much better in the games he did play this season, but he needs to prove he’s dynamic enough to occupy that starting role.
Another role I like for him is a role similar to Serge Ibaka, on the championship Toronto Raptors last season. Ibaka came off the bench, and split his minutes as a stretch 5, and at the PF spot playing with Marc Gasol. Ibaka brought energy, defense and some important post-play in his role, as well stretching the floor.
In this case, the Blazers could sign Crowder and start him at the four with Nurkic, and use Collins off the bench at both spots.
Hassan Whiteside’s future will also have an impact on Collins’ role. As the Blazers did not trade Whiteside at the deadline, it looks like the best option now would be to keep the center heading into the 20/21 season. Terry Stotts will have his work cut out staggering Whiteside, Nurkic and Collins, as all three see themselves as starters.
Stotts and the Blazers put a lot of trust in Collins at the start of the year, and I don’t think his injury will change that. So for the future, this would be my plan (*Rodney Hood is back in this scenario, but off the bench, as a torn Achilles takes time for a player to find his rhythm again).
Bench (significant minutes)
- Gary Trent Jr
- *Rodney Hood
- Carmelo Anthony
- *Insert FA acquisition here
- Hassan Whiteside
Zach Collins has all the attributes to be a starter on a successful playoff team, and I think the Blazers see that. His offensive game is getting there, and believe he was about to take-off this year. I also think the Blazers will value Collins’ potential over Whiteside’s future, if it did come to that.
The Trail Blazers have some decisions to make once this season is over, but I’m fairly sure Collins will be a significant part of this organization for the extended future. One thing is certain, when the NBA is back, the Blazers are extremely deep, and will get even deeper in 2021. The future, is bright.