The Portland Trail Blazers have another chance to resurrect the once promising career of Meyers Leonard. His name is Zach Collins.
Leonard was sent a clear message on Thursday night when the Blazers acquired Gonzaga’s 7’-0” All-American; Meyers’ tenure with the Blazers is dangerously close to an end. Collins is Leonard 2.0 and a chance for the organization to correct everything that went wrong with version 1.0.
On the surface, Collins is every bit the twin of Leonard. A talented, versatile big man who lacks, right now, the physicality and mindset to compete in the NBA.
Leonard himself never fully developed the toughness and intelligence that the Blazers hoped would occur over time and experience. Five years into his career, Leonard still has the deer-in-the-headlights look whenever he’s on the floor. His lack of court awareness and minimal basketball instincts have hampered his development and disgruntled Blazers fans so much that last season ended with a smattering of boos directed at Leonard. Watch the end of this clip to see Meyers’ full unawareness on display.
The Blazers are hoping that Collins can be the player that Leonard cannot seem to be. And there is every reason to believe he can succeed.
I will strongly argue with anyone that the Gonzaga Bulldogs would have beaten the North Carolina Tar Heels and won the college national championship if Collins had not gotten into foul trouble or if referees didn’t exist. He was a force whenever on the floor, a shot blocking presence with an abundant set of skills on the offensive end.
Averaging less than 20 minutes a game during his only year at Gonzaga, Collins averaged 10 points, six rebounds and nearly two blocks a game. I was all for Collins sticking around for at least one more year in college, thinking that his body wasn’t ready for the rigors of the NBA. But, he’s a Blazer now. Obviously, the organization see something special in Collins.
If anything, this pick should be a warning shot fired at Leonard. Collins wouldn’t be Portland’s lottery selection if Leonard was playing anywhere near his supposed potential. If Meyers is still around next season, if he isn’t traded away, Leonard will have to work that much harder to find playing time over the 19-year-old Collins whom I believe can make an immediate impact even as raw as he will be.
Maybe, this is exactly what Leonard needs to resurrect his mind and career. Leonard is on the precipice of his NBA career, a player more apt to trend on Twitter for all the wrong reasons. I’ve always had high hopes for Leonard and a part of me still does. But, last season was a disaster. Whether it be because of injuries or just an all-around bottomed out mind set, Leonard regressed mightily last season. Now, with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins in the fold, Leonard will have no choice but to step up or out of the league.
For all these reason, I love this pick by the Blazers. Collins was a ton of fun to watch when he was on the court for Gonzaga. However, “when” is the key word here. Like every young big man, including Leonard to this day, Collins is suspect to foul trouble within the first 30 seconds of entering a game. While Leonard still hacks people around the rim because he continues to react rather than have a consciousness of his surroundings, the hope is that Collins can learn to have more discipline and be a better defensive presence.
The Blazers started the day with rumors of LaMarcus Aldridge potentially coming back to Portland. Then, the rumor mill went spinning uncontrollably around a trade for Paul George. Ultimately, the day ended quietly with the Zach Collins pick thanks to a trade with the Sacramento Kings. I’m glad we didn’t get Aldridge. George was never going to stay here long term. In the end, we got Zach Collins. Sometimes, it’s the quieter moves that make the most impact.