We Need To Talk About Zach Collins


I have a crazy prediction, and it’s probably going to trigger a lot of Portland Trail Blazers fans. Barring injury, Zach Collins will never start a single game in a Blazer uniform.


Do you hear that sound!? It’s the distant echo of craft beer bottles shattering as Blazers fans prepare to launch into an insecure self defense of their disappointing, young big man:

“He’s only 20 years old! You can’t make an honest evaluation this quickly!

“He’s only played 81 minutes! We need a bigger sample size!”

“Craft beer is so much better than domestic!”

There are two basic reasons Collins will never start a game for the Blazers:

  1. He’s not very good (more on this later).
  2. The Blazers are going to sign Jusuf Nurkic to a mega-deal in six months, and they’re already paying Meyers Leonard $10 million per year (also more on this later).

Point number one: the first 10 games of Collins’s career have been so historically unproductive — to say he’s struggling to swim in NBA waters would be misleading; he’s completely drowning.

In 81 minutes, he’s 7-for-23 from the floor with 15 rebounds, nine turnovers and 18 personal fouls. His Basketball Reference page is more depressing than the new Eminem song featuring Beyonce.

His Summer League stats — against fringe NBA players — were almost equally terrible.

Collins’s offensive game plan reminds me of a question every guy has asked while watching basketball: “Do you think you could survive in an NBA game for an entire quarter and not embarrass yourself?” He doesn’t have an established offensive skillset or a go-to post move. Instead, Collins frantically runs around the court, sets screens for guards and crashes the boards. The Blazers traded two draft picks for a rover.

When he tries to post up, he’s easily overpowered by larger, opposing big men, and he struggles to corral rebounds because of his skinny frame. He shot threes well in college (10-21) in a limited sample size, but his shot is merely a science project at this point in his NBA career.

Collins’s only real asset right now is his rim protection and verticality. He’s a well-coached defender and he disrupts interior shots. On Saturday night against the Houston Rockets, Collins played the best quarter of his career when he hit a three-pointer and then rejected James Harden at the rim.

But the Blazers didn’t trade up in the draft for an interior defender; they’re looking for a franchise center with a dynamic offensive skill set.

Collins’s rookie struggles prompt an important question: is a center’s rookie season indicative of how good that player will be? The table below lists every rookie center drafted in the top 15 from 2011-2015, including Collins. These are their per 36 min. statistics (look away Neil Olshey).

Per 36 Minutes
Jahlil Okafor 21.0 50.8% 8.4 1.4 2.8
Karl-Anthony Towns 20.6 54.2% 11.8 1.9 2.5
Kristaps Porzingis 18.1 42.1% 9.3 2.4 2.1
Anthony Davis 16.9 51.6% 10.2 2.2 1.7
John Henson 16.5 48.2% 12.9 1.8 2.0
Myles Turner 16.3 49.8% 8.7 2.3 1.8
Kelly Olynyk 15.6 46.6% 9.4 0.7 2.7
Andre Drummond 13.8 60.8% 13.2 2.8 1.7
Jonas Valanciunas 13.5 55.7% 9.0 1.9 2.3
Frank Kaminsky 12.8 41.0% 7.1 0.9 1.2
Enes Kanter 12.5 49.6% 11.5 0.9 0.8
Tristan Thompson 12.5 43.9% 9.8 1.6 2.0
Cody Zeller 12.5 42.6% 9.0 1.0 2.2
Willey Cauley-Stein 11.8 56.3% 9.0 1.7 1.2
Nerlens Noel 11.6 46.2% 9.5 2.2 2.3
Meyers Leonard 11.3 54.5% 7.6 1.1 1.5
Jan Vesely 8.9 53.7% 8.3 1.1 2.0
Alex Len 8.6 42.3% 9.8 1.8 2.6
Bismack Biyombo 8.1 46.4% 9.1 2.8 1.8
Steven Adams 8.0 50.3% 10.0 1.7 2.1
Zach Collins 7.6 30.0% 6.7 1.3 4.0


I told you to look away, Neil Olshey! (I understand this is a small sample size. Life is too short to not completely discredit a 20 year old at some point).

This table tells us two things: rookie statistics do a pretty decent job of forecasting how good a center will be, and Zach Collins is having the worst rookie season out of centers drafted in the top 15 in a long time. However, there are exceptions to this list. Jahlil Okafor is the highest scoring center in the group, and he was just traded for a cup of coffee. Steven Adams is the second lowest scorer, and he’s turned into a foundational player. If you remove those two samples, this table does a good job of sorting productive centers. Rookie statistics can be revealing.

Blazers fans are praying to the hipster Gods Collins doesn’t end up a massive disappointment like Jan Vesely, Alex Len and Meyers Leonard. But what’s his best-case scenario? A more athletic Frank Kaminsky (I know, lazy white guy to white guy comparison)? Portland passed on Malik Monk (ouch), Kyle Kuzma (oops) and Donovan Mitchell (?&#@!) to take Collins at number 10. Donovan is Dwyane Wade with a three pointer, while Monk and Kuzma are clearly going to be productive NBA players.

Point number two: has anyone questioned (besides me of course) why the Blazers drafted a 19-year-old center when they already have 23-year-old Jusuf Nurkic and 25-year-old Meyers Leonard?

All signs point toward Portland locking up Nurkic to a long-term deal next summer, so why in the hell would you draft another seven footer? The NBA’s best teams (Warriors, Rockets, Cavaliers) all go small in crunch time. I’m not sure Nurkic could even play in the fourth quarter of a playoff series against those teams, let alone Nurkic and Collins together. The entire NBA is shifting toward perimeter players who shoot threes and defend, and the Blazers decided to draft another center.

Despite making the wrong draft pick, all hope is not lost. The Blazers have two options regarding Collins:

Option 1: Admit you made the wrong pick, and commit to Nurkic.

The first step here is to tell Nurkic he’s your center of the future and you’re done sleeping around with other 19-year-old draft picks with bad haircuts. Immediately start shopping Collins to a rebuilding team (he still has value strictly based on potential), and try to acquire some shooting in return.

ESPN’s Trade Machine.

Welcome back Wes Matthews! You’re taking Evan I Can’t Shoot or Pass Turner’s minutes, and you’re not going to believe how much Portland has grown since you left.

Then, in June, offer Nurkic four-years, $60 million and stop drafting centers for the next four years.

Option 2: Commit to Zach Collins as your future center

I wouldn’t do this, but that’s because I’d rather win basketball games. Step one: start calling teams in need of a center who are chasing a title, and acquire as much shooting/defending as possible. You know who’s chasing a title and has an abundance of shooting/defense? The Milwaukee Bucks!

ESPN’s Trade Machine

We’re trading Bosnians, baby! Malcolm Brogdon gives the Blazers some much needed backcourt defense, and Mirza Teletovic is a sniper from deep.

Step two: start playing Collins 22 minutes a night and figure out if the kid has the potential to be your future center. Use the 2018 first-round pick on a forward who can actually shoot and defend (I’m looking at you Noah Vonleh, Caleb Swanigan, Evan Turner and Maurice Harkless), and do everything you can to trade Evan Turner’s malignant contract.

What will the Blazers actually do? If we look to Meyers Leonard as a precedent, they’ll sign Nurkic to a huge deal, continue to wrestle with the idea of Collins long term as he averages 11 points per game and then inexplicably pay him four-years, $41 million despite no competing offers.

By the way, there’s nothing wrong with trading up in the draft to get a guy you’re infatuated with. Kawhi Leonard, Pau Gasol, Ray Allen, Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki were aggressively traded for on draft day by teams who felt they were acquiring franchise centerpieces.

The Blazers just took the wrong guy. The question is, when will they admit it?


About Author

Jack Rieger

Jack Rieger is a columnist for Oregon Sports News. You can follow him on Twitter @JackRieger.

1 Comment

  1. Mr. Reiger: I never reply to computer posts but I am making an exception.

    I was very happy when the Blazers moved up to draft Zach.

    It is so early in his career to make an assumption about Zach. I question his future in Portland with Nurcic here and he will be too good to be a backup center all his life.

    I agree he must add weight and strength but that will be easily done over the next couple of years.


    Joe Moore

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