While most NBA pundits normally praise teams that find a way into the lottery, one has to ask WHY a team in the lottery would even consider trading away its pick — especially if the team you traded the 15th pick and the 20th pick to is the perennially-dysfunctional Sacramento Kings, who ended up stealing Justin Jackson at 15 and Harry Giles at 20.
I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of the Zach Collins pick. Nevertheless, there’s a great deal to like about the 19-year-old seven-footer. Here’s the five best reasons why Zach Collins was the right pick for the Portland Trail Blazers.
By far, one of the best things about Zach Collins is his versatility.
Collins projects to be a stretch-4 when not being used as a backup center, which he was in Gonzaga behind Przemek Karnowski, and what he WILL be behind Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic.
Though not the most dominating scorer, Collins proved incredibly efficient, averaging 23.2 points per 40 minutes and 32.6 points per 100 possessions.
When he’s not behind the arc spacing the floor, Collins has the hands to catch entry passes and lobs, and he’s proven himself to have good fundamentals and footwork inside. Per SB Nation‘s Sactown Royalty, Collins posted up for 128 possessions, scoring 1.125 points per possession (96th percentile).
On the other end, Collins projects to be a great rim protector, supported by the fact he averaged 4.1 blocks per 40 minutes and 5.8 blocks per 100 possessions. He’s also pretty agile for his size, which could potentially help him develop into a respectable pick-and-roll defender.
Additionally, Collins cleans the glass extremely well, averaging 13.6 rebounds per 40 minutes and 19.2 rebounds per 100 possessions.
He is, however, infamously prone to picking up fouls. Whether that carries over into the NBA remains to be seen, but his defensive instincts more than make up for his lack of defensive discipline.
4. He adds an entirely new dimension to Portland’s game
As stated in the last slide, Collins projects to be a stretch-4 when not being used as a backup center. Though he doesn’t have the quickest release on his one-motion shot, his mechanics are simple, his release is high, and his footwork is pretty fundamental.
When acting as a floor-spacer behind the arc for Gonzaga last year, Collins went 10-of-21 (47.6 percent). It’s a small sample size, but the efficiency and range are promising. Plus, the ability to force opposing seven-footers to close out away from the key remains a highly-coveted NBA skill.
Breaking it down even further, Collins averaged 1.125 points per possession on spot-ups and 1.46 points per possession in catch-and-shoot situations. Whether he’s chilling in the corner or stepping out to the top of the key off the pick-and-pop, Collins will give the Blazers an entirely new and efficient weapon at their disposal.
And did I mention he’s a pretty good rim protector? That’s a much-needed addition to the Blazers, who’ve developed a reputation for being a poor defensive team.
Portland Trail Blazers Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
3. The Blazers needed to shore up their frontcourt depth
It’s unlikely the Portland Trail Blazers would have upset the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs. Hell — it was probably impossible. Still, every team hopes to be at full strength going into the playoffs, and the fact of the matter is Portland wasn’t.
Jusuf Nurkic went down right before the postseason despite being the one reason the Blazers were able to make the playoffs. Ed Davis needed season-ending surgery. Festus Ezeli has zombie knees.
It all came down to Noah Vonleh, who’s still coming into his own at just 21 years of age. And of course there’s Meyers Leonard, who still plays like Meyers Leonard.
When you consider all of the turmoil in Portland’s frontcourt, Zach Collins looks like a damn superhero, flying into Rose City to help bolster its last line of defense. Even if Collins doesn’t contribute much in his rookie year, fans should be ecstatic if he ends up playing at least 50 games by the end of the year.
Having the second-highest payroll in the NBA, three first round picks, and essentially nothing but the eighth seed in the Western Conference to show for it, you would think NBA fans understood that there was no way the Portland Trail Blazers could keep all three picks — or at least have them all on the roster this upcoming season.
In case you didn’t know, the Blazers were NEVER going to keep all three picks. Portland’s best-case scenario would have involved trading away one of their first-rounders as part of a salary dump. Ideally, that trade would have involved getting rid of Meyers Leonard and his absolutely horrific contract.
The Blazers also could have added a pick or two in a package for Paul George or Jimmy Butler, which some could actually argue had a better chance of happening than finding someone to take Leonard and his contract. Still, unlikely.
So, Neil Olshey did the next best thing, packaging a pair of picks to move up into the lottery to select the guy they had originally targeted going into the draft.
Sure, the Blazers could have just picked up Justin Jackson at 15 or Harry Giles at 20 and just chosen to draft-and-stash a guy overseas, but why pass on a guy you wanted in the first place for some international dude you’ve never even given a second thought?
NO ONE in their right mind would have taken Leonard’s atrocious contract — regardless of what was attached to it. The Blazers traded their pick, moved up into the lottery, got their guy at the slot he was expected to go, and solidified their short-term future in the West.
At just 19, Zach Collins became an NBA rookie after being drafted in the lottery by a playoff-level team. But like all young adults, Collins will go through his growing pains. That’s to be expected. He will have to grow both on and off the court, and it’s his work ethic and maturity that will set him apart from the rest of this peers.
That being said — the possibilities are endless. At just 19 years of age, Collins OOZES potential. He already has a solid foundation. Now it’s all about building the right habits to be successful.
“I don’t see why I can’t be rookie of the year.” — Zach Collins
We all like to throw the word “upside” around when we talk about NBA prospects, but Collins actually has it. He’s moldable. He’s confident. He has room to grow. And, most importantly, he has time.
He doesn’t have to have everything figured out anytime soon, nor should anyone expect him to have everything figured out. He just needs to continue putting himself in the best possible position to succeed, striving to be productive every single day while being patient with his development.