Portland Trail Blazers: 5 rookie season goals for Zach Collins

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Here’s five rookie season goals for new Portland Trail Blazers big man, Zach Collins.

The trick to setting goals is to make them as realistic as possible. Setting your goals too high can sometimes lead to complete and utter disappointment, while setting your goals too low can often diminish your sense of accomplishment.

Though, that’s not to say you shouldn’t swing for the fences, which is exactly what Portland Trail Blazers rookie Zach Collins did when he went on record to say he thinks he can be the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year.

Let me be the first to wish him luck in this endeavor, especially considering he’ll be pitted against guys like Ben Simmons, Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, and De’Aaron Fox. I respect the confidence, and I truly believe the sky is the limit for the newly drafted, 19-year-old seven-footer.

But just as everyone needs to learn how to shoot layups before they can start dunking, Collins first needs to learn how to crawl in the NBA before he can start walking, so here are five realistic goals for the Gonzaga product in his rookie season.

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5. Learn how to manage his time and money

Having experience covering the Santa Cruz Warriors — G-League affiliate of the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors — one of the things I constantly hear when talking to young players is how much time they have compared to when they were in college.

There’s no more studying during the season. No more classes during the season. And unless you’ve signed a number of high-level endorsements, there’s really just you, your teammates and basketball.

Additionally, many one-and-done players go into the NBA because the earning potential of playing professional basketball — especially if you’re a lottery pick — far outweighs playing on a full-ride scholarship in college.

Zach Collins is one of those one-and-done lottery players, and therefore one of his main goals this season should be learning how to manage his time and money. Being just 19 years old, this season isn’t so much about proving he’s a great basketball player as it is about him proving he’s mature enough to be a pro.

Ideally, he would develop a working schedule that prioritizes gym time over free time while someone he trusts works to manage his money alongside financial advisors. He won’t have to worry too much about his finances, and therefore will be able to maximize his time developing into the NBA player everyone knows he can be.

Without a doubt, every professional athlete should set this goal going into their rookie season, lest they lose everything they worked so hard for.

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4. Develop camaraderie with his teammates

In Season 1, Episode 3 of Bleacher Report‘s Game of Zones series, the character based on LeBron James has a conversation about chemistry with a fictitious Kevin Love. “Chemistry matters, Kevin,” says James. “Stop trying to find a way to fit out, and just fit in. Be a part of something special.”

It’s no secret that teams play their best on the court when there are no distractions off of it. Being a good teammate can sometimes be just as important as being able to knock down the open shot, something that the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs — teams that prioritize having high-character players — have proved time and time again.

Making the effort to spend time to get to know your teammates helps build strong foundations for long-term relationships. Showing them that you’re willing to put in the work and do whatever it takes to win earns respect.

Collins is expected to join his younger teammates for the Las Vegas Summer League, after which he’ll go into training camp with the rest of the team. Collins can use both opportunities to build some rapport with his teammates heading into preseason, which will likely prove invaluable further down the line.

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3. Stay healthy

Reason No. 1 why the Portland Trail Blazers drafted another big man instead of eyeing a much-needed perimeter defender: Their big guys constantly keep getting hurt — or, in some cases, end up not playing at all because they were already hurt to begin with.

Jusuf Nurkic, whose arrival in the second-half of the season sparked a run that earned the Blazers a playoff berth, went down with a broken leg shortly before the postseason. Ed Davis required season-ending surgery early in March. Festus Ezeli didn’t even play at all, and now his knees aren’t even his original knees anymore!

Knock on wood, but Zach Collins was an ironman for Gonzaga in his freshman year, playing all 39 games. To be fair, Collins was only playing 17.3 minutes per game off the bench, and there will be 43 more games to be played in the NBA.

Nevertheless, if Collins can stay healthy all season long, Blazers fans can definitely chalk up his rookie year as an encouraging success — even if he doesn’t end up being in the Rookie of the Year conversation.

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2. Be a presence defensively

While it’s true that the Portland Trail Blazers could have used a defender on the perimeter, a reliable rim protector is quite possibly the next best thing, which is probably why they ended up drafting a big man that averaged 19.2 rebounds and 5.8 blocks per 100 possessions in college.

It’s also true that Zach Collins’ numbers are a bit inflated due to the fact he averaged just under 20 minutes off the bench for the Bulldogs; that is why it’s so important that he proves he can continue to defend at a high level now that he’s in the NBA.

What Collins has going for him is his agility and defensive instincts, which could prove useful when hedging screens or switching onto perimeter players. If Collins can mold into a solid pick-and-roll defender, he’ll earn consistent minutes in the rotation.

But in terms of defending opposing bigs, Collins will need to get stronger and put on a lot more muscle to help him hold his ground inside. In addition, Collins will have to work on being more disciplined on defense, where he averaged 8.8 fouls per 100 possessions.

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1. Understand his role

One of the biggest mistakes new players can make is going into a situation either expecting too much or doing too much. When a player expects too much, his ego can sometimes get in the way, turning the locker room sour. When a player tries to do too much, he ends up stepping over everyone else’s toes, which can end up stalling a team’s upward progression.

Zach Collins was selected in the lottery, and he is undoubtedly a lottery-level talent. At 19 years old, Collins has boundless potential, and he’ll likely look to take advantage of every single opportunity to develop his game.

That being said, Collins needs to understand that he’s going to a team that arguably didn’t need a lottery pick. While Portland is certainly to be commended for finding a way to trade into the lottery to get their guy, a team that didn’t make any major changes after coming off their fourth-straight playoff appearance isn’t exactly in the best position to prioritize the development of a project.

Therefore, it’s unlikely the Blazers give him much playing time if he proves too raw a prospect. In this scenario, Collins just needs to remain patient with his development, understanding that he’s in a good situation and that he’s lucky to not have any pressure to contribute right now.

However, if Collins is able to quickly learn and display the qualities of an NBA-ready player both on and off the court, he will not just put himself in the best possible position to succeed in his rookie year, but he’ll put himself in the position to succeed for the rest of what many hope to be a long, prosperous basketball career.

All Collins really needs to do is take a page out of Game of Zones and show that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to fit in and be a part of something special. Do that, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Collins in the conversation for Rookie of the Year.

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