by John Hooper
We're now in the thick of my favorite time of the sports year right now with the NCAA Tournament having wrapped up, the NBA Playoffs about to begin and NBA Draft speculation in full swing. What makes this year extra sweet is the completion of the oft-discussed Prospect Algorithm, which I'll be using often as a piece of my analysis of this year's crop of prospects.
The Zach Collins hype train really started to gather momentum during March Madness since the majority of the country had not yet heard of the talented freshman from Gonzaga during the regular season. I still don't understand why Collins had such a limited role on their team, only playing 17.3 minutes per game despite coming into Gonzaga as their first ever McDonald's All-American, but he was dominant all season long in the few minutes he played.
Luckily for those with a late pass on Collins, the national title game served as the perfect microcosm of his game. His strengths - skill on the block, shot blocking instincts, the soft shooting touch - were all on display, as were his weaknesses of ball security and being foul prone (although the refs didn't help matters here).
Where Collins shows star potential is scoring the ball as a stretch five. The algorithm rates his scoring potential as a 93.1 (out of 100). Where he's shone brightest statistically is with with his true shooting percentage of 70.3%, which ranks second amongst all draftees and prospects from 2011 through this year's draft. I'd like to repeat that, he was second in the entire draftee and prospect pool in true shooting percentage. That's obviously off the charts efficiency. His usage rate of was in the middle of the pack at 24.8%, but his lethal effectiveness paired with his sufficient aggressiveness was enough to put him the top tier of prospects in terms of scoring potential. The eye test reaffirms the numbers here as Collins projects very well as a finisher off of pick and rolls as well as a guy who could bust small-ball lineups with his low post game.
Collins' other standout characteristic is his ability to block shots. He averaged 1.8 blocks per game in those 17.3 minutes per game, which projects out to an excellent 5.8 blocks per 100 possessions. This ranks seventeenth amongst all players in our database. Collins also had the second lowest defensive rating of all players in the database (only behind KAT), and had a 7.1 relative defensive rating, which compares his personal defensive rating to his team's overall defensive rating. Both numbers are also excellent, which shows me that he's not the type of player who's chasing blocks at the expense of the team's defensive scheme.
Collins was also a very strong rebounder with 13.6 per 40 minutes, and he's even showed range out to the three point line, hitting 10 of his 21 attempts this year. He's also a solid free throw shooter, hitting 74.3% of his attempts in his one year with the Zags, giving credence to the hope that he'll be able to become a consistent threat from behind the arc someday soon.
To summarize thus far, Collins is potentially a great scorer, protects the rim, is a good rebounder AND has range out to the three point line. This is the ideal player to dominate the league of today. So what gives? Why is he not the clear consensus number one overall prospect?
Collins does have two main flaws to his game, both of which North Carolina was able to exploit in their victory over Gonzaga in the title game. Collins gets called for a lottttt of fouls. He averaged 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes. He fouled out of seven games, including the title game. I wish that his coach, Mark Few, would've allowed him to foul out of every game to see if he could develop more awareness of the official's whistles, but since that wasn't the case, whoever drafts him will have to be the ones to let him learn how to stay on the court.
Collins' other main deficiency is how frequently he turns the ball over. He averaged 3.6 turnovers per 40 minutes, which is bad but not atrocious. But the other factors that make this rate more of a problem are that he only averaged 1.0 assists per 40 minutes, plus the fact that this was all happening against the weak competition of the WCC. The silver lining here is that Collins' personal offensive rating was 8.9 points higher that Gonzaga's team rating of 116.2, which means that even though he clearly has a ways to go as a passer and as a preserver of possessions, he still had a significantly net positive impact on the Zags' offense.
Collins still has a ways to go in terms of his development, but his ceiling is Hall of Fame level. Some began to realize this during Gonzaga's postseason run this year, so don't be surprised if someone picks Collins much earlier than the talking heads expect. Look for him to become a player similar to Pau Gasol.