Those who have been reading our site for a while now know that I consider Zach Collins to be my illegitimate son (examples one, two, and three), so I felt like a frustrated parent watching him languish on the bench to start the year while other rookies were getting chances to contribute. It only got worse as I watched people label Collins as a likely bust and write-off the Blazers' decision to draft him as a poor one.
With that said, I'm not going to lie, I was secretly thrilled to see Jusuf Nurkic tweak his ankle as it meant Collins might finally get regular time in the Blazers' rotation alongside high quality players instead of his standard garbage time tandem with Jake Layman. Low and behold, my prayers were answered:
My favorite element of Collins' newfound place in the rotation is that he's continued to get playing time even after the three games that Nurkic sat out, which recently peaked at just under 31 minutes during the Blazers' 95-92 victory over the Lakers last week.
It's unsurprising that Collins struggled in his first 8 appearances. As we've seen this year especially, circumstance is a crucial element of a player's success. Collins' first few games had him playing sporadic minutes alongside replacement level players that were largely focused on standing out individually. That's a tough position for any player to succeed in, let alone a teenager who only averaged 17 minutes a night in his one year in the WCC.
Here's a per 36 minute comparison of Collins' numbers in the 8 games he played before and the 9 games since being added to the rotation:
Over this recent 9 game stretch, Collins has been putting up 11 points, 9 rebounds, and almost 2 blocks per 36 minutes. Those aren't all-NBA numbers (yet!), but it's a significant improvement from the 5 points, 6 boards, and 0 blocks per 36 that he was posting before (albeit in a tiny sample size). His turnovers have also dropped from an absurd 11.3 per 36 to a very solid 1.6 per 36, which is likely part of the reason Terry Stotts has felt comfortable keeping him in the rotation even after Nurkic has recovered.
Now that Collins has played enough for us to have a basic understanding of his current identity as a player, here's how his season stacks up in terms of shooting accuracy and shot selection to Pau Gasol's rookie year, our pre-draft comp for Collins:
For us Collins disciples, it's reassuring to see that it took Gasol, one of the best shooting big men of all time, a few years to develop his stroke. Surprisingly, Collins actually appears to be a bit ahead of where Gasol was as a rookie on longer shots. Rookie Gasol certainly has the edge on Collins in the midrange, however, and focusing on improving in the 3-10 foot range would likely lead to significant improvements in efficiency for Collins.
While the two players' rookie seasons show very different shot selection distributions, some of that can be contributed to the different eras that they played in. What's intriguing is looking at both player's shot selection in 2017-18:
There are a few subtle differences - Collins is taking slightly more shots within 10 feet of the hoop and Gasol us putting up more long twos - but overall the two distributions are strikingly similar.
Here's to hoping Collins makes the same type of progress as Gasol by building up his physical strength and developing his shooting touch on his way to seizing his rightful title as the best player of all time.