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NBA Draft 2017 Scouting Profile: Zach Collins

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In the great hunt for the next NBA unicorn, Collins has been getting major draft hype but lacks serious polish all across his game.

Gonzaga v North Carolina Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Zach Collins

NBA Position: PF/C

General Information: 19-year-old freshman, played for Gonzaga. From Las Vegas, NV.

Measurables: 7’0", 232 lbs, 7’1” wingspan, 9’3” standing reach.

2016-17 Season Statistics: 10.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 0.4 APG, 0.5 SPG, 1.8 BPG, 1.5 TOPG (39 games played, 17.3 minutes a contest) – 65.2% FG, 74.3% FT, 47.9% 3P

Summary:

In the great hunt for the next NBA unicorn, Gonzaga’s Zach Collins has been getting major draft hype for his post skills, shot blocking ability, and shooting efficiency… all of which were guised by limited minutes. He’s got a serious lack of polish on most of his skills and will have a rough transition into a league that plays far more physical than he has to this point.

Offensive Breakdown:

Statistics alone mock Collins up as one of the most efficient players in the class; he averaged 23.2 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 4.1 blocks per 40 minutes last year, and Synergy ranks him in the 98th percentile in half-court points per possession. These numbers are inflated by his low playing time (17.3 minutes per game), most of which came against WCC bigs (and bench bigs) who couldn’t match up with his size or quickness, but it’s unfair to call the numbers anything but impressive.

The one thing that his limited minutes can’t hide is his strong success as a post-up player; he had 128 possessions in the post-up good for 1.125 points per possession (96th percentile). He’s got an emerging number of post moves, solid footwork, and quick hands that will help his transition to the NBA game. Collins offers strong post fundamentals, but he certain isn’t “one of the most fundamentally sound players to come out of college in the last decade – possibly the best since Duncan”. Someone actually constructed this sentence. Hyperbole is nothing new in draft speak, but I think Collins is winning this years’ exaggeration crown.

Collins offers potential as a versatile scorer… if everything comes together. He’s getting hype as a stretch four, and while the tools are there, banking on this is a massive risk with limited numbers to go off. Compare Collins’ ranged-shot opportunities compared to other stretch bigs in the class; Collins’ numbers are way too limited for anyone to be sure it’s not just a flash-in-the-pan skill.

2017 Stretch Bigs Shooting Comparison

Player (GP, MPG) 3PA (3P%) Spot-up (PPP) Catch-and-Shoot (PPP) Half Court Jump-shots (PPP)
Player (GP, MPG) 3PA (3P%) Spot-up (PPP) Catch-and-Shoot (PPP) Half Court Jump-shots (PPP)
Zach Collins (39, 17.3) 21 (47.9) 16 (1.125) 26 (1.46) 28 (1.35)
Jonathan Isaac (32, 26.2) 89 (34.8) 114 (1.09) 60 (1.1) 110 (1)
Lauri Markkanen (37, 30.8) 163 (42.3) 110 (1.18) 139 (1.26) 187 (1.19)
OG Anunoby (16, 25.1) 45 (31.1) 44 (1.02) 36 (1.16) 44 (1.08)
Thomas Bryant (34, 28.1) 60 (28.3) 47 (1.4) 48 (1.23) 63 (1.17)

Aside from slightly-less-than-ideal length for his position, Collins has tools to match-up in the NBA, assuming he continues to add muscle. He's got good foot speed for his size and plenty of vertical pop, and has an ability to play in transition and take advantage of slower big men who can't keep up. However, Collins had major problems with physical opponents, and he was easily bothered on both ends of the court by stronger bigs. A lot of his offensive potential depends on him being able to pull defenders away from the paint, but he’s also going to have to become much, much more comfortable with lowering his shoulder into the defense and fighting his way for shots.

Collins doesn’t offer much versatility as a playmaker. He never was a stopping point in the offense (Mark Few would have crushed his inconsistent minutes otherwise), but he finished with just 1 assist per 40 minutes and a 1/3.8 assist to turnover ratio.

Defensive Breakdown:

The biggest boon for Collins, and the one area where he shows zero fear, is in his shot blocking; 4.1 blocks per 40 minutes and a 9.8% block rate, both the best in the class. He’s got fantastic timing on his blocks and great instincts on where to move his body before leaping. His quick feet allow him to cover ground faster than some bigs and provide serious help defense/defensive recovery, and this offers tantalizing perimeter defensive potential as well.

That said, the rest of his defensive game, like the rest of his skills, is very raw. His instincts on post-defense are lacking, and he was never completely willing to muscle up to physical opponents even when he had a significant size/athleticism advantage. NBA big men will love facing him in the post until he bulks up and learns to play physical. He also averaged 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes, and fouled out six times on the year (including the Championship game, although that one had some VERY questionable calls). Aside from his shot blocking, he’s going to need significant patience on defense.

Collins is above average rebounder and was willing to put himself between his rivals and the ball; 13.6 boards per 40 minutes (5.6 per game), with a 23.3% defensive rebounding rate. How this will transition again depends on his willingness to mix it up in a rougher NBA post.

Intangibles:

There are no red flags surrounding Collins outside of his talent. He made solid improvements towards the end of the year, fit in well with a competitive and deep Gonzaga roster, and made a name for himself with a strong end to the tournament. There’s plenty of reason for optimism in his long-term prospects as a strong bench big man in the league… but he’s not being talked about in the draft range of strong bench big men. He’s being discussed at the mid-lottery level in one of the deeper drafts in history.

I attended the Saint Mary’s/Gonzaga rumble in Moraga in mid-February to cheer on my alma-mater, and I made it a goal to evaluate Collins live. I’d seen Collins play before that (against Arizona, Iowa St., and the SMC/Zags game in Spokane), but hadn’t paid proper draft-prospect attention to him. At that time, he was rocketing up draft boards and was considered a late first rounder, so I wanted to see what I was missing.

As I walked out of that game three hours later, in my depression over the outcome… I realized I hadn’t noticed him playing. Not just failed to notice an impact… he’d escaped my notice in the 16 minutes he’d played. So later that night, I rewatched the game; 6 points, 5 boards, some dumb fouls, a few bad calls, and one really nice fadeaway in the paint. But against a SMC front line that lacked any athlete close to his combination of fluidity and size, I came away less than impressed for a guy who was getting such draft attention. I continue to hear people whose draft creds I respect praise Collins’ play against SMC (as the only legit conference challenge for the Zags) as proof of his NBA potential… and yet, in three total games against SMC, he had a combined 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Collins’ situation needs to be especially considered when you’re putting him in the lottery range among other bigs like Lauri Markkanen, Justin Patton, or OG Anunoby. Taking Collins means trusting in your evaluation staff to properly judge his limited playing time (17.6 minutes a game) against top NCAA competition. It means trusting in the development of a 19-year-old big man who played mostly against mid-major competition and only faced top 50 RPI talent 10 times. I get tantalizing talent, but with the prospects in the lottery range he's apparently supplanted himself in, I wouldn’t take that risk. In the mid-20s, I get the selection... but I'm also willing to say I think there's just as much chance that his teammate, Nigel Williams-Goss, becomes Gonzaga's best player from the draft class.

Fit with Sacramento:

For all the draft capital the Kings have spent on big men in recent years, the team could still use a stretch four. Skal Labissiere and Georgios Papagiannis offer flashes of range, but nothing for certain. So while it’s not crazy to think the Kings would use another pick on a big man, if they want to go down that road, they should go with someone with a much more proven ability to disrupt the gravity of the defense (cough, Isaac, cough, Markkanen).

For all the doubt I’ve thrown on Collins, I’ll cover myself by fully admitting the kid had a strong end to the year on the biggest stage in the game. He had his best game of the season against South Carolina in the Final Four with 14 points, 13 boards, and 6 blocks (albeit against a frontline with no bigman over 6’9 who could play at Collins’ verticality), and he was certainly one of Gonzaga’s best performers in the Championship. He got pushed around by Kennedy Meeks, underlining the physical play concerns, but when Meeks wasn’t on him, he had some key moments that kept the Zags in the game (until two dumb fouls at the end sent him to the bench).

The traits to be a solid, well-rounded big man in the NBA are certainly present, if less commonly present than has been hyped. But there’s also a good number of risks, risks that keep him outside of my top 20.