What was once considered “guard university” well into the decade of excellence, much of the headway Gonzaga has made in terms of NBA products can be found in the frontcourt. The last six drafted Zags have all been wings or big bodies down low.
And freshman sensation Zach Collins appears to be the third lottery big from Gonzaga in five years. Collins is an interesting lottery prospect mostly because of the knowns and unknowns. Most scouts agree on the high-motor big’s floor: a rotation regular. But what is perplexing to some scouts is Collins’ ceiling.
The 17.2 minutes Collins averaged per game were crammed full of instances of a special two-way player. His 70 percent field goal average down low was nothing short of jaw dropping. He proved his range by shooting 47.6 percent from three. But those limited minutes also showed some opportunities for growth. Collins led the team in turnovers on a per-minute basis. His rate of a foul per 6.37 minutes left some frustrated, but clearly none more than Collins himself.
What makes scouts salivate is that despite limited minutes, Collins showed a seemingly bottomless toolbox of post moves and footwork. On top of that, he showed a natural and well-versed ability on defensive positioning and rotating. The big question is what position Collins plays at the next level.
Scouts’ fanfare for Domantas Sabonis began to slightly cool after he measured in at 6’11 with a 6’9 wingspan. To many it limited what his role could be on a high level NBA team. Collins avoided this critique a bit by measuring in with a 7’1 wingspan, albeit still not spectacular for a 7 foot prospect. The main limitation for him at the center position right now is his strength and weight.
At 233 pounds, guarding premiere centers like DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond would be a tall task. But in the style of basketball promoted by the fast-paced offenses found in Golden State and Houston, he is an ideal stretch forward and center for any team trying to shift into the direction that basketball is most certainly headed.
Collins proved throughout the season and especially in the NCAA tournament that he is capable of switching screens and defending guards. Reasonably, he’s a rare big that can defend the NBA’s 3-5 which is incredibly rare. There should seldom be a matchup where the whole arena is waiting for him to be left exploited on skates.
Collins wowed many at his workouts with teams, showing an ability not only in the paint but also a fearlessness to showcase his perimeter game. Early on, scouts wanted to project him as a Charlotte Hornets’ Cody Zeller-esque talent; someone who’d battle inside on both ends. But his three point potential draws comparisons to Indiana’s Myles Turner, showing a Swiss Army knife type game.
The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks wrote during the NCAA tournament that Collins’ versatile and adept fundamentals could reap major benefits at the next level:
While the NBA has moved away from playing out of the post in recent years, the increasing popularity of all-switching lineups could create a resurgence in back-to-the basket play. A good switch can short-circuit a pick-and-roll and prevent the defensive rotation that NBA offenses are designed to exploit. That’s when you want to be able to throw the ball inside to your big man. Even a tough perimeter defender with size and athleticism is going to have a hard time stopping a 7-footer with Collins’s feel and touch around the basket.
And Collins’ offense still has room for major development. Much of his college success came off the ball and as a finisher. That is a seemingly positive problem to have if you’re a team already with ball dominant players. His improvement off-the-dribble is something to watch over his first couple years wherever he lands.
Collins is currently projected to be taken anywhere from pick 8-14, with the suggestion that any team after 10 would be remiss to pass on him. What makes this alley of mid-tier lottery teams interesting is that many of them have recently drafted or invested in their front court. It speaks volumes to his potential that teams would pass on bigger backcourt needs to take the skilled big.
Prior to Tuesday night’s trade with Brooklyn, the Lakers were reportedly dangling D’Angelo Russell as a way to add an additional draft pick for Collins or Duke’s Luke Kenard. Collins has worked out with number-four-pick Phoenix, which would be a great fit for his assets. He’s met with Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert. Where he lands is up in the air.
What makes Collins so special is that even though he’s progressed so quickly in the post and on defense, he still has ample room to grow throughout his game. In a crowded class, he may not catch the projected immediate accolades that those ahead of him on publications’ draft boards might, but he is nonetheless a rare commodity. Just as he was for Few.