Zach Collins is a talented basketball player. As the first one-and-done player in Gonzaga history, there was some good reasoning behind his decision.
But should he have stayed in school?
More and more, younger players are rushing to leave school early for the NBA and, quite often, they look out of place when they get there. Not having fully developed their respective games, players like this often find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer difference in competition between the NCAA and the NBA, and Collins is no exception. His Summer League play has been underwhelming for the Portland Trail Blazers, who drafted him 10th overall in June. With paltry averages of 6.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game on 26.1 percent shooting, Collins hasn’t exactly looked like a top 10 pick.
“I’ve just got to put it behind me and think about ways I can be better tomorrow,” Collins said after his first rough outing of the summer. “I’ve just got to put it behind me and look for ways to get better.”
Collins’ performance seems even worse when compared to fellow rookie and 26th overall pick Caleb Swanigan. Swanigan, a two-year player out of Purdue, has already looked like one of the biggest steals of the draft, with averages of 15.7 points and 11 rebounds per game on 42.1 percent shooting. So, while it may seem quick to judge Collins based on Summer League performances — which many deem insignificant — the disparity between the two players and their production on the court is arguably cause for concern. Again, it is way too early to come to any conclusions. But after two poor performances, it’s worth considering whether Collins should have stayed another year at Gonzaga to polish and develop his game.
Collins displayed major shooting potential at Gonzaga, finishing the year with a field goal percentage of 65.2 and an effective field goal percentage of 67.6. However, the lack of NBA-caliber competition Collins faced in the smaller West Coast Conference has become quite apparent, especially on the offensive end. As a 19-year-old, Collins is somewhat undersized for the NBA in terms of his weight, coming in at just 235 pounds. While his lack of muscle and physicality may not have been a problem against less athletically gifted college bigs, it has allowed the bigger centers to bully him off his spots, resulting in his inferior shooting numbers. Poor decision making and a slight lack of awareness have been a problem for Collins as well, allowing his competition to take advantage and force plenty of turnovers — something that wasn’t a big problem for him at Gonzaga.
“Offensively, I struggled,” Collins said. “I turned the ball over, missed easy shots… I was just out of sync offensively.”
Collins wasn’t exactly a proven commodity coming out of school. In all 39 games the Zags played over the course of the season, Collins started none, playing a meager 17.3 minutes per game behind fourth-year center and starter Przemek Karnowski. A lack of playing time can lead to a much steeper learning curve for younger players making the transition to the NBA, and it clearly has with Collins. While he looked capable in his short time there, a whole year of starting games for the Zags as opposed to only coming off the bench probably would have served him well.
On the defensive end, Collins has shown some flashes. Averaging two blocks and two steals per game, he has the makings of, at the very least, a capable defender at the next level. However, Collins isn’t the most disciplined defender and can often get himself into trouble by being overly aggressive and falling for shot fakes. At Gonzaga he often found himself in foul trouble — Collins averaged 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes — and if he is unable to stay on the floor at the next level it won’t matter how good of a defender he is. His size could also be a problem here as well; if Collins doesn’t put on weight he’ll be pushed around by more physical bigs near the basket and will find it hard to make a real impact at the center position.
“I thought I played defense pretty well,” Collins said. “I can be better.”
While Collins certainly has the makings of a high-caliber NBA player, another year or two with Mark Few and the Gonzaga Bulldogs would have allowed him more time to round out his game and develop physically. Yes, it would have been extremely hard for Collins or his agent to say no to a top 10 selection. But the polish, experience and physical growth it would have added to Collins’ game would have made the rough transition he is currently going through that much easier for him.
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