Western Conference Semifinals - Denver Nuggets v Portland Trail Blazers

PORTLAND, OR – MAY 5: Zach Collins #33 of the Portland Trail Blazers and Will Barton #5 of the Denver Nuggets fights for position to grab the rebound during Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on May 5, 2019 at the

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With the Portland Trail Blazers’ many roster changes for 2019-20, third-year big man Zach Collins appears to be in line to move into the starting lineup. If you want to guess how he will perform as a starter, there is very little to go on.

In the past three seasons – his lone year of college basketball at Gonzaga, and two in the NBA with the Blazers – Collins has appeared in 182 regular season games, and another 20 NBA playoff games. The number of times he has been introduced as a starter in that stretch?

One.

That came on Dec. 12, 2017 when as a rookie he was called upon to fill in as starting center for Jusuf Nurkic, who had suffered a sprained ankle. Collins played 21 minutes and had nine points, three rebounds and a block in a win at Miami.

In the other 201 games, Collins came off the bench.

But with the roster turnover the Blazers have undergone this off-season, Collins seems in line to be Portland’s starting power forward after the departure of Al-Farouq Aminu. The 7-footer has been trending toward that positional role. According to his page on basketballreference.com, he played power forward in 46 percent of his 2018-19 appearances after doing so in 8 percent in his rookie season (he played center the rest of the time).

Collins, of course, might still have to earn a starting spot in training camp, an effort that could be hindered by the sprained ankle he suffered during a workout last month. He is, though, expected to be ready for camp.

The interest in Collins becoming a starter has been high enough to gain him the lead mention in a Ringer story about the “next Siakam”  — a reference to Toronto’s Pascal Siakam, who won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award last season.  

Collins, who turns 22 in November, is at a crossroad in his career. He was already becoming a valuable player off the bench, most notably for his defense and competitive fire, with an occasional scoring burst thrown in, but only as a bonus. Collins could indeed settle into being that kind of player – a role bench guy who complements what his higher-scoring teammates do. But his competitive fire also his him aimed at becoming a starter for essentially the first time since his senior year of high school.

“There’s been a lot of great role players in this league and if that’s what my career is going to be defined as that’s fine,” he said during his exit interview in May. “But I’ve always wanted to be the guy, be the starter and I’ve always wanted to be someone that plays a lot of minutes every night to help a team win and I won’t stop until I get to that point.”

If he does start, Collins would be relied up to play solid defense, set screens and continue to display the grit and hustle that have endeared him to Blazers fans. But he would also need to contribute offensively.

Collin would be playing with three players in Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Rodney Hood (assuming that Hood starts) who are all shooters that can get their own shot, but can also make plays for teammates. That figures to be a good fit as Collins has relied on teammates to get him shots – in his two NBA seasons, 65.1 percent of his 2-point field goals, and 94.7 percent of his 3-point makes, have come with an assist.

In 2018-19, as he settled into a key role off the bench, Collins followed the Blazers’ analytics script for shot attempts, with 42.8 percent of his shots coming from 3 feet and in, and 33.1 percent on 3-pointers. Playing alongside center Hassan Whiteside, at least until Jusuf Nurkic returns, Collins figures to get his share of open 3-point looks, as Aminu did as the starting power forward. Collins shot 33 percent behind the arc last season compared to Aminu’s 34.3 percent, but Collins has a more fluid looking stroke than Aminu’s long, slow release, and figures to get cleaner looks playing with three strong shooters.

Whiteside is a career 22.2 percent 3-point shooter whose 18 career attempts have all come in the last two seasons, with 16 in 2018-19 (he made two). That no doubt puts the onus on Collins to carry the burden of making open 3’s among the starters – assuming that he steps into a role that has been foreign to him for three years.

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With the Portland Trail Blazers’ many roster changes for 2019-20, third-year big man Zach Collins appears to be in line to move into the starting lineup. If you want to guess how he will perform as a starter, there is very little to go on.

In the past three seasons – his lone year of college basketball at Gonzaga, and two in the NBA with the Blazers – Collins has appeared in 182 regular season games, and another 20 NBA playoff games. The number of times he has been introduced as a starter in that stretch?

One.

That came on Dec. 12, 2017 when as a rookie he was called upon to fill in as starting center for Jusuf Nurkic, who had suffered a sprained ankle. Collins played 21 minutes and had nine points, three rebounds and a block in a win at Miami.

In the other 201 games, Collins came off the bench.

But with the roster turnover the Blazers have undergone this off-season, Collins seems in line to be Portland’s starting power forward after the departure of Al-Farouq Aminu. The 7-footer has been trending toward that positional role. According to his page on basketballreference.com, he played power forward in 46 percent of his 2018-19 appearances after doing so in 8 percent in his rookie season (he played center the rest of the time).

Collins, of course, might still have to earn a starting spot in training camp, an effort that could be hindered by the sprained ankle he suffered during a workout last month. He is, though, expected to be ready for camp.

The interest in Collins becoming a starter has been high enough to gain him the lead mention in a Ringer story about the “next Siakam”  — a reference to Toronto’s Pascal Siakam, who won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award last season.  

Collins, who turns 22 in November, is at a crossroad in his career. He was already becoming a valuable player off the bench, most notably for his defense and competitive fire, with an occasional scoring burst thrown in, but only as a bonus. Collins could indeed settle into being that kind of player – a role bench guy who complements what his higher-scoring teammates do. But his competitive fire also his him aimed at becoming a starter for essentially the first time since his senior year of high school.

“There’s been a lot of great role players in this league and if that’s what my career is going to be defined as that’s fine,” he said during his exit interview in May. “But I’ve always wanted to be the guy, be the starter and I’ve always wanted to be someone that plays a lot of minutes every night to help a team win and I won’t stop until I get to that point.”

If he does start, Collins would be relied up to play solid defense, set screens and continue to display the grit and hustle that have endeared him to Blazers fans. But he would also need to contribute offensively.

Collin would be playing with three players in Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Rodney Hood (assuming that Hood starts) who are all shooters that can get their own shot, but can also make plays for teammates. That figures to be a good fit as Collins has relied on teammates to get him shots – in his two NBA seasons, 65.1 percent of his 2-point field goals, and 94.7 percent of his 3-point makes, have come with an assist.

In 2018-19, as he settled into a key role off the bench, Collins followed the Blazers’ analytics script for shot attempts, with 42.8 percent of his shots coming from 3 feet and in, and 33.1 percent on 3-pointers. Playing alongside center Hassan Whiteside, at least until Jusuf Nurkic returns, Collins figures to get his share of open 3-point looks, as Aminu did as the starting power forward. Collins shot 33 percent behind the arc last season compared to Aminu’s 34.3 percent, but Collins has a more fluid looking stroke than Aminu’s long, slow release, and figures to get cleaner looks playing with three strong shooters.

Whiteside is a career 22.2 percent 3-point shooter whose 18 career attempts have all come in the last two seasons, with 16 in 2018-19 (he made two). That no doubt puts the onus on Collins to carry the burden of making open 3’s among the starters – assuming that he steps into a role that has been foreign to him for three years.



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