For Las Vegas native Zach Collins, the upcoming NBA season is going to be an opportunity for a breakout campaign.
A lottery pick in last year’s draft, Collins is coming off a solid rookie season with the Portland Trail Blazers that saw him get his feet wet on a playoff team. Now, heading into Year 2, the 7-footer should see an increased role with the departure of Portland big man Ed Davis in free agency.
Davis was the Blazers’ first big man off the bench last year, and the veteran contributed 5.3 points and 7.4 rebounds in 18.9 minutes per game. When he signed with the Brooklyn Nets early in the free agency period, it opened a clear path to more playing time for Collins.
Collins got into 66 games last year and produced 4.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 0.5 blocks in 15.8 minutes. He flashed in the Trail Blazers’ first-round playoff loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, averaging 7.0 points in 17.5 minutes and showing the rim-protecting ability that made him a top prospect after his lone collegiate year at Gonzaga.
Collins’s task in summer league is to show improved consistency and demonstrate that he can be counted on in 2018-19. He looked ready for more responsibility on Sunday, when he posted an efficient 8 points (3-of-5 FGs), 7 rebounds and 5 blocks in 20 minutes in a win over the Atlanta Hawks at the Thomas & Mack Center.
He said the biggest thing his first year in the NBA taught him was how to handle the physical grind of the pro game.
“I think you’ve got to be consistent with your habits on and off the court,” Collins said. “I think once you do that, your game will be consistent. That’s a big thing I learned. Also the physicality, it’s a big step up from college and also from summer league as well. Getting used to that physicality and getting stronger, that’s two things I learned.”
The Blazers held Collins out for most of the second half on Sunday as a precaution after he tweaked his calf, but Collins didn’t seem concerned by the injury.
Collins has visibly bulked up from his days as a skinny pogo stick at Bishop Gorman. He thinks more muscle will help him withstand the nightly battles in the paint and the increased workload coming his way.
“I definitely got a lot stronger [from last year],” Collins said. “Not where I want to be, obviously, but I’m on the right path, and I think strength-wise, with how I play that game it’s going to help me a lot going into next season.”
Portland — and one Trail Blazer, in particular — is counting on Collins to step up.
Point guard Damian Lillard, the face of the franchise and an All-NBA first team selection last season, was close with Davis and publicly expressed his disappointment in the front office for letting him get away. That will obviously put a lot of pressure on Collins to seize the moment and perform up to his draft status.
Lillard thinks Collins is poised for a breakthrough, but cautioned that the rookie-to-sophomore jump is not as easy as it seems.
“I think he can make a huge leap,” Lillard said. “There’s going to be a lot more minutes out there for him. We’ll need more from him. It’s always interesting to see when guys go from being a rookie and it’s like, ‘Oh he’s doing this and he’s doing that and he’s only a rookie,’ and you get to your second year and it’s like something is expected.”
Lillard said he expects Collins to be able to handle the transition.
“Zach’s been working hard. He’s a naturally confident player and person, so I expect him to step in and do what we need him to do.”