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Stiffs NBA Draft prospect watch: Zach Collins

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The best big man prospect in the draft could fall to the Nuggets on draft night.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Gonzaga vs North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Stiffs will be covering the top prospects for the Denver Nuggets in the 2017 NBA Draft in our Stiffs Prospect Watch series. Check back daily for video, stats, and of top first round prospects.

Zach Collins - Gonzaga

Stats

Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers Field Goal % Three point % Free throw %
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers Field Goal % Three point % Free throw %
10.0 5.9 0.4 0.5 1.8 1.5 65.2% 47.6% 74.3%

Strengths

Length and mobility

Zach Collins posted a 7’1 wingspan and a 9’3 standing reach at the NBA combine this year, the fifth tallest in this draft class behind only Jonathan Jeanne (get well soon), Thomas Bryant, Tony Bradley, and Justin Patton. Collins used this length to protect the rim with ferocity in college last season, posting the highest block rate in the class. He demonstrated solid mobility on the interior of the defense, coming across the lane to reject shot attempts many times during the season. He also used his length on the offensive end, scoring efficiently over the top of defenders in the post and with his jump shot. His high field goal percentage is due largely in part to the efficient shots he takes, many of which come at the rim. This will likely continue in the NBA.

Defensive instincts

At 19 years old, Collins already has excellent floor awareness on the defensive end. His knowledge of rotations and ability to be in the right spot is exactly what a big man needs in today’s NBA.

Collins will slide his feet under the rim as well as on the perimeter. His best position will likely be center at the NBA level, but his quick feet and instincts should allow him to play power forward in the right lineups. Covering the perimeter is a strength of his, and while asking him to do it for 30 minutes a night would be a disservice, he can do so in short stretches out of the pick and roll, like so.

I graded Collins as the 9th best defender in this draft class based on his tools, age, and what he’s shown already. If he continues to develop the way he has, he will be one of the best defensive big men in the NBA during his prime.

Offensive skill set

Collins isn’t just a defensive specialist though. He demonstrated a variety of skills on the offensive end, most notably his scoring on the interior. He’s an efficient player, and most of his attempts came in favorable situations. Still, he converted them with ease this season and came up big in the biggest moments. He was a crucial piece to the Gonzaga tournament run last season, scoring from the post, spotting up, and out of the pick and roll in efficient fashion. He demonstrated the ability to be a focal point on Gonzaga’s bench group, while also serving as a complementary piece next to the starters. His skills should translate in a similar role, with Collins being an efficient complementary piece while taking advantage of a personal matchup when the opportunity arises.

Rebounding

This isn’t mentioned frequently, but Collins was among the most productive rebounders in the entire draft class. On DraftExpress’ database, Collins ranked 6th in rebounds per 40 minutes out of the top 100 prospects. His technique boxing out on the defensive end is sound, while he uses his length and mobility to attack the glass on the offensive end. As long as he continues to get stronger, Collins should be a plus rebounder in the NBA whether he plays power forward or center.

Weaknesses

Competition level

It’s no secret that Collins played against worse competition than any other lottery prospect this season. Playing as the first big man off the bench at Gonzaga, Collins didn’t just play primarily against the West Coast Conference, but primarily the bench players in the the West Coast Conference. Not exactly Kentucky or Duke. When Collins did play against top tier teams, he generally performed well, with solid performance against Lauri Markannen of Arizona and Kennedy Meeks/Tony Bradley of North Carolina in the championship game. Still, Collins primarily feasted on lower level competition, meaning his efficient numbers must be put in perspective.

Turnover/Foul prone

The biggest aspect of Collins’ game that needs work is his decision making at the next level. Often, Collins would enter a game and commit a foul or an egregious turnover before getting into the flow of the game. Gonzaga had the luxury of keeping him on the floor for long stretches due to finishing the season 37-2, but he will need to refine his decision making at the next level.

Next level strength and athleticism

Collins was considered a behemoth in the WCC last year, but even he struggled with the natural strength and athleticism of some of the stronger players in the conference. There are definitely questions, also related to his competition level, about whether he can handle bigger players in the post and mirror the best athletes in the game. It will be interesting to see whether this puts him more at power forward or center for the majority of his career.

Fit with Nuggets

The fit with the Nuggets is good, not great. Obviously, Nikola Jokic is the centerpiece of the team as the starting center, and while the Nuggets need rim protection of some form to complement him, they are likely hoping for a more natural perimeter athlete to man the power forward position next to Jokic. What’s appealing about Collins is his ability to play both power forward and center though, meaning that in addition to playing (or even starting) at power forward, Collins could back up Jokic long term, helping to keep Jokic’s minutes load down during the regular season. Collins profiles as a reasonable jump shooter in addition to a rim protector and rebounder, and as the best available player on the board, the Nuggets could look past some fit questions.

Projected draft spot

SBNation - 12

Draft Express - 10

CBS Sports - 14 (Forgrave), 13 (Parrish)

Chad Ford - 10

Final Thoughts

There are certainly concerns with selecting a player like Zach Collins with a roster like Denver. It’s very possible that his best position is at center, and the Nuggets currently employ Nikola Jokic and would like to employ Mason Plumlee. Collins has more shooting ability at this point than Plumlee does, but he’s at his best when he’s inside the arc on both ends, a lot like Nikola Jokic. Competition level and Collins’ very real weaknesses should also play a part in the skepticism.

However, there is no question in my mind that Collins will likely be the best available player at 13. His skill set paired perfectly next to AND behind Pryzemek Karnowski, and it just so happens that Karnowski and Jokic share similar tendencies in their games. Long term, I can see Collins starting games against more traditional power forwards and playing the rest of the game as the center when Jokic is off the floor. Collins may never be a player who plays 35 minutes a night on a team like Denver, but a quality 28-30 minutes in a complementary role is still extremely important.

In the end, if the Nuggets have questions about OG Anunoby’s knee, or Justin Jackson’s inability to play defense, or John Collins’ fit at the NBA level, or any other major questions, they have a quality fallback option in the best player available in Zach Collins. I am a believer in his skill set translating, to the point where he has a chance to become the next unicorn in the NBA with outside shooting, rim protection, and rebounding. If the Nuggets share these sentiments, how can they pass that up?