After Gonzaga’s season ended in the final game of the year in Phoenix, the Bulldogs’ first ever one-and-done could be heading back to the Valley come draft night if the Phoenix Suns move into the mid-lottery position via draft night trade.
When examining the strengths of weaknesses of Zach Collins, there are few areas that stand out in his game as major red flags compared to others I’ve scouted. Collins might not have that elite trait, but he’s moldable in a way where he could become an elite producer on the offensive end alongside a growing defensive ability. (I actually have Collins higher on my big board than Lauri Markkanen, which will be released this weekend).
In Phoenix’s system, Collins would fit the bill of being position versatile. Also, the numbers suggest he could be an efficient big on both ends once he develops into his frame.
Whether it’s at the four or five, Collins is a light mover and has speed in transition. Even though there will always be a question with competition in the West Coast Conference, Collins was able to convert at a 70-percent clip when it comes at the rim. His movement skills will also give him ample ability to guard in pick-and-roll situations. Many times throughout the regular season and the tournament, Collins held his own against smaller guards and was able to deter them off shot attempts.
I would have to say Collins has some of the best instinctual moves in terms of court awareness in this draft. With footwork like Collins has for a 7-footer, it’s developable for him to be a 3-level scorer — and when that comes around you get your hands on it if you’re a front office.
Speaking of his upside, the advanced numbers speak for themselves in terms of how Collins could translate on the next level. His per-40 numbers would rank him firmly in the top-five in this class — 22.7 points per game, including 67.2% inside the arc and 47.6% from outside it — and the former Bishop Gorman big man who had to wait his turn under Stephen Zimmerman and Chase Jeter in high school screams stretch-four potential to me on the next level. However, with the aforementioned advanced footwork he already owns, he could be a force back to the basket as well.
Where prospects like Markkanen lack in this draft, Collins excels. The former Gonzaga big averaged over 13 rebounds per-40 and it showed with a high-end motor in that area. Collins had a tendency to pull down many offensive boards in the game I watched or simply just had tip dunks off misses.
I can’t say that Collins does not have his negatives that stand out, but they really are not big indicators for me. He doesn’t have elite length and strength, however, he does have a frame where he can put on a good 20-25 pounds on it and not hamper any of his agility or ability to stretch the floor with his shooting.
Where his reach will limit him to on the next level though will come against the quicker guards in PnR where any misstep could lead to an open at the basket. Once beat off the bounce, Collins rarely was able to catch ground on the ball handler. And against contact, Collins struggled in terms of creating inside. It might be best to develop Collins as a stretch-four who could be one of your lead runners in transition and allowing him to utilize his size against fours instead.
Another area where Collins struggles is in terms of fouls. He does not have much discipline yet in terms of not biting on simple pump fakes, and that allowed for easy drives to the rim. That’s where one per-40 number stood out for me, 6.1. That was Collins’ average fouls per-40, and he will have to be groomed on that simple notion. He has the footwork to be successful, but he will have to add one last aspect instinctually to round out his potential. Once that happens, he could be a valuable fit here in Phoenix.
Fit with the Suns
With the solo private workout the Suns had with former Texas big Jarrett Allen, I expect to see Collins in here sometime in June in a similar situation. And if the Suns take someone like De’Aaron Fox or Jonathan Isaac, the fit for Collins makes better sense. I really can’t see Phoenix reaching for Collins, so we would likely have to see some more movement from Ryan McDonough much like last season.
Anyways, Collins with players like Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender already on the roster would help mask his eye sores as an interior passer. With someone like Bender, you can feel much more comfortable taking a player who could focus on the boards and get ahead in transition to push the pace as a prime lob target, a la Chriss to pair him with. Collins, though, adds an understanding of verticality on defense already, which is a plus alongside his timing against shooters too.
Collins has the ability to take advantage inside with soft hands and ability to finish through with 1.13 points per possession on post-ups.
If Phoenix takes the route of trading up for Collins, possibly with Detroit at No. 12 who is shopping the pick, that likely means letting go of someone like Eric Bledsoe. If McDonough has the green light to hit the restart at the point guard position with Fox, I’d expect them to take advantage of the time where his value will be at its highest before his contract runs out. Collins’ name would have to be the name I’d take if he’s still available in the early teens, in terms of my big board rankings.
What would everyone think if the Suns walked out with a haul on draft night such as one of De’Aaron Fox or Dennis Smith, a 3-and-D wing (youth or vet) via the Bledsoe trade, and someone like Collins? To officially kick off the Devin Booker era, that’s one of the better foundations in terms of youth to already build around Booker’s still developing strengths on the offensive end. And with someone like Collins to have around Booker long-term gives you the option to find out if Bender can handle being the five on the court. If Bender becomes more of a stretch four, Collins gives you the versatility of having someone who you can throw it down to in the post and let go to work.