When early mock drafts slated Gonzaga big man Zach Collins to be taken 11th overall by the Charlotte Hornets, a collective groan echoed from across the internet from many Hornets fans who viewed (and maybe still do) Collins as another big white guy to add to the list of big white guys currently on the roster.
But given the whole conspiracy over the Hornets only drafting BWGs is based almost exclusively on recency bias, the moaning is a bit unfair. In actuality, there is a lot to like about Collins — his size, athletic ability, and competitiveness for starters — but he’s also a bit of an unknown commodity. Those that like him tend to point to his potential over anything else, which is fine until you suggest he is one of the most fundamentally sound players to come out of college since Tim Duncan (I can’t believe I’m providing a hyperlink to that, but you have to see it to believe it). When potential is the first thing you point to, a bit of buyer beware has to come with it, no matter how much you like the player.
Collins played one season at Gonzaga, and averaged 10 points and 5.2 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game. He came off the bench for the Zags, working as that dynamic X factor that was a nightmare for opposing benches around the league. Think Marvin Williams when he was at UNC. Was he better than Jawad Williams? Absolutely. But Williams was much better suited for Carolina as their first man off the bench, and it rode them to a national championship. Collins operated in similar fashion, and nearly won his team a championship as well.
But like Williams coming out of college, what’s intriguing about Collins is how his game, which showed flashes of potential on both ends of the floor, will develop once he’s in the league. The assumption, based on what we’ve seen after one season in college, is that he will. Obviously, that’s not a guarantee (with Collins or any prospect for that matter), which makes it important to not get too caught up with his fancy, potentially Tim Duncan-esque fundamentals.
Offensively, Collins is great around the rim, where he converted 70 percent of his shots. He operates well in the pick-and-roll, and he’s athletic enough to convert lobs thrown at him. If you’re looking for a player that can finish above the rim, Collins checks the box. His athletic ability also gives him the ability run the floor in transition, another skill that is sought after in the NBA.
He also showed flashes of outside shooting ability, making 47.6 percent of his shots from the 3-point line. The catch, of course, is he made just 10-21 the entire season. While it’s a good percentage, it also suggests that outside shooting isn’t a major part of his game at this point. Proponents will point out that he should continue to develop and improve this aspect of his game, and maybe he will, but at this point, he isn’t a 3-point shooter, and any suggestion that he has outside shooting ability should have an asterisk next to it.
Defensively, his intangibles and competitiveness gave him an edge, particularly as a shot blocker, where he averaged 1.8 a game, and four per-40 minutes. He isn’t afraid to meet drivers at the rim, and that willingness to mix up in the post on defense should help him as he learns and develops on that end. He also defends well from the perimeter thanks to his athleticism, which should also help him adjust to the league.
Where he struggles is with overall court awareness, and a bad tendency to go for pump fakes. These struggles could be chalked up to his age (he just 19 after all), and as he continues to learn these bad habits could go away. But consider that the Hornets are already going through defensive growing pains with Frank Kaminsky, which in part contributed to their overall decline on that end of the court last season. If they take Collins, expect more growing pains.
Collins, at this point, has all the necessary tools and traits in place for him to build into a two-way player. He shouldn’t be hampered by his size, he’s shown he’s capable of evolving into a good scorer from inside and out, and could develop into a solid defender once he learns to shake bad habits and improve his court awareness.
At 11, he’s certainly a player that will be in the mix for the Hornets, but he may not be as high on their list since he hasn’t worked out for them (but that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t high on him either). If Collins is around at 11, it may come down to who else is around as well, and whether they want to take a big man or not.