After facing the problem of having a crowded front court just two years ago, the Chicago Bulls may find themselves on the other end of the spectrum heading into the 2017-18 season. With the pending free agent decisions of Cristiano Felicio and Nikola Mirotic hanging in the balance, the Bulls may be tempted to draft someone who can add depth to the front court in case one (or both?) of their big man free agents walk.
Enter Zach Collins, one of the most intriguing draft prospects in this years class.
His per game stats don't look pleasing at all (10 PPG and 6 rebounds per game) but you have to consider he came off the bench for Gonzaga and only averaged 17.3 minutes per game, putting his per-40 stats at 23.2 points and 13.6 rebounds. But the upside and tools is something you can’t ignore with Collins. At the least, it makes him an interesting prospect to take a look at.
Ideally, Collins can possibly be a sort of a stretch four in the NBA. He is very good around the basket and has shown some signs of outside shooting.
It’s an attribute which could be a part of his game in the future. The sample size is quite small with Collins only shooting 21 total attempts from deep but it’s encouraging to note he knocked down 10 of them. Obviously Collins will need to show more from this type of range to be an effective stretch 4 but the initial signs are encouraging. We have seen time and time again that surrounding Jimmy Butler with shooters, even semi-decent ones, has proven beneficial. Collins becoming more consistent in stepping out and knocking down threes would do wonders for the Bulls offensively. The three-point shooting would keep defenses honest and force them to not leave him open from that range. If he can continue the progression he is currently on it would help him tremendously as a player.
Collins is very good going towards the basket when Gonzaga ran the pick and roll with him as the screener. He goes up strong and given his height, is easily able to finish in the paint. He shot 67.2% on 2-pointers this season, the highest percentage in the WCC, and shot a true shooting percentage of 70.3, both of which are outstanding. Collins offensive efficiency in the paint would be something that would help the Bulls tremendously. Other than Cristiano Felicio, there is really no other big man who is effective as a roll man in PNR scenarios. Having Collins could change things and he would make a decent two man combination with Butler. Defenses now will have to think twice about doubling Butler due to the threat of Collins coming down into the lane. It will allow more opportunities for Butler to take advantage of mismatches in an isolation setting, something which he is very good at.
Defensively is where Collins made his biggest impact for Gonzaga, registering a defensive box plus/minus of 7.5 last season. He isn’t athletic and doesn’t have the greatest wingspan for a 7 footer, but makes up for it by his versatility on defense. Collins is quick enough to stay with guards on switches, something which is valued heavily in today's NBA. Outside Nikola Mirotic, Chicago doesn’t have any big men at the moment who can currently switch on guards. Having another big man who is comfortable out of the paint defensively is something Chicago needs. This was painfully evident in their series against Boston when the Celtics had Al Horford plant near the top of the key and took advantage of Chicago’s slow bigs in the pick and roll.
With the exception of Butler, the Bulls don’t have a good defensive front court. It leads to opportunities at the rim for the opposition, and then other than Robin Lopez there’s nobody who have the awareness to slide over and actually contest at the rim. Collins can help there also. His 1.8 blocks per game were the second highest average in his conference. He rotates over quickly and contests very well. Even if he isn’t swatting shots, he could help alter shot attempts and make it harder for the opposing player to score.
While Collins certainly has the basketball tools to be successful, he is short on athleticism and strength. His length doesn’t help him when it comes to defense and he’s at a disadvantage in the post. Unless Collins gets stronger, bigger players will take him into the post and he will get overpowered. Post defense as a whole is something Collins needs to be better at. Against bigger and more experienced big man, Collins will constantly get caught in the air and fall for fakes. It’s an easy way to get called for a foul and two easy points via free throws. Even though Collins does like to play around the perimeter, as a big man he will have to learn how to play in the post defensively. Otherwise it will be very hard for him to find minutes against teams which have really good players in the post.
Discipline in all areas of the court is a big thing Collins has to learn since he fouls a lot. He averaged 2.7 fouls in his 17 minutes per game at Gonzaga but if you look at his per-40 stats, the fouls per game jump all the way up to 6.2. Turnovers also seem to be a problem as well. He tends to play sort of recklessly and patience has be something he develops over time. Collins is only a freshman and at 19 years old, he will make a lot of those bad decisions on the court.
He sort of has a similar problem to Bobby Portis in that if he holds on to the ball for too long and he ends up taking a tough jump shot or turns it over. Game awareness isn’t something you can develop all at once, and as Collins gets older and more minutes under his belt, he has to show progression there.
The shooting is still questionable despite the encouraging shooting percentage. For a guy who only shot 21 career three-pointers it’s hard to trust his shot right away. It needs to be something he has to make a consistent part of his game for him to be effective. If the shooting doesn’t pan out, it spells disaster for his potential to be an effective stretch four in the NBA.
Collins is only 19 and is a project according to Draft Express. Like Donovan Mitchell, Terrance Ferguson, or any young prospect, this would be a very anti-Bulls pick considering how management loves to take guys who have played at least 3 years in college. It will take time for Collins to become better and there will be a lot of growing pains associated with it. But if the Bulls are looking for front court depth and possibly another stretch four to help Butler be more dangerous offensively, Zach Collins should be an option they consider.