In yesterday's exit interviews Trail Blazers second-year big man Zach Collins wasn't shy about the impact he thinks he can make for this team in the future.
When asked if he thought he could be a starter in this league, Collins said "yeah, absolutely" without hesitation.
During this playoff run, Collins came up big over and over again. He showed a great ability to challenge shots at the rim and was noticeably more comfortable and confident on the offensive end.
Fans were starting to clamor for him to start over Al-Farouq Aminu at power forward. They liked the idea of Collins playing alongside Enes Kanter. Surely fans looked forward to next season and the potential pairing of Collins alongside Jusuf Nurkic, should Aminu, an unrestricted free agent not return.
This idea makes sense. According to Basketball-Reference, per 100 possessions Collins played about two-thirds of his minutes his season at power forward. So it only seems natural to want to slot him alongside Nurkic or Kanter in the lineup.
However, Collins would rather play the five than the four. "I like playing the five personally because I'm involved in everything especially defensively... Personally, I would like to play the five, but we'll see."
This sounds great and all, but Collins has a Bosnian Beast sized hurdle in front of him if he wants to be the starting center. Nurkic has solidified himself as a key member of the Blazers "big three" and just last offseason he signed a four-year deal to remain with Portland as its star center.
However, Nurkic suffered a severe leg injury late in the season and is out for the foreseeable future. General Manager Neil Olshey said at exit interviews that there is no timetable for Nurkic's return, but conventional wisdom says he will miss the first quarter and perhaps the first half of the season. So the door is open for Collins to grab that starting center spot to start the season.
But what about after Nurkic comes back? If Collins wants to remain at center, he would have to be ok with being a backup. Is that something Collins is willing to do long term?
Said Collins, "there's been a lot of great role players in this league. If that's what my career's going to be defined as then that's fine. I've always wanted to be the guy, I've always wanted to be a starter, and I've always wanted to be a guy that plays a lot of minutes to help a team win. I won't stop until I get to that point."
Collins could end up being a sixth man caliber player as a career backup to Nurkic. Or, he could shift his focus to playing the four and be a career starter right next to the Bosnian Beast.
Where he fits best within this lineup is up to Collins and the coaches. With the expected departure of Kanter, Collins will likely be the answer at center to start the 2019-2020 season. What awaits him beyond that remains to be seen. But if you ask me, I think the Blazers' future looks better him playing with Nurkic instead of backing him up.
The pairing of Collins and Nurkic would give the Blazers two defensive threats in the paint. It would give the Blazers two big men that can hit mid-range jumpers, and it would give the Blazers a power forward that can space the floor. Sure, you can look at the stats and say Collins only shot 33% from deep this season, but Aminu, Portland's staring power forward, shot just 34%. Three-point shooting aside, Collins is the future. It may be time to move on from Aminu and start the former Gonzaga star. If the Blazers bring Aminu back, it may still be time to move Aminu to the bench and give the starting job to Collins. The fact of the matter is, if Collins wants to start, which he says he does, he should be looking at the power forward spot.