Zach Collins’ basketball idols growing up were the Hall of Fame big men of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
He loved watching Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki and, as he got older, Kevin Love. While Collins could end up a multi-time All-Star like many of his childhood favorites, his coach says some of Collins’ early-career instincts reminds of another big man from that same era.
“I was with Joel Przybilla his rookie season in Milwaukee,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said on Thursday. “And to me, Zach’s a more skilled offensive player, but he reminds me to some degree of Joel. As far as his length, his timing, his aggressiveness, his fearlessness. I think Joel had really good defensive instincts as a 19-year-old coming in.”
Stotts was an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks during Przybilla's rookie season where he was a lottery pick playing spot minutes on a team that eventually surged all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. Pryzbilla signed with the Trail Blazers before the 2004-05 season, and developed into one of the best shot blockers in the league, holding down the starting center position for eight years in the Rose City.
Collins is still 10 days shy of his 21st birthday, but he has already established himself as a solid and versatile NBA defender. For all his defensive acumen, Przybilla wasn’t exactly adept at chasing point guards all over the court, and in 2001 that wasn’t something big men were asked to do.
That’s a huge part of Collins’ defensive skillet, and it’s why Stotts was comparing uncanny defensive instincts of the two young bigs nearly two decades a part as opposed to their actual on court ability. Collins isn’t the second coming of the Vanilla Gorilla, he’s more accurate just another young big man well ahead of the curve defensively.
“Zach’s been terrific,” Stotts said. “He challenges shots on the perimeter and at the rim. He switches onto perimeter guys. He rebounds well. He definitely has an impact. You don’t need numbers to see that.”
Well, let’s look at some numbers anyway. Collins is among the league leaders in individual defensive rating, and the Blazers allow nearly 10 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the court compared to when he sits.
His play to open the season has helped the Blazers answer one of their most pressing offseason questions. Could Collins’ take a leap and fill the void created when the Blazers chose to let Ed Davis leave in free agency?
“I think we all had a lot of confidence but still it was an unanswered question,” Stotts said, admitting that Collins’ development has been key to the Blazers’ 9-3 start to the year.
With rare defensive instincts for a young big man, Collins is filling the void for one Blazers fan favorite and reminding his coach of another.