Zach Collins Monday stood tall and looked questioners in the eye as he always does during his interview session. “What about having to open the season against Denver?” he was asked, a team his Trail Blazers met twice in the preseason and in an epic seven-game playoff series near the end of last season.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said. “We rarely play them. It’s tough to know their sets when you don’t play a team a lot.”
There was hesitation among the media as reporters looked at each other, trying to figure out what Collins was trying to say.
But after a moment, he smiled and said, “Sarcasm. No one’s laughing. We play them all the time.”
It’s really not that easy to get over on the media, but nobody seemed to expect the little bite of sarcasm from Collins. But maybe that tells you a little bit about a man going into this third season as a Trail Blazer. He’s more at ease, more confident – more sure of himself as a person and a player.
And he better be. This team is counting on him to fill the starting power forward position and play well at both ends of the floor. And this from a player who averaged 6.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last season.
Collins has physically matured, though, and he’s listed at 250 pounds on his 7-foot frame this season, up from 235 when he opened last season. He averaged 13.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in the preseason, shooting .509 from the field.
Is he ready for the added responsibility this season will bring?
“I definitely feel ready,” he said. “The preseason was big for me. Especially being back from that ankle injury (a strain during a summer workout), getting my rhythm back. Playing five on five, knowing who I’m going to be on the court with all the time, I’m ready.”
A problem he’s dealt with in the past is excessive fouls, which limited his playing time in some games.
“Something I’ve got to address this year and I’ve got to get better at,” Collins said. “I think I’ve taken the right steps to address that. Watching film, knowing when to be aggressive and when not to be aggressive, getting better at that, also. I think I’ve always said this -- if I get six fouls at the rim, it’s something I’ve got to live with, but the fouls I can cut down on: 20-25 feet away from the basket, reaching, being lazy, I can cut down on that.”
Damian Lillard sees good things ahead for Collins.
“I think around here the third year has been the big year for guys and I hope the trend continues,” Lillard said. “(But it’s) to be determined. He has a history of fouling. With more minutes. hopefully he’ll understand there are certain plays he can make. But I think he’s ready. He’s going to have a good season.”