This is the first of a three part All-Star Break feature series.
Much like the Portland Trail Blazers, Zach Collins started the year incredibly hot. As the season got underway in October, the young forward from Gonzaga appeared ready to fill the shoes left by Ed Davis in his second year in the league.
But it feels like Collins has taken a step back since then, and he’s seen his playing time get a little spotty over the past few months. Some of his numbers are down, particularly when it comes to 3-point shooting and plus/minus.
So what’s really happening here? Is Collins experiencing a swoon? The answer lies with a couple of key indicators, the first being 3-point shooting.
Compared to the beginning of the season, Collins has struggled from the 3-point line as of late. However, there isn't a real difference in how teams are closing out on him from the arc. He's continued to get shots up from deep, but he's lost some confidence.
From a development standpoint, this isn't a big deal. This is only his second year in the league, and the first where Collins has been expected to be a good 3-point shooter. It's reasonable to think that pressure wore on him a bit.
Still, Collins’ offensive impact hasn’t been as great when he’s not shooting the ball well. In fact, there’s a direct correlation on a monthly basis between his offensive rating and 3-point percentage.
The biggest thing that’s made Collins seem worse this season is his shift in blocks per 100 possessions. As the season started, he felt like a black hole on defense, swatting away more than four shots per 100 possessions.
But that’s trickled down to between 1.5-2 blocks per 100 possessions in recent months, which is a real problem considering that Collins still fouls a considerable amount at 6.6 per 100.
The net result is that Collins appears to be struggling on defense because he’s racking up fouls at the same rate but not coming away with blocks to show for it.
In recent months teams have neutralized Zach in a couple different ways. Teams are still putting him in the pick-and-roll, but dribblers are now staying away from him or passing around him.
They've also been marooning him on the 3-point line on defense, stuck to guard smaller 4s and 5s who might shoot from deep. That's made it harder for Collins to help down low, cutting into his chances to rack up blocks.
But does this mean Collins is in a sophomore slump? It's easy to get caught up in his varied playing time and his fouling out, but I'm not so sure the numbers suggest that's the case.
Collins' percentages at protecting the rim are still very good. He has not seen a dip in defensive field goal percentage inside of six feet despite the reduction in blocks. He’s also a positive defensive box plus/minus player. The reality is that teams got a deeper scouting report on Collins, and started to plan for him as a defender.
Collins has a lot of good things going for him. He's improved his 3-point average, and he's stopped shooting midrange jumpers. For example, last season Collins shot a whopping 30 percent of his field goals from 16 feet to the 3-point line. This year he has reduced that number to just six percent.
You might call it a sophomore slump, but the perception and expectations set for Collins in October may be skewing our view of how “poorly” he's played recently. He’s a second year big man, and expectations need to be tempered accordingly. I think Collins will get back on track, and I expect to see more progress from him next year.
Read part 2 of this feature series on how Collins has filled in following Ed Davis' departure.