Is Zach Collins in a sophomore slump?

Is Zach Collins in a sophomore slump?

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.

How will Carmelo Anthony sticking with Blazers impact the team when everyone is healthy?

How will Carmelo Anthony sticking with Blazers impact the team when everyone is healthy?

This week, the Trail Blazers made up their mind and fully guaranteed Carmelo Anthony's contract for the remainder of the season.

Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey told NBCSNW's Diwght Jaynes signing Melo for the rest of the season was “a no brainer.”

Between Melo’s production on the court and his presence in the locker room, amending the contract in advance of the Jan. 7th guarantee date was a no-brainer. This is the kind of gesture we want players to become accustomed to when they buy into and contribute to our culture.  -- Neil Olshey

Knowing Melo isn’t going anywhere also means Melo isn’t going to be forced out of the starting lineup once the Trail Blazers get Zach Collins back.

Starting was a prerequiste to Melo joining the Blazers in the first place.

Collins isn’t expected to be re-evaluated until March after he underwent successful surgery to repair his left labrum last month. 

The 7-footer said on Wednesday of this week that he “is progressing” and he’s happy to not have to wear his sling anymore.

Even though Collins played in just three games this season for the Blazers where he started at power forward, he made his bread and butter as a consistent, go-to, energy off the bench type of player.

People remember Collins was a one-and-done player at Gonzaga. But, some don’t remember he came off the bench for Mark Few.

Sure, Collins would like to be inserted back into the starting lineup when he’s healthy enough, but not only because of Melo will Collins be coming off the bench, but it’s smart to do so, too.

If and when Collins comes back this season, he is going to undoubtedly be working through a minutes restriction to work himself back in.

Plus, looking at this season the Blazers’ bench could use a spark and yes, Collins is known for his defensive prowess, but this is a kid who can stretch the floor and bring some much needed scoring when called upon. And that's what Portland’s second unit could use this season.

A lot of the talk around Rip City has been -- just make it to March when Collins and Jusuf Nurkic are back on the court.

Here’s the thing: There’s no guarantee Collins or Nurkic will be back on the court in March. Things are point that way. The only guarantee right now is Melo will remain in Portland. 

Could Nate Tibbetts be considered for Knicks head coaching vacancy?

Could Nate Tibbetts be considered for Knicks head coaching vacancy?

The New York Knicks fired David Fizdale Friday, according to Adrian Wojnarowski. 

The Knicks also cut bait with assistant Keith Smart, per Woj. 

This news isn’t shocking. Fizdale's job security came into doubt when Knicks team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry held an impromptu press conference after a blowout loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers back on Nov. 10. In that presser, they said they believed in Fizdale and his coaching staff, but that they needed to see improvement after a 2-8 start.

With the Knicks now sitting at 4-18, they pulled the plug on Fizdale.

The Knicks are one of the worst teams in the NBA, going 17-65 last season. Quick math: Fizdale went 21-83.  

The Knicks are currently last in the Eastern Conference Standings, and have the second-worst winning percentage in the NBA.

For NBA head coaches, it always seems like you’re on the hot seat. 

Nearly half of the current NBA coaches have been with their team for less than two seasons. 

The longest tenured coaches in the league are as follows: 

  1. Gregg Popovich, Spurs: December 1996
  2. Erik Spoelstra, Heat: April 2008
  3. Rick Carlisle, Mavericks: May 2008
  4. Terry Stotts, Trail Blazers: August 2012

Since Stotts took over the head coaching duties in Portland, five Knicks head coaches have come and gone in a full-time or interim capacity. The next Knicks coach will be the 6th.

The usual suspects have shown up as the next head coach: 

Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, Tom Thibodeau, Jason Kidd…

But perhaps another person who could and should be considered: Trail Blazers assistant Nate Tibbetts.

Tibbetts, who was promoted to associate head coach during the offseason after David Vanterpool departed for Minnesota for the same role, has garnered attention for other head coaching vacancies. In 2016 and in 2019, Tibbetts reportedly interviewed for the head coaching vacancy in Memphis. He reportedly interviewed for the Atlanta Hawks opening in 2018. He was also considered for the Cleveland Cavaliers job. 

Could the Knicks be calling?

"He's earned a shot [at a head coaching job]," said ProBasketballTalk's Kurt Helin.

Looking back to when the Trail Blazers spoiled LeBron James' Lakers debut

Looking back to when the Trail Blazers spoiled LeBron James' Lakers debut

The NBA world had their eyes on Portland as the Trail Blazers played host to LeBron James in his debut with the Lakers. 

James signed a four-year, $153 million deal with the Lakers as a free agent in the offseason. The Trail Blazers were riding a 15-game win streak over the Lakers and held a 17-game home opener win streak, as well. 

There was a lot at stake in this game. 

It was LeBron vs. Dame, Dame vs. LeBron, LeBron vs. Nik Stauskas?

After a pair of thunderous dunks to open the game between Lillard and James, it was one of the Trail Blazers new additions that stole the show. 

Nik Stauskas, who probably wasn’t even on the Lakers scouting report, torched LA for 16 points in the first half, 24 in the game. 

Damian Lillard added 28 points while LeBron recorded a double-double 26 points, 12 rebounds. 

The Trail Blazers went on to win 53 games and advanced to the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers missed the playoffs. It was the first time LeBron missed the playoffs since the 2004-05 NBA season.

NBCSNW featured this game in their Blazerlist series, showcasing the greatest games of the season. See all the action in the video above.

The Blazers and Lakers look to put on a show

The Blazers and Lakers look to put on a show

The Portland Trail Blazers will square off for the first time since Anthony Davis joined the Los Angeles Lakers.

Friday night's game will have a playoff-type atmosphere as the Lakers come into Portland as a 4.5 point FAVORITE over the home team. The over/under is 224, which, based on past games, is poised to surpass that mark. 

In recent memory, we've seen buzzer beaters from Damian Lillard and Maurice Harkless, blow for blow monster dunks from Dame and LeBron and tons and tons of offense!

Los Angeles is one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Can the Blazers cool them down?

Tune in to NBCSNW tonight, tip-off is at 7:30pm.

Neil Olshey: Amending Melo's contract early was a 'no brainer'

Neil Olshey: Amending Melo's contract early was a 'no brainer'

A full month early, the Trail Blazers stepped up Thursday and guaranteed Carmelo Anthony’s contract for the rest of this season. Under the terms of the deal he had signed with Portland, the team had until Jan. 7 to make that decision.

But making the call early was the right move. Melo has been all the Trail Blazers could have asked for – and more.

“Between Melo’s production on the court and his presence in the locker room, amending the contract in advance of the Jan. 7th guarantee date was a no-brainer,” said Neil Olshey, the team’s president of basketball operations. “This is the kind of gesture we want players to become accustomed to when they buy into and contribute to our culture.”

In eight games for Portland, he has averaged 16.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting 44.8 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from three-point range.

In his last five, though, it’s been even better than that as he’s become more acclimated to his new teammates and their system.

In that span, Anthony has shot .514 overall from the field and .467 from three-point range. And he’s scored at a 19.2 points-per-game rate with an average 11.4 plus-minus. He’s also shot .938 from the foul line and grabbed 6.8 rebounds per contest.

Guaranteeing the contract early shows good faith in his continued solid play and takes pressure off both sides. And, as Olshey pointed out, it continues Portland's commitment to making this known as a player-friendly franchise.

It also takes away any doubt about the team’s makeup and commitment to the rest of the season.

There is some chance that power forward Zach Collins could return to action prior to the end of the season from his shoulder surgery but keeping Anthony also takes away any pressure to rush Collins back. In fact, if Collins does return, it would now be more possible to ease him back on a minutes restriction while he plays off the bench behind Anthony.

It has been reported that Anthony's contract is for the veteran’s minimum of $2.16 million.

Don't underestimate how badly Damian Lillard wants to win a championship in Portland

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Don't underestimate how badly Damian Lillard wants to win a championship in Portland

Portland Trail Blazers All-Star guard Damian Lillard has been featured in the latest ESPN Cover Story.

“As Real As It Gets” by ESPN’s Marc Spears helps NBA fans get an in-depth on Lillard as an NBA star, but also let’s fans get a peek into Lillard’s current home life, how he operates, and how he grew up.

Lillard discussed in the feature story that being a Portland Trail Blazer has meant that he can be “the best version” of himself.

Spears writes:

Making it back to the conference finals is a long shot, and a championship might be little more than a pipe dream for this season. But don't expect Lillard to shrink from it, or to look for the door.

"They allow me to be like the best version of myself as a player," he says of the Blazers. "They support me in the stuff that I do off the court. So why am I looking for a different situation?" Lillard is already second on Portland's career scoring list, behind only Clyde Drexler. If he stays healthy, he will move into the top five in franchise games played. Drexler and Bill Walton are considered the greatest Blazers of all time, in large part because they led Portland to the NBA Finals. Lillard is in their company. He could retire from basketball today and warrant having his "0" jersey hang in the rafters at Moda Center. But there is work left to do, right where he is.

--- 

For years, Lillard has said he has daydreamed about a parade down Broadway Street

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts is also featured in the in-depth article. Coach Stotts spits the truth: Just because Lillard doesn’t join “Super Teams” doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to hoist up the Larry O'Brien Trophy someday.

Lillard just wants to do that in Rip City.

More from “As Real As It Gets” --

And while Lillard is committed to the Blazers, head coach Terry Stotts says that hasn’t made him complacent in his desire to win a championship:

"Don't underestimate how badly he wants to win a championship," Blazers coach Terry Stotts says. "He doesn't change teams to supposedly do that. He thinks we can do it in Portland."

Lillard and Damian Jr. have settled in West Linn, an affluent neighborhood in Portland these days. They roller-skate and rent out nearby movie theaters for family and friends. Lillard distributes sneakers to the needy and has established a RESPECT Program aimed at helping area high school kids graduate. He sees home here, even as he's still rooted to Brookfield. You can hear it when he talks about Damian Jr. "My son is from West Linn," he says. "His pride is going to be in his name and what he represents. So he's going to have that type of pride in that way."

---

Trail Blazers fans appreciate how much Lillard has invested in the Blazers and the Portland community. And it’s obvious to see Lillard appreciates the community here and is proud to say his son is from West Linn, OR. 

It's hard to believe now that it was just last year that LeBron James was reportedly recruiting Lillard to join him on a Super Team. 

And now Lillard will square off against LeBron and Co. Friday night at 7:30pm on NBCSNW.

 

How to watch, stream Trail Blazers vs. Lakers tonight at 7:30pm

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USA Today Images

How to watch, stream Trail Blazers vs. Lakers tonight at 7:30pm

The Trail Blazers (9-13) host LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers (19-3) on Friday night on NBC Sports Northwest.  

Friday marks the first of three meetings this season between Portland and LA.

On Thursday afternoon, a report came out that the Blazers have made the decision to fully guarantee Carmelo Anthony's contract for the remainder of the season. 

Melo has played in eight games for the Blazers, averaging 16.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game.  

Portland has listed Gary Trent Jr. (right hamstring strain) as questionable for Friday’s contest.

As for the Lakers, Kyle Kuzma (left ankle; mild sprain) and Anthony Davis (right shoulder; soreness) are probable.

You can watch the Blazers-Lakers game on NBC Sports Northwest, the Official Network of the Portland Trail Blazers and you can stream the game on our website or by downloading the MyTeams app!

And, have you heard about Blazers Pass? Tonight's Warriors game is the first game of the "Blazers Pass Season!" 

You can get 15 live Trail Blazers games, pre and postgame shows, and on-demand full-game replays with Blazers Pass! (Only available to fans located in Blazers Territory, pursuant to NBA rules and agreements. No TV provider required. Subscription Period: November 4, 2019 - April 16, 2020. Subscription auto-renews prior to start of next season.)

Don't miss any of the coverage of tonight's game:

3:30pm Blazers Game Day with Chad Doing

6:30pm Blazers Warm-Up

7:00pm Trail Blazers Pregame Show

7:30pm Trail Blazers vs. Lakers

After the game catch Blazers Outsiders with hosts Joe Simons and Dan Marang!

Plus, full coverage of the game from Dwight JaynesJamie Hudson and our digital team. Follow us on social throughout the night for the latest updates.  

Quotable

“I’m never really in any pain unless I’m doing rehab. Even then, if it’s painful we’re not pushing it too hard yet. I’m not really in any pain anymore.” – Zach Collins on his left shoulder rehab 

Report: Blazers fully guarantee Carmelo Anthony's contract

Report: Blazers fully guarantee Carmelo Anthony's contract

The best story in basketball isn't ending anytime soon. According to Adrian Wojnarowski, the Blazers have made the decision to fully guarantee Carmelo Anthony's contract for the remainder of the season. 

The Blazers originally signed Anthony to a non-guaranteed deal back on November 19th. The non-guaranteed status of the deal meant the team could cut him before January 7th without having to pay him for the remainder of the season. But the Blazers decided to skip the suspense and amend the contract, locking Anthony in. 

Anthony has played eight games for the Blazers, averaging 16.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game. 

The Blazers were struggling prior to Anthony's arrival, but have gone 4-4 in the eight games he has played, including 4-1 in their last five games. 

The Blazers currently sit at 9-13, just one game back of eighth place in the Western Conference. 

Fans on social media were thrilled with the news:

Zach Collins happy to not be wearing a sling anymore, his 'timeline is progressing'

Zach Collins happy to not be wearing a sling anymore, his 'timeline is progressing'

Thursday marks exactly one month since Trail Blazers center Zach Collins underwent successful surgery to repair his left labrum.

On Wednesday night, as Collins made his way through the bowels of Moda Center before the Blazers and Kings tipped off, there was something different about him.

For the first time in public, Collins was not wearing a sling around his left shoulder.

After the game, the 7-footer gave an update on how his shoulder is feeling and how his rehabilitation is coming along.

It’s a lot more convenient, and way more comfortable not walking around with a sling all the time. I’m very happy.

--Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins

“The timeline is moving along and it’s progressing,” Collins added.

The shoulder injury occurred when Collins dislocated his left shoulder late in the third quarter during Portland's game at Dallas back on October 27th.

Through the first three games of the season, Collins averaged 9.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists as the Blazers starting power forward.

Collins says he has been able to get a lot better sleep now that the pain has subsided.  

“Two or three days out of surgery, sleeping was hard, that’s just because it was so painful. Honestly, the sling didn’t bother me that much sleeping with it after that when the pain stopped."

Collins described how the front of his shoulder had been in the most pain immediately following surgery. But now, it's rare for him to feel any physical discomfort.

I’m never really in any pain unless I’m doing rehab. Even then, if it’s painful we’re not pushing it too hard yet. I’m not really in any pain anymore.

Collins also explained what he's been doing during his physical therapy:

“Range of motion, a little bit of resistance work… Like if they’re pushing on my arm this way, I’ve got to push the other way. Little things like that, and then just working on my legs and my right arm.”

The current timetable is that Collins will be re-evaluated in March. 

But with one month down, and three to go, Collins is going to continue to focus on rehab.  He's also going to continue to improve his wardrobe.  The big man admitted he had to purchase more suits in order to follow the NBA's formal dress code when sitting on the Blazers' bench during home games.