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Zach Collins is a great unknown

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Collins didn’t play that many minutes at Gonzaga, but he put up very impressive numbers when he was on the court.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Gonzaga vs North Carolina Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to NBA Draft Combine Week, when GMs and scouts gather in Chicago to watch next month’s top draft prospects...and other guys too...or maybe just the other guys.

A growing trend is top prospects participating in the combine partially or not at all. Of the 67 attending this year, only FOUR are among Draft Express’ top 14 prospects, and it isn’t clear if any of them will be fully participating.

One of those four is Zach Collins, an intriguing prospect who spent one season at Gonzaga. Most projections have him around the 10th pick. Depending on where the Mavericks land in the lottery (we’ll find out Tuesday), Collins could be someone Mark Cuban & Co. consider come draft night.

The basics

Collins averaged 10 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in just 17.2 minutes per game with a PER of 31.5.

Ultimate upside

Pau Gasol

Safe comparison

Channing Frye

Strengths

At 7-feet tall and 230 pounds, Collins has decent size but not much length for his position. And when Przemek Karnowski, college basketball’s version of Paul “Big Show” Wight, returned for his final year, Collins became a secondary piece in Gonzaga’s run to the national title game. It’s easy to get excited by his 31.5 PER (third among prospects), his true shooting percentage of 70.3 (fourth best), and his impressive per-40 numbers: 23.3 points, 13.2 rebounds, and 4.1 blocks. But scouts are now tasked with projecting his numbers on a larger scale.

What is clear is Collins’ agility and fluid motion on the court. Though not particularly explosive, he’s athletic for a young player at his size. He displays solid footwork in perimeter defense, as well as on offense with his back to the basket. Collins sets solid screens; he has a good base and takes on contact well. He also showed exceptional efficiency on offense: 67.2 percent from two, 47.6 percent from three, and 74.3 percent from the charity stripe (finally, a prospect who can make a free throw!). If he can maintain those tools, he’ll be able to play stretch power forward.

His biggest weapon now is his rebounding and blocking ability. In both boxing out and grabbing boards, Collins leverages his frame well. The verticality he uses defensively is like a volleyball player: he goes straight up, using both arms to deflect the shot or change the release. That combination of rim protection and grittiness is very enticing to scouts. David Aldridge at NBA.com quotes one college coach who faced Collins as saying, “Tough dude, mean as a rattlesnake. He’ll be like (Bill) Laimbeer.”

Collins is a young player who played a reserve role, but his instincts and projections should excite a team that is willing to be patient and give him space to grow.

Weaknesses

Zach Collins’ biggest weakness at this point is that he’s still an unknown quantity. Collins played 672 minutes in college. To put that in perspective, the next-lowest minute total among top ten prospects is Jonathan Isaac at 839. His percentages are solid, but he only took 21 three pointers. His mechanics and release, though slow, look sound. But with a sample size that small, it’s hard to know if his numbers are truly representative of his game.

And while he has a deceptive feistiness about him that may appeal to teams, it sometimes led to foul trouble at Gonzaga. Collins’ per-40 numbers are eye-popping, and that includes his per-40 fouls: he averages 6.3, the third highest among Draft Express’ top 100. He will need to find more discipline on the block, not biting so much on shot fakes. NBA vets are just too savvy to not take advantage of that.

With the growth of small ball in the NBA, Collins should expect to play a lot of center as well. In order for him to bang around on the block, he’ll need to add at least fifteen pounds of muscle and strengthen his lower half to avoid getting pushed under the basket on post ups or rebounds.

He’ll be less of a mystery to scouts after pre-draft workouts, but there will still be questions.

Fit with the Mavericks

Cuban shared some draft strategy last month, and while Zach Collins doesn’t offer the highest ceiling among top prospects, he fits the team’s long-term development. If Nerlen Noel stays in Dallas and the team drafts Collins, there would be a log jam at the power forward and center positions. Barnes might be a natural four, and Dirk will be playing for at least next season, if not longer. Combined with reserves Salah Mejri and Dwight Powell, Collins may find it hard to get much time initially. But that’s ok. He’s used to being effective in short stints.

In a lot of ways, he has the tools that the Mavericks have been seeking from Dwight Powell. He shows signs of a perimeter shot, can play within the pick and roll, and has ability to rebound and protect the rim. This would allow more flexibility for Harrison Barnes as well, moving back to a big frontcourt lineup of Barnes, Collins and Noel.

The Mavs front office and fan base want to draft a future starter and foundation piece. Collins may not come in right away and make that sort of impact, but if he can develop true stretch-power forward ability and take time to learn behind the Tall Baller from the G, Zach Collins would be a fun paired with Nerlens Noel for years to come. It just may take some time.