Charlotte Hornets: Zach Collins Would Bring Skill, Upside

The Charlotte Hornets have often been linked to a certain Gonzaga big man in recent mock drafts. Would Zach Collins be a good fit in Charlotte?

It’s that time of year again: NBA Draft season! Much like the other 29 teams in the NBA, the Charlotte Hornets are in full-on draft preparation mode. With the 11th pick in the first round, they’ll have plenty of intriguing options to choose from when it’s finally time for them to make their selection.

Will they be enamored by the outside shooting ability of a player like Luke Kennard? Will they pounce on a talented overseas prospect like Frank Ntilikina if he falls out of the top 10? Perhaps they’ll pick a reliable player that plays a position of need like Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell. Heck, maybe they’ll trade up to take Malik Monk, or trade back to amass multiple first round picks.

Of course, one name seems to pop up more than others when folks discuss what Charlotte will eventually do with its first round pick. Several mock drafts have the Hornets taking Gonzaga big man Zach Collins with the 11th pick.

Collins is an intriguing prospect. He was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school, yet he played just 17.2 minutes per game during his freshman season at Gonzaga. That doesn’t mean Collins wasn’t a vital member of their team.

When Collins was on the court he was a difference-maker. He averaged 10.0 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game on an impressive 65.2 percent shooting from the field. He also shot 47.6 percent from three-point range on 21 attempts. Collins is a skilled offensive player, both on the interior and the perimeter. The kid can play.

He scored nine points and grabbed seven rebounds in the NCAA championship game against North Carolina, but foul trouble limited him to just 14 minutes. If Collins hadn’t been bogged down by foul trouble, the Zags could have been national champions.

On paper, Collins looks like a can’t-miss prospect. He may not ever become a star, but he should be a reliable rotation player with the potential to develop into much more than that. He’s a seven-footer, he’s hyper-efficient around the rim, he can shoot from outside, and he can protect the basket. That’s everything you want from your center in the modern NBA. Still, he comes with flaws, as does any young player.

Collins, as evidenced by his performance in the national championship game, has a bad habit of getting into foul trouble. Collins averaged 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes last season. His playing just 17.2 minutes per game makes sense when you see that number.

This is something that can be corrected over time as he gets older and stronger. Collins is just 19 and has already shown the ability to be a high-impact player on the defensive end. Here’s a scouting report on Collins’ defense from Chris Stone of The Step Back.

“Collins’ production on defense — he’s one of three players in Division I posting 1.5 blocks and 0.5 steals in under 18 minutes per game — is an important part of why this has been Few’s best defensive team at Gonzaga. In a season of firsts, this is also the first time in the KenPom era that the Bulldogs have had the top-ranked defense based on adjusted efficiency. That defense has carried Gonzaga to the Final Four with its opponents scoring a meager 0.85 points per possession through four tournament games so far, per Hoop Lens.”

Here’s what Stone had to say about Collins’ offensive game.

“Collins has been ridiculously efficient on offense as a freshman, posting a 70.6 true shooting percentage (TS%), which is designed to account for 3-point shooting and free throws. He’s not Caleb Swanigan from behind the arc, but he has made nine of his 20 3-point attempts and shot 74.5 percent from the foul line this season. Inside the arc, Collins has been dominant.

“A large bulk of Collins’ offensive possessions (36.4 percent) take place in the post, which makes sense given that Gonzaga ranks seventh nationally in terms of percent of possessions (18.7) used on post ups. It’s part of why he originally committed to the school. ‘They use their bigs more than anybody in the country,’ Collins said at the time. ‘The fact they play two bigs all the time and their bigs get the most touches, I think I’ll be most successful at that school.’”

Offenses in the NBA don’t rely on post-ups quite like they used to, but Collins’ ability as a post-up scorer and a face-up threat will still be valuable to a team like Charlotte that needs all the scoring help it can get. Kemba Walker did his best to carry the load, but the Hornets still finished with just the 14th-best offensive rating in the NBA.

That mediocre offense, paired with the 14th-rated defense in the league, helped the Hornets finish with a 36-46 record in 2016-17. They missed the playoffs and are now left in a rather bleak situation when you consider structure of the roster and their salary cap issues.

The NBA Draft brings an opportunity to get younger and bring in a potentially franchise-changing player. If Collins reaches his ceiling, he could possibly be that type of player. At worst, he’s a solid role player that they should be able to plug into their big man rotation immediately.

Cody Zeller projects to be their starting center in 2017-18, but he missed 20 games last season. Frank Kaminsky, Marvin Williams, and Miles Plumlee make up the rest of their power forward/center rotation. If drafted, Collins could see minutes at both center and power forward during his rookie season.

It’s a bit too early to say whether or not Collins is the player Charlotte is zeroing in on. It’s also possible that he gets selected in the top 10 and they don’t get a chance to take him.

Nevertheless, Zach Collins remains a viable option for the Hornets with the 11th overall pick.

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