The Trail Blazers Are Confident Zach Collins Can Impact Their Future

PORTLAND — Armed with three first-round picks and some assets on their roster, the Portland Trail Blazers had the potential to make some significant changes to their team with a trade or even trades. And lo and behold the Blazers actually did make a deal.

But instead of trimming their roster, the Blazers decided to combine two of their picks to move up in the Draft in order to select a “franchise-level building block” in Gonzaga big man Zach Collins with the No. 10 pick. Portland then continued to add yet another big man to their roster by selecting Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan with the No. 26 pick.

The selection of Collins came to a surprise to many, especially for him as he did not come to Portland for a workout before the Draft.

“I was surprised I was going to be the tenth pick,” Collins said via a conference call with the Portland media. “And then when I found I got traded to Portland, I was a little shocked.”

Collins’ shock was similar to Portland’s once they found out they could actually draft him after they traded the 15th and 20th picks to the Kings for the No. 10 selection. Despite not working out in person, Portland had Collins high on their draft board and once they saw who was going where, they leapt at the opportunity to trade up and select the Gonzaga big man.

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“If you identify a player like Zach Collins as the best player you can realistically get, you move your chips in and go get him,” Blazers general manager Neil Olshey said. “We felt like Zach’s value exceed that of those two picks when they were looked at independent of one another. It wasn’t really positionally, it really was just more we think he was the best player on the board, [so] we moved up to get him.”

Just 19 years old, the seven-foot, 232-pound Collins played one season at Gonzaga, where he averaged 10.0 points and 5.9 rebounds on 65.2 percent shooting. His ability to spread the floor with his three-point shooting and protect the rim are Collins’ main strengths. Yet with Portland already having a mediocre big man in Meyers Leonard, Blazers fans instantly saw a similarity in Collins and were quite upset with their team’s selection.

However while some in Portlandia may be down on Collins, the new Trail Blazer center is confident that he contribute right away.

“I just feel like my ability to stretch the floor and play inside, is going to help me a lot,” Collins said.” Especially with the way the league is going now and the way that three-point shooting is such a big deal and such an advantage for a good-shooting team, I think my touch from around the arc and inside is going to help a lot.”

This type of confidence and mental toughness is exactly why the Blazers traded up to select Collins.

“He’s a tough competitor,” Olshey said. “The toughness is more from a mindset. I’m not talking about hockey thugs. A guy like Zach Collins is a chippy player, he doesn’t back down.”

Olshey was also thoroughly impressed with Collins’ staying ready on the bench at Gonzaga and not getting down due to his limited role, but then really stepping up his game in the NCAA tournament. For Olshey, this showed the type of mental fortitude that Collins needs to be successful in the NBA.

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Besides the toughness factor, Olshey believes Collins helps to put Portland on the proper long-term path as they continue to build around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

“He’s a franchise-level building block to join guys that we already have on the roster,” Olshey said.

Olshey’s high praise for Collins will have to carry through to actual on the court production. But Collins is quite confident and envisions great things in his rookie season.

“I don’t see why I can’t be the Rookie of the Year,” Collins said. “I want to be the best player that I can be. Growing up, I’ve always had high goals for myself and always told myself why not?”