Do the Spurs have the best backup center in the NBA?
The Spurs took a calculated gamble on Zach Collins when they inked him to a three-year $22.5M contract during the summer of 2021, banking on a complete recovery from a player that missed 135 games over the previous two seasons due to a stress fracture in his left ankle. That lengthy road to recovery continued in Alamo City, but the investment in the former lottery pick has looked like a savvy business decision for PATFO.
Year one witnessed Collins flash the skills that made him a highly sought-after prospect coming out of Gonzaga. And his second go-round with San Antonio has positioned him in the conversation for the title of best backup center in the NBA. Deciphering the impact of a reserve on a lottery-bound team might seem trivial. Nonetheless, Zach deserves praise for his efforts on the hardwood.
We'll dive into the numbers and tape in a second. Before that, let's admire the odds-defying triumph of Collins overcoming a fibula fracture only nine games into this season and still playing the finest basketball of his career upon returning to the rotation. Thank you, time to keep things moving.
The towering 25-year-old has averaged 9.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.2 assists off the bench for San Antonio. That places Zach 1st, 10th, and 1st in those respective categories among all backup centers that have made at least ten appearances this season. More impressive, he is the only five in that group maintaining 50/40/75 shooting splits while attempting more than one three-pointer per game.
Collins is one of the most dependable contributors for a second unit that leads the NBA in points per game (43.8). He offers San Antonio's budding ballhandlers an effective roll-man who can finish through contact, feather in a floater, and step outside the arc as a pick-and-pop threat. The sixth-year veteran can also score with his back to the basket inside the paint on an array of fakes, counter moves, spins, and hook shots.
Don't discount his passing, either. Head Coach Gregg Popovich has been more than willing to use the near-seven-footer as a playmaking hub from the high post, where he can deliver pinpoint dimes to cutters. Collins isn't a shabby short-roll passer, making split decisions to find shooters waiting on the perimeter. Even when he corrals offensive boards in a crowd, Zach knows where his teammates are on the court and frequently hits them for second-chance buckets.
On the other end, Collins has improved dramatically from the start of the season. He committed a mindboggling 8.2 fouls per 100 possessions from October through December, fouling out four times during that span. Since the new year began, Collins has been more disciplined. As a result, he has reduced that earlier number to 5.3 fouls per 100 possessions.
Although Zach isn't a prolific shot blocker, he has been a surprisingly solid rim protector. Opponents are shooting a frosty 55.5% within six feet of the basket when Collins is the primary defender, which is an outstanding 8.6% below the expected field goal percentage on those looks. You're probably wondering how the big man gets the job done. Everything is rooted in his exceptional practice of verticality, where he uses every inch of his seven-one wingspan to alter layups.
Zach Collins isn't a perfect player by any stretch of the imagination, but his production as the staple of San Antonio's bench is undeniable. Does his skill set make Jakob Poeltl expendable? Not necessarily. However, he ensures the Spurs avoid plummeting off the side of the earth when their starters need a breather. And that could be a valuable asset when Silver and Black eventually return to playoff contention.