The discourse around Zach Collins is becoming as puzzling as Marco Belinelli's shot selection. If you scroll through Twitter during any Spurs game, you should understand what I'm getting at. There are quite a few sincere conversations around the topic, but I'd like to shed some light on the context surrounding Collins that may help reframe why certain players deserve a reassessment.
While Collins receives his fair share of praise, that doesn't come without equal criticism. Some warranted and some not. That is the nature of the sport, especially from a fan base that has grown to expect excellence from a team that was the golden standard of the league for nearly two decades.
In the past, the Spurs were an ever-present contender that always felt like they had- at worst- a slim chance to make an NBA Finals run. After 20 years of playoff appearances, this was a general belief the entire league held without a second thought. It was a simple reflex, almost as natural as breathing.
This current Spurs roster doesn't exactly harken back to days of old. Well, "old" may be a stretch, but you get the idea. The going is rough, and it is a truly foreign territory for not only the fans and players but this proud organization, save for a handful of tenured employees such as Pop, who previously experienced the toils of a tank.
After enjoying the kind of success most dynasties only dream of, it can become difficult to assess young talent in such a volatile environment. No one is playing complementary basketball, so you could say the Spurs aren't "bringing the nasty" so much as they are nasty.
When none of the players are playing for each other, you encounter a team full of guys just trying to earn their next contract. While Pop has alluded to some of their play being "shameful" this season, there is no shame in a guy going out there and working for his own. Gotta put food on the table, right?
Collins is a man who puts food on his table. The odds have been against him during his career, but that has been less of the case since Jakob Poeltl departed to Toronto. Collins plays a generally thankless role on a team that can't provide much support in said position. All this while the franchise has asked him to transition from a bench piece to a starter at a moment's notice. Now that Jakob is gone, he has some large shoes to fill. Collins hasn't been perfect, but he has put forth an incredibly admirable season for the club while posting the best numbers of his career.
At first glance, Collins is putting up 10.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and a stock per game on .533/.349/.745% shooting splits, with an eFG% hovering around 58%. These numbers may be surprising for some, but they're almost more than you could ask for from a role player on a terrible team full of guys who aren't old enough to rent a car. Did we mention he is the resident bruiser and trash-talking co-partner of Jeremy Sochan? You can't teach those intangibles (think back to Drew Eubanks running the best bench mob in the NBA last year.)
What I'm trying to say is Zach Collins is a hustler. Does he always make the right play? No. Does he always TRY to make the right play? Absolutely, and I believe that is important. Mistakes can be corrected, but having the drive to compete cannot be instilled by a coaching staff. Whether he's having a tough night off the bench or dropping a career-high against the Pistons, Zach Collins is someone you can guarantee will give his all for this ball club. In testing times on a tanking team, effort can become a rare commodity. Luckily for the Spurs, Zach Collins provides it in droves. It's best not to take that for granted.