After more than 500 days removed from a player’s last NBA game, you’d think they would have some rust to shake off, right? Well, not Zach Collins, who made his San Antonio Spurs debut in a resounding 131-106 victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night.
The 24-year-old big man finished his season premiere with 10 points, seven rebounds, and three assists in just over 13 minutes of playing time. After 50+ games of relying solely on starter Jakob Poeltl to man the middle, Collins brought a breath of fresh air to a Spurs rotation that desperately needs quality minutes from its backup center.
Collins first checked in midway through the first quarter and immediately imposed himself. As soon as he touched the court, the former Gonzaga Bulldog flashed the physical nature that got him drafted 10th overall in 2017. He initiated contact on post-ups and tried wearing down lanky big Christian Wood near the rim. Collins grabbed three of his four offensive rebounds—which included a quick putback—during his first three minutes.
When he rotated back into the game in the second quarter, Collins had some defensive miscues. Pre-injury, he was lauded for being a quick-twitch defender with valuable mobility for a 7-footer. In due time, he may return to that standard, but he was quickly exposed off the dribble and dropped to the floor several times in his limited minutes. Still, a handful of mishaps are bound to take place after a lengthy rehab on one’s foot, so Collins deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Even while he struggled on defense, the Las Vegas native made an impact on offense. Collins set plenty of solid ball-screens to help the Spurs’ guards create separation from their defenders. He also scored a stylish reverse layup generated by his exceptional court awareness and sharp footwork
When San Antonio built its lead in the second half, Collins was able to have some fun. He drained a quick-trigger pick-and-pop triple off a pass from Dejounte Murray and hit a face-up jumper from the mid-range that would make Tim Duncan proud. He remained active on the glass, didn’t overextend himself, and competed hard on defense.
Collins has the tools to add a valuable dynamic to this Spurs core
Part of what makes Collins more valuable than your average backup big is his passing ability, which shined during small glimpses throughout the night. Though he’s capable of stretching the floor, it’s plain to see that Collins prefers operating out of the post. While working on the low block, Collins tossed a beautiful shovel pass to a cutting Derrick White in the third and a pinpoint bounce pass to a cutting Josh Primo in the fourth quarter.
In a Spurs system that desires playmaking from every position, Collins is a natural fit. It’s hard to survive in San Antonio if your basketball IQ isn’t on par with that of your teammates, but this shouldn’t be a problem for the fourth-year vet (fifth, if you count the year he lost to injury).
All things considered, this was a great Silver and Black debut for Zach Collins. A fiery spirit whose competitive spirit translates on and off the court, Collins adds yet another layer of intrigue to an evolving Spurs team. Head coach Gregg Popovich was impressed with Collins’ ability to impact the game through a whirlwind of emotion.
“He was pretty awesome for his first pro game in two years. I can’t even imagine what was going through his head before and during the game,” Popovich said. “He is a talented young man. He is physical. He doesn’t shy away from contact. He can play out on the floor, he can play on the block—and he showed that.”
It becomes easier to showcase your talents in a blowout victory, but there presumably aren’t all too many of those left in the Spurs’ season ahead. San Antonio will spend much of these next two months scrapping for wins and learning to compete alongside each other.
Without the looming pressure of playoff expectations, Collins will use this time to grow more comfortable within San Antonio’s structure while looking ahead to the years ahead. No matter the expectations, it’s clear that he’s just grateful to be back on the hardwood.