Now that the San Antonio Spurs have traded their long-time center Jakob Poeltl, the time is now for backup center Zach Collins to seize the starting job. Collins' promotion isn't just a byproduct of the trade; it's well-deserved, given how well he's played this season. Few doubted his talent when the Spurs signed him in the summer of 2021, but countless injuries plagued his time with the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Spurs took a chance signing him, betting on his talent. And it has paid off thus far. Collins has been mostly healthy in San Antonio, which has allowed him to build upon his solid play. He's been impactful on both ends of the floor this season, showing improvement as a rim protector on defense while scoring effectively inside the paint on offense.
That's good news for the Spurs, who traded away an above-average center despite being the second-worst team in the NBA. There's only so far they can fall, but with Collins in the starting five, there might be less drop-off than many would expect. While Poeltl is still the better defensive player of the two, Collins has fared better as a rim protector this season.
He's allowing opponents to shoot 56.1% on shots within five feet of the basket, while Poeltl allowed 61.4%. That might help the Spurs' 30th-ranked defense improve slightly. Offensively, Collins differs from Poeltl in a few notable ways. One key differentiator is how he is developing into a stretch-five.
Collins' offensive skill will be an asset to the starting five.
While he only attempts 1.6 threes per game, he's shooting league-average from outside. That could result in him taking more pick-and-pop threes as a starter. Having a center that can space should help drivers like Tre Jones and Keldon Johnson. After all, it could force opposing centers to choose between staying home on Collins and protecting the basket.
If they decide on the latter, he can take advantage by hitting open threes, which he's done at a 36.8% clip this season. He can also score in the paint, specifically in the post. On post-ups, Collins scores 1.09 points per possession, while Poeltl only averaged 0.89 points per possession.
The Spurs won't exactly be running their offense through Collins on the low block, but it's another new feature he provides the starting five. He may not ultimately prove to be an upgrade over Poeltl, but he brings something different to the table for San Antonio. With him under contract for another year, he gives the Spurs options for next season.
The absolute best-case scenario is the Spurs landing the number one overall pick and selecting Victor Wembanyama, allowing Collins to shift back to the bench. Or, the less fun but still viable scenario is the Spurs missing out on Wembanyama but having Collins to fall back on. Either way, Collins can be a valuable player for this team as they rebuild.