After spending most of this season rehabbing yet another injury, Zach Collins has joined the San Antonio Spurs rotation and played well. That's great news for the Spurs, who gambled on his talent by signing him to a three-year deal, albeit a partially-guaranteed one, last summer.
It's also great for Collins, who has the potential to resurrect his career with the Spurs after playing just 154 games with Portland over the past four seasons, but can he? Let's examine Collins' future with the team.
Collins has a team option for next season and, given his performance thus far, the Spurs appear likely to pick up that option. After all, he's been productive despite his limited role, averaging 5.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in just 15.3 minutes per game. Considering he missed nearly a year and a half of basketball, it shows how talented the former lottery pick is. It also hints at how much better he can be if he can stay healthy and continue to develop.
While his ceiling is fairly high, he's unlikely to replace Jakob Poeltl, who's one of the best centers in the NBA. Despite that, Collins could quickly emerge as one of the best backup centers in the league, considering he's clearly a skilled offensive player.
In fact, he’s even shown the potential to evolve into a stretch five, one who can get buckets inside and out. That could make him a useful alternative to Poeltl when the Spurs need more shooting on the floor or late in games when they need a big who can knock down free throws.
What could Collins' role with the Spurs look like?
Based on his skillset, Collins could become San Antonio's long-term answer at the backup center spot. He has many of the tools the Spurs value in a big, such as rebounding, passing, and being able to finish well around the basket. Better yet, he's just 24, younger than Dejounte Murray, meaning he fits with the Spurs' young core.
That's all good, but there are factors that could prevent that from happening. One is that Collins could be sidelined with yet another injury, which would be unfortunate because he has only made it through two full seasons since being drafted in 2017.
San Antonio has already prepared for that by making each of his final two seasons either partially or fully non-guaranteed. That means he could easily be waived after next season if he plays poorly or is unable to stay healthy. On the other hand, Collins could play well next season, so much so that he could actually become a trade candidate.
San Antonio has been much more aggressive in making trades recently, even shipping out four players that they started this season with. In that scenario, Collins could draw interest from other teams, especially with him making less than $8 million in each of the next two seasons. That being said, the Spurs' willingness to trade him will depend on what happens this summer.
For instance, the Spurs have multiple draft picks, and selecting a center is definitely a possibility. However, that player could take time to develop, but if he's ready to play NBA minutes, then Collins might become expendable. Still, another team may have to give up an asset or two, which might not be something they're willing to do considering there are plenty of capable backup centers nowadays.
Also, San Antonio clearly believes in Collin, signing him to a fairly lucrative deal early on in free agency last summer. That was despite the obvious risk and knowing that he'd miss most of this season. That confidence in Collins could pay off next season, where he could show dramatic improvement, possibly even helping the team make the playoffs.
All in all, if Collins can stay healthy, he has a chance to develop into an overqualified backup for the Spurs. That would give the team another option to Poeltl, one who can make free throws and knock down threes, while also providing rebounding and passing.
Zach also fits the team's timeline and, if everything goes according to plan, could be San Antonio's backup center going forward.