At a surface level, Zach Collins seems to be an ideal frontcourt running mate for Victor Wembanyama. The 25-year-old theoretically owns all the skills an organization would want from a new-age center. He can stretch the floor, spread the wealth from the top of the key, and battle with more traditional bruisers inside the paint. However, the Spurs are 3-4, fresh off their second 40-point loss of the season, and the former lottery prospect has contributed to their erratic performance on both sides of the ball.
Now, that isn't to suggest fans should chastise Collins and blame him for all of San Antonio's shortcomings. He has been a productive contributor on the offensive end, notching 14.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. Though those nightly numbers are more than serviceable, his three-ball has been lackluster. Zach has shot 24.1% from beyond the arc, the 11th-worst percentage out of the 159 players who have attempted at least 20 threes this season.
His previous track record from long distance is a promising indicator that he will ascend to the mean at some point. But Collins has looked hesitant on the perimeter, and his second-guessing has encouraged opponents to sag off him and dare him to fire away. Some teams have even gone as far as to commit multiple defenders to Wembanyama in his screening actions with the rookie phenom, erasing the potential for Collins to feed him from almost any angle.
Despite his struggles from deep, Collins remains one of the best high post facilitators in the NBA. The sixth-year big man consistently connects with cutters, finds sharpshooters, and leads teammates into open driving lanes with precise dribble handoffs. He has also flashed budding chemistry with Victor, though that synergy is a work in progress. Much like the rest of the roster, Zach is still piecing together how to deliver accurate passes to the 7-foot-3 forward, and a handful of his entry lobs have missed their mark.
For all his imperfections amid a turbulent start to his third go-round in the 2-1-0, Collins has made undeniable strides as a screener. The Spurs have been capable of running multiple actions with their interior anchor setting cross, ghost, ram, flex, pindown, and back screens. He is among the best in the business, ranking third in both screen assists and screen points, an indisputable testament to his engagement. And his newfound attention to detail has helped him cut down on illegal screens.
The discussion surrounding Collins is not black and white, and there must be nuance to how we explore his impact. There are several pros and cons to what he brings to the table for this offense, and his defense has just as many benefits and drawbacks.
As mentioned earlier, the seven-footer has shouldered the burden of covering post-up powerhouses like Jusuf Nurkic and Alperen Sengun while sticking to capable roll men like Jakob Poeltl and Ivica Zubac. Welcoming that challenge has protected Wembanyama from the physical punishment of colliding with back-to-the-basket scorers, which has also afforded the slender superstar the freedom to roam the hardwood, create chaos in the passing lanes, and erase shots with weakside rotations for secondary rim protection.
With that in mind, Collins has been ineffective in guarding the pick-and-roll, an issue that has carried over from last season. Opponents have shot 65.6% within six feet of the hoop when he is the closest defender, placing him 42nd out of the 48 centers who have contested at least 20 such attempts thus far.
Those substandard results do not fall solely upon Collins. His teammates have displayed insufficient screen navigation at the point of attack, often leaving him in two-on-one situations. Zach is probably not as bad as the early returns suggest, but a lack of footspeed when backpedaling in drop coverage makes him vulnerable. And when the guard can pull up off the bounce or hit the roller with a head full of steam going toward the tin, there is almost nothing he can do about it.
The marriage between Wembanyama and Collins should be a fruitful one for years to come, at least on paper. Regardless, everyone must pull their weight to ensure this partnership flourishes. Gregg Popovich is only seven games into a brand-new era of San Antonio Spurs basketball, and he will have all the time in the world to help Collins right the ship.