Welcome to Pounding the Rock’s 2022-23 player reviews! The series will look at all 16 players that finished the season with the Spurs (minus Khem Birch since he never suited up), so we won’t be reviewing players like Stanley Johnson or Isaiah Roby. In the next edition, we will be taking a look at Zach Collins’ performance and his outlook for the future.
2022-23 Stats: 63 games, 11.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 51.8% FG, 37.4% 3P
2022-23 Salary: $7.35 million
Contract Status: 1 year, $7.7 million remaining (non-guaranteed)
Zach Collins has not had an easy NBA career. Injuries and a lack of playing time brought him to San Antonio, where he looked for an opportunity to get his game that made him a lottery pick in 2017 back on the track. The big man finally proved that he belongs in this league in his sixth season.
Collins started the season as Jakob Poeltl’s backup and was effective off of the bench. He gave the Spurs a floor stretching big man who could still operate in some of the actions their starting center did. He showed ability to make plays out of the high post and pick and roll, as well as compete on the boards. But it wasn’t until after the trade deadline when Collins would really show all that he could do.
When Poeltl was traded to the Toronto Raptors, the former Gonzaga Bulldog was thrust into a starting role. As a starter Collins’ stats increased in almost every statistical category. He averaged 14.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists while hitting 35% of his three point looks. Late in the season, when the Spurs injury report got crowded, it was common for Collins to be the steady force on the team, and some nights their best player. In March, he averaged 18.5 points, 8 rebounds and 3.7 assists, shooting 43% from deep.
Collins’ ability to operate in the pick and pop as well as the high and low post made him a dynamic weapon for the Spurs offense. He was awesome at hitting cutters on their high post sets and scored 1.05 points per possession on post touches, which is very good. He shot 63.7% at the rim, showing the ability to finish through contact, despite being a skinnier big. His floor spacing opened up room for guards like Tre Jones, Malaki Branham and Keldon Johnson to operate. Collins shot 38% on catch and shoot jumpers, with most of them coming from three.
Defensively Collins held his own. He’s not going to erase a ton of shots at the rim, but he will deter them. At 6-foot-11 and with a 7’1” wingspan, he has the length to go vertical with drivers, and has strong off-ball instincts to be in the correct help position. Opposing players shot 45.4% while being guarded by the big man — not all-defensive team type stuff, but solid enough to hold down the center position for the near future.
Gregg Popovich basically confirmed Collins will be the team’s starting center next season. Near the end of the year, the Spurs head coach said, “He’s made it. He’s going to be the guy at five for us,” which means it’s safe to assume that San Antonio will fully guarantee his contract for next season.
That’s good, he’s earned it. It also helps that Collins might be the perfect fit next to the potential number one pick in the draft. Victor Wembanyama is a 7-foot-5 guard who is not likely to be ready for the physicality of paint play in the NBA. He will need to play the 4, while another big body takes the blows underneath. Collins is perfect for this role, especially given his versatility to play inside and out. Need to post up Wemby? No problem. Just have Collins space out to a corner. Wembaynama and Collins in the pick and roll also sounds like a ton of fun. The Spurs should be very excited about the promise of that duo.
In general, Collins feels like the perfect San Antonio big man. He can shoot, pass and post up. The defense is decent but could get better with a full offseason of strength work and confidence in his body holding up. He plays with a lot of intensity and has the “nasty” necessary to help this team win games. With no great big men available in the draft or free agency, the starting center role should be his for keeps next year.
March 14th vs. Orlando Magic: 25 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks, 71% FG, 3 for 3 from deep
Final Grade: A
Up next: Keita Bates-Diop