• Leading up to the Portland Trail Blazers’ season-opener against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers at Moda Center on October 18, HoopBall is profiling the team’s 15 players with guaranteed contracts, in reverse order of price.

    Prior entries: Seth CurryWade BaldwinAnfernee SimonsCaleb SwaniganNik StauskasJake LaymanGary Trent, Jr.

    Player: Zach Collins

    2018-19 salary: $3,628,920

    Position: big

    Age, experience: 20, second year

    Measureables: 7-foot-0, 230 pounds (7-foot-1inch wingspan)

    Strengths: quickness, speed, coordination, rim protection, defensive versatility, instincts

    Weaknesses: strength, post moves, isolation scoring, length

    Swing factor: 3-point shooting

    Likely role: third big

    Perhaps no player on the Portland Trail Blazers’ roster has a better chance of raising his team’s ceiling than Zach Collins. After an understated but promising rookie season, one team insiders no doubt believe justified their choice to give up an extra first-rounder for the chance to nab him with the 10th pick of the draft, Collins has been earmarked for a role that acknowledges his unique blend of size, athleticism and skill in a league where versatility has never loomed larger. Whether or not he’s ready for it, or maybe even something bigger, remains to be seen.

    We made the case in August that Portland’s best hope of vaulting above an overloaded Western Conference middle class this season was playing Collins a lion’s share of his minutes at center. In fact, we were advocates of the Blazers letting Jusuf Nurkic walk this summer and re-signing and promoting Ed Davis to starting center, paving the way for Collins to emerge as the team’s frontcourt stalwart as early as 2019-20. Neil Olshey went a different direction, obviously, but that approach hardly means he has any less confidence in the Gonzaga product.

    At media day, Olshey glowed about Collins’ defensive versatility, noting his presence allows Portland to switch across the floor – a strategy Terry Stotts will supposedly employ more often this season than in the past. Collins is indeed capable of sticking with many ball handlers, using his surprisingly light feet and short-area quickness to keep the ball in front of him and get effective contests from behind. But the notion he can reliably guard all five positions, star playmakers included, was disproven down the stretch of multiple games in the Blazers’ first-round sweep at hand of the New Orleans Pelicans. Collins isn’t Clint Capela.

    The good news is that he doesn’t need to be to make Portland a tougher out in the playoffs, or against the increasing number of teams who play small ball during the regular season. Collins is good enough switching to allow the Blazers to roll out that gambit whenever circumstances of time and score call for it, and a good enough rim-protector to serve as his team’s last line of defense in Stotts’ ultra-conservative regular scheme. Opponents shot just 47.7 percent at the rim against Collins last season, first in the league among the 244 players who contested at least 100 attempts from that vicinity. Is he truly basketball’s best back-line defender? Not yet, anyway. Small sample sizes lend themselves to statistical anomalies. But the eye test supports the numbers: Collins is a quick leaper, understands the nuance of defensive rotations and exhibits textbook verticality at the age of 20. He’s well on his way to emerging as a very, very valuable defender.

    For Portland to take a major step forward, though, both this season and in the future, he needs to be more than a defensive ace. Posting up isn’t a part of Collins’ game right now, and won’t ever be its focal point. His base isn’t wide enough to get good position on big men, a problem that can only be mitigated so much with strength training, and he was woefully ineffective scoring over should-be mismatches last season. Collins will get better there, with Dirk-style fadeaways and dribble attacks from face-ups, but he still projects more as a play finisher than starter – which is why the progress of his jumper looms so, so large.

    Collins shot 31.0 percent from three as a rookie on fewer than two attempts per game, especially discouraging numbers because the vast majority of his tries were good looks. His accuracy, or lack thereof, was unchanged regardless of how close the defense was when he let fly. Collins took just four 3-pointers altogether across six Summer League games, too, hardly an indication that he made strides as a long-range shooter between the end of the season and early July. The good news: His stroke is effortless, his footwork is sound and, to a man, his teammates and coaches swear he splashes three after three in practice. Collins should also have some extra space to launch when being checked by opposing centers, allowing him to attack undisciplined close-outs off the dribble – assuming he keeps defenses honest enough for them to be concerned about him banging threes, obviously.

    Where does all of that leave Collins this season? Undoubtedly as Portland’s third big man and situational finisher of close games at center, but also as a bridge between the present and future. The extent of Collins’ growth in 2018-19 will definitely go a long way toward determining the long-term trajectory of this franchise, and if substantive enough, could be the difference between the Blazers winning a playoff round or simply earning a playoff berth in the first place.

    No pressure.

Fantasy News

  • Lauri Markkanen
    PF, Chicago Bulls

    According to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, Lauri Markkanen had been unhappy with the direction of the Bulls organization even before the league went on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    Markkanen was so displeased, in fact, that he went on to state that if the situation were to remain unchanged, he'd prefer to be elsewhere. The Bulls power forward was a fantasy mess in 2019-20 and some of that could be attributed to the coach and some of it, to his injuries. Still, his statements put the team in a rough spot. considering Markkanen has been widely regarded as a core piece of their future plans. The Bulls are already shaking things up though, making moves towards freshening things up in the front office. The Markkanen-Bulls relationship is a must-watch storyline, especially given his potential in fantasy hoops.

    Source: Chicago Sun-Times.

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Speaking on ESPN on Friday, Brian Windhorst said that there has been increasing pessimism about the NBA season resuming.

    Windhorst noted that the league has begun to discuss the financial ramifications of shutting the league down, and we've seen reports about the league looking for players to take paycuts as a result of the season's uncertain future. The fact that the CBA in China was set to resume and then delayed again is an ominous sign with NBA markets nowhere near the apex of COVID-19.

    Source: ESPN

  • Kobe Bryant
    SG, Los Angeles Lakers

    According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett will be inducted into the 2020 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

    Formal announcements will be made on Saturday, but it appears to be a done deal. The three aforementioned players helped define and then redefine the sport during their primes, making the 2020 class one of the most star-studded since Michael Jordan was inducted. Bryant, especially, who was often compared to his "Airness" will be a bittersweet entrant as the NBA and the world is still dealing with his sudden passing.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Zach LaVine
    PG, Chicago Bulls

    Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Bulls have begun their search for a top executive who will have full authority on basketball decisions.

    Interviews will begin next week, with Toronto GM Bobby Webster and Denver GM Arturas Karnisovas on Chicago's wish list. Ownership will have discussions with current GM Gar Forman about his place in the organization moving forward, whlie VP of Basketball Ops John Paxson is expected to move to an advisory role with the franchise. The Bulls have been lost in the wilderness for some time now, and it's mildly surprising that it's taken them this long to hunt for someone to take the power out of GarPax's collective hands.

    Source: ESPN

  • Michael Porter Jr.
    PF, Denver Nuggets

    Michael Porter Jr. said that his right ankle is now properly healed.

    Porter missed six games with a right ankle injury, and though he was able to play in nine of Denver's last 10 games (the absence was a DNP-CD) before the hiatus, he admitted that his ankle was still bothering him and he was playing through pain. MPJ flashed tremendous potential when given the appropriate minutes but it's going to be hard for him to hold fantasy value outside of deeper formats when the Nuggets are fully healthy — he topped 15 minutes just three times in those nine games. The silver lining of the league's suspension is that hurt and injured players are getting the chance to heal up, Porter included.

    Source: Denver Post

  • Kemba Walker
    PG, Boston Celtics

    Kemba Walker has been rehabbing his left knee while in quarantine, and says that it's "doing well."

    Walker actually played in the Celtics' last three games before the season was shut down but has missed a total of eight games this season (plus one in preseason) due to left knee soreness. It's clearly a chronic issue at this point, and fantasy GMs just have to hope that this lengthy layoff will help Walker get back to full strength if and when the season resumes.

    Source: MassLive.com

  • Meyers Leonard
    C, Miami Heat

    Meyers Leonard is still rehabbing his sprained left ankle and estimates that his recovery is at about 90%.

    Leonard shed his walking boot at the end of February but it's been slow going, as he's still not recovered despite getting hurt on February 3. The NBA hiatus might've saved Leonard's season, but even when healthy there won't be any fantasy appeal here despite some strong runs earlier in the campaign.

    Source: Anthony Chiang on Twitter

  • Nikola Jokic
    C, Denver Nuggets

    The Nuggets have announced that the person who tested positive for COVID-19 is now symptom-free.

    The team never said who tested positive, only that it was a member of the organization. The Nuggets have completed their 14-day quarantine, so hopefully all involved are able to remain healthy moving forward.

    Source: Mark Medina on Twitter

  • Romello White
    PF, College

    Romello White declared for the 2020 NBA Draft on Wednesday.

    White is "keeping his options available" despite declaring for the draft. It is probably a good idea considering he isn't a lock to be drafted. The junior power forward averaged 10.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks for Arizona State this past season. He isn't likely to be on the fantasy radar even if he does earn a roster spot in the NBA.

    Source: Jon Rothstein on Twitter

  • Kevin Durant
    SF, Brooklyn Nets

    The four players from the Nets who tested positive for COVID-19 are symptom free after passing a 14-day protocol but are still self-isolating, according to Greg Logan of Newsday.

    Logan went on to say that the entire traveling party for the Nets are healthy at the moment. This is a good sign to see players and staff recovering from the virus without any new cases reported.

    Source: Greg Logan on Twitter