• 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

  • Jonah Bolden
    PF, Philadelphia Sixers

    Jonah Bolden has opted to withdraw from Team Australia in the FIBA World Cup.

    Bolden becomes the fifth NBA player to skip out on playing for Australia in the World Cup, a trend that seems to be prevalent for several country's national teams. Bodlen could be looking at an increased role as a backup center for Philly's thin bench this upcoming season. He is not expected to be a relevant fantasy option though.

    Source: Fox Sports Australia

  • Jeremy Lin
    PG, Toronto Raptors

    Jeremy Lin is in advanced discussions with the Bejing Ducks according to a report from Chinese journalist Sonx Xiang.

    Lin previosuly turned down a deal to play for CSKA Moscow, and has also discussed his openness to playing in China. The nine year guard still hopes to resmue his NBA career at some point, but a move to China may be the best career option for him at this juncture.

    Source: Sportando

  • Dwight Howard
    C, Memphis Grizzlies

    The Lakers will soon ask Memphis permission to speak with Dwight Howard according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

    Shams goes on to mention that there is mutual interest here and that Joakim Noah could be another veteran of interest for LA. The realistic options for free agents at the five really don't go much further than these two for the Lakers. Stay tuned for more updates on this developing story.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Dwight Howard
    C, Memphis Grizzlies

    In the wake of the DeMarcus Cousins injury, one name the Lakers are considering is Dwight Howard, according to Rohan Nadkarni of Sports Illustrated.

    Howard is still a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, but it is widely assumed that he will be waived before the season starts. A reunion in LA would certainly be pretty surprising for the Lakers after Howard famously did not resign with them after a miserable season playing with Kobe Bryant. Still, the Lakers need depth at the five and there really aren't any options on the market who compare to Howard's level of productivty, even at this stage of his career. Other center options the Lakers could pursue include Joakim Noah, Kenneth Faried and Zaza Pachulia.

    Source: Rohan Nadkarni on Twitter

  • Malachi Richardson
    SG, International

    Malachi Richardson has signed with Hapoel Holon in Israel.

    Richardson played 22 games for the Raptors last season and averaged 1.4 points. At 23 years old, he still has time to develop and possibly return to the NBA in the future.

    Source: Sportando

  • Rudy Gobert
    C, Utah Jazz

    Rudy Gobert scored 14 points along with nine rebounds, two assists and a block in France's 86-72 win vs. Brazil in the World Cup exhibition games.

    Gobert led the team in scoring across 22 minutes of playing time. With the new additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic on the Jazz, Gobert may take a slight hit in scoring however you can still expect excellent field goal percentage, rebounds and blocks. Evan Fournier chipped in 13 points with five rebounds, three assists and a steal for France. Brazil's Bruno Cabloclo scored nine points, seven rebounds and a steal.

    Source: FIBA

  • Dennis Schroder
    PG, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Dennis Schroder scored 19 points to lead Germany to a 83-62 win vs. Hungary as the teams prepare for the Wold Cup.

    Schroder filled the box score tonight by adding three rebounds, seven assists, one steal, one block and four treys. He will come off the bench again next season behind Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Anyone who drafts the often-injured Chris Paul may want to handcuff him with Schroder. Fellow countryman Daniel Theis scored 11 points with six rebounds, two assists and one steal.

    Source: FIBA

  • Tyler Dorsey
    SG, International

    Tyler Dorsey has signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv B.C. of Israel.

    Dorsey played 21 games for the Grizzlies last year after being acquired midseason from the Hawks via trade. He played well over that span with 9.8 points in 21.3 minutes but will take his talents overseas where, "He'll have a chance to showcase what great things he can do," according to his new head coach. Maccabi has signed several former NBA players this offseason as Dorsey will be joining Omri Casspi, Nate Wolters, Quincy Acy and Tarik Black.

    Source: Macabi Tel Aviv on Twitter

  • Rayjon Tucker
    PG, Milwaukee Bucks

    Rayjon Tucker will be signing with the Bucks on a partially guaranteed deal.

    Tucker is a little older than most rookies and will be 22 before the start of the season but he played well enough at Little Rock last year to deserve a look, scoring 20.3 points per game and knocking down 2.4 triples per game at a 41.1 percent clip. He rounds out the Bucks 20-man training camp roster but since they already have 15 guaranteed contracts and both two-way spots occupied, he is very unlikely to make the team and could very well end up in the G-League.

    Source: Darren Wolfson on Twitter

  • De'Aaron Fox
    PG, Sacramento Kings

    Per Chris Hayes of Yahoo, De'Aaron Fox will be withdrawing from the FIBA World Cup in order to focus on the upcoming season.

    Fox follows the trend set by many other players that have withdrawn for the same reason. Maybe this is related to him only playing six minutes in the exhibition against Spain on Friday but either way, he should be in line to improve last year's huge leap in production and could even be in the All-Star conversation. Derrick White is much more likely to make the final roster now with Fox out.

    Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter