When Chet Kammerer, the Miami Heat’s vice president of player personnel, went to see Gonzaga’s Zach Collins play in person back in November he wrote down a couple of notes he thought would serve him well for the next year.
“Definite good player,” Kammerer recalled writing before seeing Collins again at the NBA Draft Combine last month in Chicago. “A player to follow next year because he could be special.”
Much to Kammerer’s surprise, Collins, who never started a game for the Zags and averaged only 17.2 minutes per game for the national runner-up, sprouted into much more than a prospect to follow for the 2018 draft class. The 7-foot, 232-pound center is a projected lottery pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft and a player who could fall to Miami when it makes its selection with the 14th pick.
Again, it’s not Collins’ talent that caught Kammerer off guard. It’s the fact he and some other 19 and 20-year-old freshmen have made the quick jump to the NBA without even being major contributors on their college teams.
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It’s why Kammerer believes “while down the road this could end up being a really special draft,” teams are going to have to be patient and wait a year or two for some of these young talents to blossom. Collins, 19, is one of those examples.
While the first McDonald’s All-American to sign with Gonzaga had some nice moments during his one college season (14 points, 13 rebounds, 6 blocks in 23 minutes of a Final Four victory over South Carolina), scouts say there’s a lack of polish to his game that only time can iron out.
Collins, who averaged 10 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and shot 65.2 percent from the field for Gonzaga, is no rush to take on a heavy burden at the next level. But the Las Vegas native does have big goals for himself down the road.
“I’m just trying to show [teams] I’m you regular guy who has an abolute obsession with the game of basketball and the passion to play, a guy that’s not going to be satisfied once he gets to the league,” Collins said last month at the combine. “I want to be an All-Star. I want to win championships. I want to win on every team I’m on. I think it’s just getting that point across – that I’m real passionate about [basketball].”
Kammerer followed up his November scouting trip to see Collins by going to see him workout in person along with two other Heat scouts late last month. Sources have told The Herald if Collins is available Miami would strongly consider taking him. Most mock drafts, however, have Collins being drafted before the Heat get a shot at him.
“I think Erik Spoelstra is one of the best coaches in basketball,” Collins said last month. “He runs his team the way he wants to. I haven’t really paid too much attention to what their system is like specifically. But I think I could compliment the bigs they have now really well and we could play off each other. Just the way they run their team, they’re very disciplined and they’re a tough team. And, I think I could bring that discipline and toughness as well.”
Collins doesn’t see himself an old school big man in the NBA. He was 10 of 21 on three-pointers at Gonzaga and believes his game is tailored to play in the modern NBA. He believes he’s fast enough to play in the open court and disciplined enough to play in a half-court offense, too.
“I think I’ve always tried not to be just a big stiff who could only finish around the rim,” Collins said. “I think it’s important to shoot and to able to dribble and just be fundamentally sound no matter where you are on the court. You don’t find a lot of guys having success now in the NBA that are just big bulky guys that can only finish around the rim. You’ve got to be able to do multiple things offensively and defensively.
“I think Dirk [Nowitzki] and Tim Duncan are two guys that kind of serve as examples of that. Dirk, he can shoot from anywhere, has unlimited range. He can drive. I think he’s unguardable. Then, you’ve got Duncan who can finish under the rim, post up, shoot midrange, block, rebound, defend guys that are stronger than him. So, I think those are the two who I try to emulate.”
ESPN’s Chad Ford has Collins going with the 10th pick to Sacramento. But there’s a chance if Collins slips past the Kings and Pistons at 12 he could land in Miami.
The Heat do not need a starting center with Hassan Whiteside around, but could benefit down the road from getting a replacement for Willie Reed should he leave in free agency. The fact Collins can shoot from the perimeter also means he also wouldn’t clog up driving lanes and could stretch the floor some.