PORTLAND, Ore. -- On Thursday night, after the Portland Trail Blazers traded two of their first-round draft picks to move up and pick Gonzaga center Zach Collins, reaction by Blazers fans on social media was mixed, with some reacting strongly against the selection.
One common reaction was that the Blazers had given up two valuable assets to draft Meyers Leonard's doppelgänger.
Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard pic.twitter.com/YGZzEO9VQ1— Dynamics • £ (@theDYNAMICS) June 23, 2017
Zach Collins AND Meyers Leonard on one team?! SUPER TEAM IS BREWING IN RIP CITY— Brandon Becker (@BrandonBecker28) June 23, 2017
Portland Trail blazers select Zach Collins because one Meyers Leonard is definitely not enough. #NBAdraft2017— Football Guy (@H1GH_SCORE) June 23, 2017
Other than the fact that both players are 7 feet tall and white, how similar are Collins and Leonard? We'll compare them as college players and draft prospects, because it's not fair to compare Leonard the NBA player to Collins, since the latter hasn't played a minute in the league yet.
Ignore Leonard's freshman season at Illinois, an underwhelming campaign in which he played sparingly -- 8.2 minutes per game -- and wasn't impressive, averaging about two points and one rebound per game.
It was during his sophomore season that Leonard became a legitimate draft prospect. He averaged 32 minutes per game, shot the ball well from the field (58 percent) and free-throw line (73 percent), all while averaging about 14 points, eight rebounds and two blocks per game. Surprisingly, considering his current NBA profile, Leonard was not a 3-point shooter in college. He attempted 12 total 3-pointers in college, missing 11.
As a freshman at Gonzaga, Collins' stats -- 10 points, six rebounds, two blocks per game -- are pretty similar to Leonard's sophomore season at Illinois, despite playing about half as many minutes.
Leonard’s per-40-minute statistics during his sophomore season at Illinois are impressive — 17 points, 10 rebounds and 2.4 blocks, with a player efficiency rating (PER) of 24.1. If Leonard's per-40 stats were impressive, Collins’ are monstrous — 23 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks with a PER of 30.9, the second-highest PER in the 2017 draft.
Collins' stats are superior, but some critics argue that his numbers are inflated because he played in the West Coast Conference, a weak league without much NBA talent.
By conference RPI, the WCC was the ninth-ranked conference in the league last season, sandwiched between the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. Leonard played in the Big Ten, and during his sophomore season, it was the top-ranked conference in the country by RPI.
Collins' team was better than Leonard's, with Gonzaga losing only one game until the national championship loss to North Carolina. Leonard's Illinois team was only 17-15, including a 6-12 mark in the Big Ten for a ninth-place finish.
Even though Collins played in a weak conference, his performance during the NCAA tournament puts to rest some of the concerns that his statistics were inflated because of the competition Gonzaga faced in conference play.
During the tournament, Collins averaged 9.0 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in 18 minutes per game, while shooting 64 percent from the field, 64 percent from the 3-point line and 67 percent from the free-throw line. His per-40 numbers in the tournament were arguably more impressive than during the regular season.
In the six tournament games, Collins averaged 19.8 points, 15.2 rebounds and 6.6 blocks per game per 40 minutes, versus 23 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks per-40 minutes during the regular season.
Collins' two biggest weaknesses, turnovers and foul trouble, continued to be issues in tournament play. Per-40 minutes, Collins averaged 7.0 fouls and 5.1 turnovers. He fouled out of two of the six tournament games, despite averaging only 18 minutes per game.
Advantage: Leonard, though Collins did perform well against elite competition during the tournament
Leonard is taller than the 7-foot Collins by an inch and has a longer wingspan (7-3 to 7-1), but Collins' standing reach is actually three inches taller than Leonard's (9-0 to 9-3).
Though Collins' wingspan is mediocre for a 7-footer, his standing reach compares favorably to some of the leading rim protectors in the NBA, including Anthony Davis (9-0), Myles Turner (9-4), Hassan Whiteside (9-5) and DeAndre Jordan (9-5).
For a player like Collins, who understands the importance of verticality at such a young age, his long standing reach will serve him well as a rim protector in the NBA.
Only three players in the NBA draft had longer standing reaches than Collins: Creighton center Justin Patton (9-3.5), Indiana center Thomas Bryant (9-4.5) and North Carolina center Tony Bradley (9-4.5).
The pre-draft scouting reports mentioned Leonard's lack of confidence multiple times, which is something Leonard has struggled with throughout his NBA career.
DraftExpress wrote that Leonard was “not the most naturally self-confident player around.” Defensively, the report noted that “a big key for (Leonard) defensively will likely [be] the mental side of things and how well he can focus and bring consistent energy on each possession and pick up on team defensive concepts.” It also said Leonard had question marks “regarding his consistency, mental toughness and overall approach to the game.”
The scouting report also noted Leonard could be “mechanical with his moves," indicated he lacked “great footwork" and said he should be "making even more of an impact" in rebounding.
Strengths attributed to Leonard were "excellent physical tools," ability to "[move] very fluidly for a player his size" and an ability to "run the floor well." It also said he possessed "solid explosiveness, vertically and laterally."
The scouting report also praised Leonard's offensive potential "as a finisher in the paint" with the "ability to knock down open mid-range jump shots." It said he had "upside as a rim-protector and help defender at the NBA level."
The pre-draft scouting report for Collins from DraftExpress says Collins "tends to lose focus easily" and "can get down on himself somewhat easily" when he'd get into foul trouble. Other reports noted that at times, Collins let foul trouble "take [his] head out of the game."
The report also noted that Collins "[passes] up good looks at times" on offense, noted "some question marks about overall physicality and toughness defensively" and said he lacks "great court vision or playmaking instincts."
That said, Collins' scouting report was much more effusive in its praise of the prospect than for Leonard. Here's a list of strengths attributed to Collins:
- “Impressive athletic ability”
- “Agility running the floor, covering ground and playing above the rim in space”
- “Versatile offensive player”
- “Consistent jump shooter"
- “Strong footwork and touch around the basket”
- “Impressive instincts and timing as a shot-blocker”
- “Covers ground seamlessly”
- “Quick twitch getting off the ground”
- “Advanced understanding of verticality”
- “Great [at] boxing out opponents”
- “Soft hands and solid instincts” as a rebounder
Though there are some similarities between Collins and Leonard, Collins is a superior draft prospect than Leonard was. Reports of Collins losing focus or getting down on himself because of foul trouble are a concern, and he will definitely need to cut down on his tendency to foul and turn the ball over. But the assertion that the Blazers drafted Leonard 2.0 when they selected Collins is not supported by the data.
Jared Cowley is a digital producer at KGW. Follow him on Twitter here.
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