What started out as a soaring season to defy all odds for the San Antonio Spurs has quickly become a nose-dive back toward expectations, to little fault of the team. Since the fifth game of the season, the Spurs haven’t had a healthy roster due to illness or injury. After getting a few players back recently, namely Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell, the team took another hit.
Per the Spurs, Zach Collins has been diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture of the fibula head in his left leg. After sitting out the weekend series against the Denver Nuggets, he will continue to miss action, and the team reported no timetable for his return. Finally healthy after years of battling injuries, Collins was enjoying a career season. In nine games, he was averaging 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and a block in 17 minutes per outing. His shooting percentages were 52.5 and 38.9 from the floor and beyond the arc respectively. With the exception of the rebounds, all are career highs.
Finding a Replacement for Zach Collins In the Rotation
As the team searches for solutions to address their point guard depth, they must also do something about Collins’ absence in the front court. With no more open roster spots, head coach Gregg Popovich will have to get creative. Rotating in to spell Johnson and Jakob Poeltl as a forward or center, Collins was part of the top two scoring rotations, outscoring opponents by more than 30 points in both scenarios.
Due to the fact that Collins fit two positions at different times, his role can’t be filled by just one player as if Poeltl was out. According to Basketball Reference’s lineups index, Collins has been on the court without Poeltl or another center in six different sets for a total of 41 minutes and 41 seconds by my math. Dividing that by the nine games he played totals out to approximately just under five minutes for other centers to cover. Considering his 17 minutes of playing time per game, that breaks down to 11 minutes of his play at power forward to make up for.
Poeltl is already playing nearly 30 minutes per game, and Johnson is above 33 minutes, so it is hard to ask them to do more with Collins out. It now becomes a question of who takes his spot in the rotations.
Centers – Charles Bassey and Gorgui Dieng
With Collins sidelined while receiving a diagnosis, the Spurs already made a move toward one of their alternative options, calling up Charles Bassey from the G League Austin Spurs. Playing in Monday night’s contest against the Nuggets, he saw 16 minutes and was a major help in the paint, tying Denver’s Nikola Jokic with a game-high eight rebounds. Bassey also recorded a block and three points. Through Austin’s two games so far in the Showcase Cup, the San Antonio native has been dominant, averaging 26 points, 12.5 rebounds, and three blocks.
Bassey will surely see more time with San Antonio, but he comes with limitations due to his contract. He has already played in two of his eligible 45 games allowed to a player on a two-way contract. If Collins misses a month, that could count for 15 more games against that total before the holiday season arrives.
Gorgui Dieng will surely see more minutes at center as well, averaging just nine minutes in six games with San Antonio despite being available every night. A former first-round pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2013, Dieng brings a great veteran presence, but at 33 years old, he is much older than the rest of the roster. Through 10 games, the Spurs are second in the NBA in terms of pushing the pace. How Dieng impacts that with more minutes would be something to watch. As long as Bassey is in San Antonio, expect him to get the bulk of Collins’ playing time at center.
Power Forwards – Isaiah Roby and Jeremy Sochan
Missing Collins for 11 minutes at the four is a large allotment of time to cover in the rotation. To the desires of Spurs fans, rookie Jeremy Sochan could receive more playing time because of it. The team’s top pick out of Baylor, Sochan is averaging 22 minutes per game as a starter. He had seen a restriction of his playing time earlier this season as he was returning from an illness, but he’s seen the floor for 30 minutes in just one contest. While the staff doesn’t want to work him too hard, there is room for him to take on a bit more in Collins’ absence.
When the Spurs signed Isaiah Roby off of waivers this summer, the team acquired an intriguing talent who was released as the Oklahoma City Thunder had drafted Chet Holmgren. Roby had worked himself into a role as an occasional starter in OKC, and averaged a career-high 10 points last season, shooting 44 percent from beyond the arc. He has missed considerable time this season with illness, including flu-like symptoms. Off of the injury report, Roby has a big opportunity in front of him with Collins out and could take the bulk of Collins’ minutes. If he struggles to find the floor, the Spurs may have to look at Jordan Hall or two-way contract player Dominick Barlow as alternatives.