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Sleeper Deep Dives: Daimion Collins
The freshman big man has slid down some draft boards due to minimal playing time, but Daimion Collins has the athleticism and defensive potential to be the next underrated sleeper out of Kentucky.
Daimion Collins entered his freshman season at Kentucky in a similar position to that of many talented high school prospects of the past. Collins ranked 12th in the Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI) rankings for his high school class. He was also Kentucky’s highest-ranked recruit (just edging out TyTy Washington in 14th) in his class—the 2021 class was Kentucky’s first without a Top 10 recruit since 2008 (EJ Montgomery finished tied for 10th in 2018).
In spite of his high school excellence, however, Daimion Collins has mostly been glued to the bench during his Kentucky tenure. He has started one game so far this season out of 11 for the Wildcats. His averages don’t exactly leap off the page either—Collins is averaging 4.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game in just under 12 minutes per game.
Draft consensus also appears to be souring on Daimion Collins. After ranking 20th in the first $DRFT rankings this season, he was the highest-ranked prospect to fall out of the Top 30 of the most recent edition.
The pedestrian numbers are one thing, but Daimion Collins is anything but a pedestrian basketball player. Even in limited minutes, he has showcased the eye-popping athleticism that was so intriguing at the high school level. While there is plenty of room for development on the offensive end, his defensive profile is staggering and his defensive potential ranks up there with the best big man prospects in the 2022 NBA Draft class. Collins might have fallen out of the first round on many boards, but his potential alone is worth a look at the end of the first round—even if he remains nailed to the bench for a deep Kentucky team. So…let’s dive deep!
Offense: Rim-Running, Rim-Wrecking
The offensive game of Daimion Collins is still a work in progress, even though he has done well with the limited chances that he has gotten so far on the offensive end. The opportunities for Collins have been stifled somewhat by Oscar Tshiebwe’s stellar junior season, but the freshman still has snuck in a few ridiculous highlight plays.
The place to start with the Daimion Collins evaluation is with his athleticism. Even by Kentucky’s standards (or the NBA’s standards for that matter), Collins is an absolute athletic freak. At 6’9” and 202 pounds, he is a bit skinny for a big man and he is a bit too small to be a full-time center in the NBA—at least right now. Then again, he makes up for it by being able to fly over anyone foolish enough to impede his path to the basket:
That dunk was certainly the highlight of the college season so far for Collins, but it has been far from his only vicious throwdown on the break. Collins ranks in the 77th percentile offensively overall per Synergy Sports, and he is even better in transition. He ranks in the 90th percentile as a transition scorer, averaging an incredible 1.4 points per possession. Collins is quick enough to run with guards in transition, and he is cleared for takeoff any time he gets an inch of space.
The highlight-reel dunks are one factor, but Daimion Collins is more than just a dunker on the offensive end. Athleticism can only take you so far if you aren’t willing to take advantage of it without a highlight opportunity, and Collins has shown a willingness to do the dirty work that will take him far in the NBA. He is averaging 2.6 rebounds per game, but almost half of them (1.2 per game) come on the offensive glass. Even with a rebounding savant in Tshiebwe also on the roster, Collins has vacuumed up 11.6% of available offensive rebounds when in the game—a great number for a center, and an even better mark for someone who profiles primarily as a power forward.
Daimion Collins could use some polish on the offensive end, especially when it comes to his jump shot. He has taken only three triples all season and missed all of them, but he has at least gone 7-9 from the free throw line. That sample size is way too small to make any definitive statements about his shooting at this point, but there are reasons for optimism.
Collins hasn’t gotten much of a chance to showcase his post moves at Kentucky, but he showed solid scoring instincts on the block in high school. His touch is good enough to think that he could develop at least a reliable mid-range jumper down the road. Even if he doesn't add a jumper or a more diverse post repertoire, his proficiency as a transition scorer and cutter in the half court will make him a viable offensive option who won’t get played off the floor—especially since his burgeoning offensive game is coupled with his spectacular defensive upside.
Defense: Block City
In a way, saying that Daimion Collins has spectacular defensive upside is selling him a bit short. After all, he has already shown in limited minutes that he is already a menace for opposing offenses. The top-tier athleticism that lets him soar to the rim for dunks is also on full display when he swats shots back into the faces of unsuspecting opponents.
Collins is a threat to opposing shooters from anywhere on the floor. He can clean up mistakes as a help defender, and he can deter opponents as the primary guy around the rim. Even jump shooters aren’t safe when Collins is around; he is lengthy enough and covers ground quickly enough to turn open shots into disappointments for unaware perimeter players:
The numbers bear out the eye-popping defensive highlights—Daimion Collins ranks in the 86th percentile defensively this season per Synergy Sports, allowing a minuscule 0.628 points per possession as the primary defender. The more traditional numbers sing his praises even more clearly: despite his minimal playing time, Collins ranks sixth in the SEC with 1.5 blocks per game.
In the NBA, Daimion Collins is probably going to spend most of his time as a power forward. He is too skinny to be a primary center at the moment, but his speed, rebounding, and shot-blocking prowess make him a tantalizing potential small-ball five in the future.
In the meantime, Collins is fully capable of threatening opponents as a weakside shot-blocker and versatile switching big. He is quick enough to stay with perimeter players for a few seconds in a pinch, and has the length and foot speed to recover and meet players at the rim if they get a step past his help defense. Even beyond the stunning highlight plays, Daimion Collins is a defensive force to be reckoned with, and his opponents are bound to suffer if they overlook his abilities on that end of the floor.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a talented high school prospect commits to Kentucky, joins a loaded roster, and then is forced into a smaller role because of the abundance of talent around them. We’re used to saying that about Kentucky’s guard prospects (hi, Devin Booker, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and countless others). However, that notion applies to pretty much any prospect donning a Wildcat uniform, and for big men it has often meant that they are forced into much smaller roles than they would get on any other college roster (hi, Trey Lyles and Jarred Vanderbilt).
Daimion Collins was the mostly highly touted recruit in this year’s Kentucky class. In spite of that, he has been overshadowed by a newcomer—junior transfer Oscar Tshiebwe has been grabbing rebounds at a rate that would make Dennis Rodman and Reggie Evans jealous this season.
One could argue that Tshiebwe boxing out Collins for big man minutes is a sign that Collins is not as far along as people thought he was before the season. One could also argue that a junior with a much more filled-out frame (Tshiebwe clocks in at 6’9” 260) who fills a very similar role is relegating Collins to spot minutes, but that Collins has played really well when he has gotten on the court. In the two games this season when Collins has played 20+ minutes, he cracked double figures in both games, grabbed six offensive rebounds across the two contests, and shot better than his season average (13-18 in those games combined, good for 72.2% versus his season-long mark of 62.9% from the floor).
The limited playing time for Collins will put a bit of a cap on his draft stock. Even if he manages to earn a few more minutes per game down the stretch, his playing time thus far has been limited in spite of his successes when he does get out on the court.
Daimion Collins was a highly touted prospect in high school, and his disappointing season so far has been due to circumstance rather than poor performance. The tools that made him a borderline Top 10 prospect in high school are still there, but the spotlight has shifted away from him a bit. If he continues to fly under the radar and slip below his preseason projection as a clear first-round pick, he will make some NBA team very happy later in the evening on Draft Night. That team should be thrilled if Daimion Collins falls into their lap late in the first round; he has every chance to be the next player in an almost shockingly long legacy of high school stars who became underutilized and underrated Kentucky prospects.