The newest Sacramento King, Thomas Robinson, has had a life tougher than most of his peers. His physical toughness and determination, evident in every step he took on the basketball court last year for Kansas, was forged in a tidal wave of family tragedy that no young person should have to deal with. And yet Robinson dealt with it all, took on huge personal and family responsibilities, and now is primed as one of the best rookies in a very talented rookie class.
The Kings, meanwhile, couldn’t be happier for their own fortune. According to the Sacramento Bee’s Ailene Voisin, Robinson was ranked No. 2 on the Kings board, behind No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis. "We felt going into the draft, (Robinson) was one of the top couple talents, and even as of this morning, we were fairly sure he would not be there at (No. 5)," team basketball president Geoff Petrie said. "We had (Robinson) going (second). But the draft's the draft."
Robinson’s family tragedy has been well chronicled. In the midst of his sophomore season, he lost both his maternal grandparents and his mother in less than a month. Robinson only had his eight year old sister Jayla left, but with a strength that goes far beyond any sport, he preserved, carried on and dominated. Seventeen months after the loss of his mother, he was drafted into the NBA by the Kings and he and Jayla, who he will adopt, are heading to Sacramento.
His strength and maturity are unquestioned, but those aren’t the only traits that make him a great basketball player. How does the newest King fit in Sacramento? What can Kings fans expect out of Robinson? Let’s take a look.
Robinson’s physical gifts are astounding. While he’s just a bit shorter than a perfect NBA power forward (he stands 6’8.75” in shoes), both his muscle mass and athletic gifts made him a dangerous college player and should easily transition into the NBA.
His no step vertical was a whopping 35.5 inches – exactly the same height Blake Griffin had coming into the NBA in 2009. He was able to keep up in college with most guards, and more often than not he was one of the first players down the floor in a fast break. Said former teammate Markieff Morris, now a member of the Phoenix Suns, "He has the speed of Kobe and a body like LeBron's.”
Perhaps that is a bit much, but there isn’t denying that Robinson has a NBA ready body. Here is a nice clip from DraftExpress.com’s Walker Beeken on Robinson’s physical gifts.
Much of the intrigue with Robinson prior to this season revolved around his outstanding physical tools for an NBA power forward prospect. Listed at 6-10 this season (he measured the same in shoes at the LeBron James Skills Academy over the summer) with a 7-1 wingspan, broad shoulders, and a chiseled frame, Robinson also possesses excellent quickness and explosiveness for a player his size, which he further enhances by playing with tremendous energy.
Robinson's athleticism is one of the best fits for Sacramento. While the Kings already have big man DeMarcus Cousins in the middle, the skilled bruising scorer converts his buckets by overwhelming his opponents with size. In terms of explosive athleticism, Cousins is limited, and having a quicker leaper like Robinson along side will help negate that weakness somewhat, especially defensively.
The Kings as a whole aren’t exactly explosive, and Robinson adds a dimension that Sacramento was really missing.
The video above, by SwishScout.com, captures Robinson’s defensive efforts in some of the earlier games in his junior season. Here is an extended breakdown from SwishScout on Robinson's defense.
By NBA standards, Robinson is only an okay defender at best. While guarding the post, he shies away from bodying up on his man and will back down by giving away position… Doesn’t do a great job of challenging shots around the basket either and really isn’t an imposing shot blocker, turning away an unimpressive 0.9 shots in his junior season. Lackadaisical help defender who hardly contests, fills the lane or rotates defensively… As long as he can do a better job of bodying up in the post to let that strength and length bother and contain his man in the NBA and do better rotating on D, he should be just fine.
While it may be true that Robinson isn’t a shotblocking treat, other scouts and experts disagree completely on the assessment that Robinson is only a “ok” defender. DraftExpress.com’s Walker Beeken believes Robinson is one of the drafts better defensive players.
Defensively, Robinson has excellent potential to defend the power forward position in the NBA… He's extremely active and plays with great energy and toughness, and his three years playing for Bill Self at Kansas should serve him well as he makes the transition to learning the defensive schemes at the NBA level.
Robinson will have a learning curve in the NBA, where his athleticism will no longer be so dominant. Still, with his speed and intensity, he should make a fine NBA defender and next to the larger, slower Cousins that will do wonders for Sacramento. He's an upgrade defensively over incumbent Jason Thompson.
Sacramento doesn't need Robinson to dominate offensively. The team already has Cousins, a strong but currently inefficient scorer, and with Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans and Jimmer Fredette all needing the ball on the wing, it’s safe to say offense isn’t the Kings biggest need out of Robinson.
That isn’t to say Robinson isn’t a skilled scorer, but it isn’t a necessity right off the bat. His offensive transition may also be his most difficult challenge early on.
In the post, Robinson has a good array of post moves and footwork, but in college he often dominated with his athleticism. That won’t be as easy in the NBA as it was in college. You could see in the NCAA tournament, when he faced both Ohio State (solid interior defense) and Kentucky (Anthony Davis’ legendary post defense) he struggled offensively when he could no longer dominate on sheer explosiveness and will. He was 8-18 for 19 points against Ohio State, and 6-17 for 18 points against Kentucky.
While he’ll need to work on his post game to really thrive in the NBA, another part of his game will help that transition. His jump shot became increasingly consistent as his junior season went on, and Sacramento loves big men who can shoot.
Playing next to Cousins, however, Robinson may see his fair share of good looks as teams try to double team Cousins. If he can eventually become an above average post scorer, he and Cousins have the potential to be one of the league's scarier big men duos in the post.
Robinson was the NCAA’s best rebounder last year, leading the nation with 11.9 boards a contest, 2.9 of which were offensive rebounds. In DraftExpress.com’s adjusted 40 minute pace, Robinson would be credited with 14.6 rebounds a game, good for second in the league.
With his combination of explosiveness and determination, it’s no wonder that Robinson is a top notch rebounder. In the NBA he’ll have to deal with bigger opponents, but connected with DeMarcus Cousins (already a top rebounder with 11 boards a game last year, 4.1 of which were offensively) the two will be tough to bang the boards against.
Against Kentucky in the NCAA Championship while being hounded by Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones, Robinson grabbed 17 boards. Nowhere is his determination more visible than in his fight to snag every rebound.
As far as dedication to the sport goes, Robinson is second to none when it comes to both work ethic and on the court hustle.
Even after his family tragedy in January of 2011, Robinson was still an absolute gym rat. Said Kansas head coach Bill Self, "If I'd get in (to his office) at 9, Thomas was either finishing up or I'd hear the ball bouncing and know he was there," Self said. "I'd say maybe 60 percent of the time that happened."
ESPN.com’s Dana O'Neil perfectly captured Robinson’s worth ethic in an article published last February.
A hard worker by nature, Robinson, now fueled by the need to provide for his sister, became a workout monster. He averaged three workouts a day in the summer — alone, with the big men and then with the guards.
And on the days he wanted to roll over, to bag a conditioning drill or take a day off, he'd think of Jayla, of an NBA dream that once was all about success but now also offered the promise of security.
There weren’t any moments where you could see Robinson not give it his all. He was the first big man in the post fighting for the rebound, he was the first one up the court in a fast break. He was the one diving for the lose balls, fighting through the screens, smacking away as many passes as his 8’10” frame could reach.
You couldn’t watch a game Robinson was in last year and not see his sheer will shine through. He’s the kind of player you go to war with.
Robinson may never be a star, but don’t tell him that. He still thinks he should have been the top overall pick.
Bill Self likened Robinson to Utah’s Paul Milsap (see the above video, a great breakdown by DraftExpress.com). Another scout told SI.com’s Sam Amick that he sees better version of Nuggets rookie Kenneth Faried in Robinson. "Thomas Robinson is the same kind of guy (as Faried) — undersized, big motor, but more skilled," the executive said. "Maybe you put him in the star category."
The Kings don’t need Robinson to be a star, although it certainly wouldn’t hurt. What they need out of Robinson is exactly what he brought to the Jayhawks last season—an explosive athletic presence, tough defense, and a determined leader on the court. If Robinson can bring that to Sacramento, then he was an absolute steal at the No. 5 pick.