It's a common draft-day euphemism used to describe prospects who are older, more mature (both physically and mentally), and ultimately lack the upside that 18 and 19-year-olds bring to the table by virtue of being young, unformed and enigmatic.
This year, Thomas Robinson was the collegian most often described as NBA-ready, though by all accounts, he wears the label well. The 6'9", 240-pound forward out of Kansas has a solid foundation of skills from which to draw on and build upon, and has demonstrated a level of diligence that suggests he'll only improve going forward.
And as a 21-year-old "late bloomer," there should be plenty of room for Robinson to do just that.
Whether Robinson will have the opportunity to reach his ceiling with the Sacramento Kings is another story. T-Rob's arrival creates a bit of a logjam in the Kings' frontcourt, where DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson currently reside. He has the size, physique, shot-making ability and nose for the ball as a rebounder to be the next Paul Millsap.
Or he could be (for folks in Sacramento ) a Corliss Williamson clone—be it the one who shined as a starter early in his career, or the one who took to scoring off the bench as the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year later on.
Either way, the future is bright for T-Rob, a player for whom phrases like "safe pick" and "NBA-ready" are less pejorative and more complimentary.
How Robinson Fits In
At this point, it's tough to tell whether Thomas Robinson, by going fifth overall to the Kings in the 2012 draft, got a raw deal, a perfect one, or something in between.
On the one hand, he's the newest member of a wayward franchise that hasn't seen the light of the postseason for six years and might not until that run of mediocrity rounds up to a full decade at this rate.
Furthermore, Robinson is stuck behind two big men who already have a run of the Cow Palace. DeMarcus Cousins is a soon-to-be All-Star who's entrenched himself at center for the foreseeable future, and has Chuck Hayes, a savvy veteran, backing him up.
The bigger threat to Robinson's playing time and development, though, is Jason Thompson. The scrappy PF is under contract with the Kings through the 2016-17 season and boasts a skill set similar to that which T-Rob brings to the table.
Of course, coming off the bench for a terrible team has its perks. Most notably, Robinson won't have to worry about living up to expectations amidst the level of pressure that comes with competing on a contender or being a presumed franchise savior.
Not that Robinson isn't game for those conditions. There's much to be said for what Robinson accomplished at Kansas. He went from a solid-if-unspectacular reserve on a loaded Jayhawks squad one year to a national Player of the Year contender (and the central figure on a paper-thin team that went to the NCAA tournament title game) the next.
As such, if there's anyone in this draft class who understands how to bide his time and develop his skills before making the leap to bigger and better things, it's Robinson. He already has the requisite assets—a mature body, a tireless work ethic, a hustling mentality on the court, great hops and the ability to produce on the boards—to be a valuable contributor from Day 1.
Robinson's rebounding, in particular, should come in handy. He ranked second in the nation last season in rebounds per game (11.8), first in defensive rebounding (9.0) and first in rebounds per 40 minutes (14.9).
That'll play well on a team that ranked 23rd in rebound rate and 29th in defensive rebounding percentage last season, despite employing the likes of Cousins, Thompson and Chuck Hayes.
The only question is: how many minutes will he garner with those three still on the payroll? Then again, if Robinson works as diligently to prove himself in Sacramento as he did in Lawrence, Kansas, that question won't be of much concern before long.
Adjustments Robinson Must Make at Pro Level
Thomas Robinson need only be true to himself—by rebounding, defending and operating without the ball—to succeed as a rookie.
Trouble is, T-Rob has shown a weakness for, well, his weaknesses. In particular, Robinson's had a fleeting love affair with his jump shot. He has range out to three-point land but too often ends up floating out to the perimeter and settling for jumpers. Which, invariably keeps him out of the paint, where he's at his most effective on offense.
To be sure, it's admirable that Robinson would want to expand his game and refine his jump shot in such a way that makes him a threat all over the floor. But such efforts are ultimately harmful to the cause if A) they take away from his strengths, and B) those new skills yield middling results.
Both have rung true for Robinson so far. According to Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress, Robinson converted just 39.4 percent of his jumpers and 20 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts as a junior. This, despite improving his shot considerably from year to year, as his free-throw shooting numbers—39.5 percent as a freshman, 51 percent as a sophomore and 68.2 percent as a junior—would suggest.
T-Rob's shooting didn't sharpen in the Summer League, either. He shot 34.4 percent from the floor for the Kings in Las Vegas while spending far too much time floating out on the perimeter.
To be fair, Robinson wasn't exactly having a field day on the interior against pros and rookies-to-be in Sin City. He was among the best rebounders in the Summer League (9.8 boards per game), but also proved to be far too turnover-prone. His 4.6 giveaways per game often stemmed from his attempts to operate from the wing and his pre-existing problems playing against longer defenders down low.
If Robinson is to be a force in the paint, he'll need to expand upon his existing repertoire of maneuvers. He already boasts a solid face-up game and can spin and shoot a right hook over his left shoulder proficiently, but he must develop a counter-move or two to remain productive against bigger, stronger and smarter defenders in the NBA.
Having Thomas Robinson put in the sweat equity necessary to be more than just a solid role player should be the least of the Kings' worries. Robinson was nothing if not a tireless worker during his days at KU, both on and off the court. A tough kid from Washington, D.C., Robinson used basketball as a refuge from the tragedy of his family life, an outlet for his emotions, and an escape route from the hard times that might've otherwise littered his future.
If anything, the heartbreaking events of Robinson's life have fueled his competitiveness and desire to maximize his considerable potential. Robinson was a raw-but-promising prospect coming out of prep school and molded himself into a legitimate top-five draft talent over the course of his college career.
Regardless of whether or not Robinson becomes an all-around, highly-skilled threat, folks in Sacramento can always count on him to make hustle plays, sacrifice his body on defense, and compete on every play thanks to his remarkably relentless motor.
So long as that thing is still kickin', T-Rob has a shot at making Kings GM Geoff Petrie look smart for drafting him.
Thomas Robinson's rookie productivity will depend on how Kings coach Keith Smart decides to divvy up minutes between his bigs. If Robinson acquits himself well in training camp, he could wind up no worse than the designated bruiser in Sacramento's second unit.
Unfortunately for T-Rob, that bench mob is likely to include Aaron Brooks and John Salmons, two scorers who need the ball to be effective. That would leave Robinson with little more than scraps (i.e. the occasional pick-and-roll finish and putbacks) on offense.
Don't be surprised, then, if Robinson underwhelms from a statistical standpoint, with something in the neighborhood of eight points and five or six rebounds per game.
If Robinson's to shine this season, he'll have to do so in ways that aren't rewarded on the stat sheet. That is, he'll be chasing down loose balls, boxing out on the boards, running the floor, setting screens and generally doing the dirty work on a team devoid of guys who play that way.
Should Thomas Robinson start for the Kings as a rookie?
As such, Robinson's 19-to-2 Rookie of the Year odds (per bovada.lv) are a bit too generous. In essence, the bookmakers think T-Rob will have a better first year than Harrison Barnes (10-to-1) and Dion Waiters (15-to-1) and put him on par with Bradley Beal (19-to-2).
Even though Barnes, Waiters and Beal will all have excellent opportunities to start for their respective teams, while Robinson will be buried on the depth chart in Sacramento.
It won't help Robinson's case, either, that the Kings are fixin' for another dreadful season in 2012-13. Between Tyreke Evans' continued regression (and impending restricted free agency), Jimmer Fredette's potential departure and the organization still deciding whether it should stay in Sacramento or seek asylum elsewhere, the Kings are and will be a franchise in flux.
And even that's putting it mildly.
They should be among the better rebounding teams in the league and have the requisite pieces to put up points, but will this team be disciplined enough —particularly on defense —to finally take a significant step forward in its perpetual rebuilding process?
The jury's still out, and until it reconvenes, pencil in the Kings for 30 wins...at best. Thomas Robinson, be it as a starter or a gifted reserve, won't change that.
Not yet, anyway.