When you're drafted within the first five picks of the NBA draft it signifies that you're a talented player—potentially even a franchise-changing player. Those guys don't come along too often, and when an organization gets one, it needs to maximize that potential. That's what the Sacramento Kings have in Thomas Robinson, and that's why they need to do everything in their power to make Robinson's rookie campaign a successful one, both for the current season and for the future of the franchise.
It's clear by looking at the Kings that they're way more equipped to compete than they've been in recent years. They have a formidable starting five and they actually have a bench with quality players. Despite that, they still need to find a way to incorporate Robinson and get him playing time.
The thing about rookies, in general, is that they're largely unknown commodities. Despite what you've seen in college, regardless of where they were drafted, they've yet to play in the NBA, so how they will react to the uptick in speed and competition is a question mark.
There are a few things, however, that help rookies successfully make the transition. First, they need to have the physical tools to handle playing in the NBA. Robinson clearly has those. He's got the requisite size (6'10", 237 lbs), strength and athleticism to bang in the paint. He's also beginning to add an offensive repertoire to his game. Those tools are tangible and they're largely responsible for getting a player like Robinson selected at the top of the draft.
But, along with having the tools to effectively transition to the NBA, successful players also need to have incredible work ethic. In high school—and, to a lesser extent, college basketball—you can get by with God-given talent and physical attributes. When you get to the NBA, everybody is talented; everybody is big. You need to have the drive to cultivate those things. Robinson's also got that going for him.
He's got the talent, size and drive to succeed in the NBA. Now all he needs is the playing time to acclimate to the next level.
There are a couple of different ways to make this happen. One option, and the most likely scenario, is to have Robinson split time with Jason Thompson at power forward. Although head coach Keith Smart hasn't yet announced his starting lineup for the regular season, it's safe to assume that Jason Thompson will get the initial nod at power forward.
Thompson's earned at least that much with his play last season. He's also a better player than Robinson at this stage of the game. That's to be expected—Thompson has four years of NBA experience; Robinson has zero.
But Robinson has way more upside than Thompson. He's more explosive, he's an excellent rebounder, he's continuously adding to his game and he's five years younger than JT.
With the organization being in a position where it has to keep an eye on the future, making sure Robinson gets steady minutes behind Thompson is a good place to start. And after all, as solid as Thompson is, he's only that...solid. Robinson has the potential to be spectacular. There's no excuse for him not to get at least 15-20 minutes a night at power forward.
The Kings also need to find ways to work Robinson in at different positions: mostly small forward and center. Granted, they're not his natural positions and playing them won't be a long-term thing, but it will help him develop his game if he plays at different spots, even if it's only for a few minutes per game.
It's similar to what Keith Smart did last season with Tyreke Evans by working him in at the 3. Sure, small forward may not be Tyreke's ideal spot or where he's accustomed to playing, but working without the ball on offense, getting the ball at different areas on the court and learning how to facilitate your game from a different position will only help you.
By giving Robinson some work at small forward he can work on extending his game to the wing, he'll see the court from a different vantage point and he'll have to utilize his quickness and athleticism more than he might at power forward. Not to mention, it would give him more minutes on the court.
The same can be said of playing center. He's already shown that he can rebound the basketball. By going against centers that will be generally bigger than him, Robinson can work on boxing out and learning how to time his positioning to successfully rebound against larger players.
It would also force him to develop his back-to-the-basket post game. He showed a bit of that with half-hooks and turn-around jumpers at Kansas, but players with an effective post game are a dying breed in today's game. If Robinson can add that to his game, it would give him an upper hand against most of his competition.
How should the Kings handle Robinson's minutes this season?
Robinson may be initially over-matched by the quickness of small forwards and the size and strength of centers, but playing the two additional positions will give him the much-needed minutes to develop his game.
Plus, as he acclimates to those spots, he'll gain skills and knowledge that he can utilize when he's back playing at power forward. Not only will he be able to out-rebound power forwards with size and effort, he'll also have a better understanding of boxing out from his time playing center.
Not only will he be able to use normal repertoire on offense, he'll also have an extended game from his time at the 3, as well a more confident post game from his time at center.
By playing him in short spurts at the 3 and the 5, the Kings would give him important developmental minutes and would also prevent him from getting exposed in longer stints. Then, by the end of the season, he'll have accrued valuable playing time and a greater understanding of the NBA game.
It's absolutely imperative that the Kings and Robinson maximize this year. He'll be better for it because he'll be more prepared for the demands of playing in the NBA. The Kings will be better for it because they'll have another franchise cornerstone who's ready to help carry the franchise into the future.
There's no time like the present, especially when it'll help bolster your future. That's the stance the franchise needs to take. And if it does, there's no reason why the Kings can't get back to playing winning basketball with Robinson to help guide the ship.