After playing with two different teams in his first season, Thomas Robinson may have finally found a home with the Portland Trail Blazers. His numbers don't reveal the unabridged story, but the energy he plays with has been appreciated, and he figures to be a part of the team's future.
The Trail Blazers were down by eight points with 8:05 left in the fourth quarter and LaMarcus Aldridge missed a jumper from the top of the key. As the ball floated towards the front of the rim Robinson was trailing the shot, weaving his way through the Phoenix Suns' frontcourt. After the ball bounced off the front of the rim, Robinson swooped in, grabbing the rebound with his right hand and dunking it home over former Kansas teammate Markieff Morris.
The fans cheered as Robinson's throwdown brought them to their feet. It was an energy play the Trail Blazers sorely needed, as the team was down and shooting 38.1 percent through the first three quarters.
Wesley Matthews told the The Oregonian after the game that Robinson's play sparked not only the crowd, but the team. The Trail Blazers would come back and win the game 90-89.
“He came in, changed the complexion of the game, changed the speed and pace of the game,” said guard Wesley Matthews. “We still didn't shoot well, but the energy that he came in with, got us going, got the crowd into it.”
He finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and a block in his breakout game. This season, Robinson is averaging a team-best .141 rebounds per possession and is drawing personal fouls on .061 of his possessions, a number on par with Damian Lillard, according to NBA.com/Stats.
Robinson's efficiency numbers have improved since last season but are still poor. Robinson is a power forward making less than 48 percent of his field goals and about 50 percent of his free throws. That's not good, especially given his short amount of time on the court and propensity to get to the line. If Robinson misses his first few shots, he may not see much more time that night. Missing free throws doesn't help him convince head coach Terry Stotts to keep him in, either.
But Robinson's impact cannot be measured by his statistics alone. Plays like that putback dunk against the Suns, grabbing a contested rebound or finding the gap in the defense that allows for an easy dunk or layup is what he specializes in. The Trail Blazers have Lillard, Aldridge and Matthews to anchor its offense and Nicolas Batum to be its efficiency-line savior. Robin Lopez is the interior defender and Mo Williams is an apt sixth man. Robinson is a role player and sometimes a "Break Glass In Case of Emergency" option as he was against the Suns.
This summer, Portland general manager Neil Olshey overhauled a dismal bench by signing veterans Williams and Dorell Wright. The Blazers took advantage of the Houston Rockets' preparation to sign Dwight Howard and got Robinson for pennies on the dollar—two European prospects and two future second-round picks.
Portland pays him about $3.5 million this season and have picked up his option worth about $3.6 million for next year. His contract also has a team option for 2015-16 for roughly $4.6 million, according to basketball-reference.com. The Trail Blazers are in the driver seat in regards to Robinson. They can play him as much as they want and can opt to move him or keep him with relative flexibility.
However, I doubt Olshey's objective is to make Robinson move for a fourth time. Rather, I imagine he would rather keep the former fifth-overall pick and let him develop.
As Olshey said when the team introduced Robinson this summer, Robinson was a player the Blazers valued since the draft process.
"Thomas was the first piece. Clearly Houston had goals where they needed to clear cap room. They very reluctantly acquiesced and we were able to put together a deal with Daryl [Morey]. They accomplished their goals, we were able to get what we think is absolutely a steal in Thomas. We now basically have the fifth and sixth picks in last year's draft. We valued both he and Damian [Lillard] and we're lucky enough to have both of them.
During the same press conference, Stotts was clear as to what Robinson's role would be.
"He'll be a beast inside, he can rebound, run the floor, he's rugged. Watching him practice today, he's one of the stronger players I've been around. He adds a dimension to the team that we don't have. That's something we'll be able to utilize throughout the course of the season.
Despite being traded twice, Robinson is not a disappointment. He's been what we expected him to be coming out of Kansas. From DraftExpress.com's scouting report before the draft:
His size and strength enable him to get good position inside, and his length, athleticism, and energy allow him to go get rebounds out of his area. This is an area where he can make an impact immediately at the NBA level, giving him a skill to hang his hat on while he continues to polish some of the other facets of his game.
While Robinson's ability to affect a game with his energy and rebounding likely won't be in question by NBA scouts, his upside as an NBA player will likely depend on how he improves his skill level on the offensive end.
Robinson doesn't force jumpers. Instead, he tries to get into the paint. His shot chart shows more than 70 percent of his attempts come from the basket area.
To get his shots, Robinson will find openings in the defense and either cut to the basket or shimmy his way into a passing lane.
In this video, the Trail Blazers' play breaks down due to some sloppiness by Portland and good help defense by the Suns. Robinson, whose job it was to set a pick for Matthews, sees that the play has broken down and takes advantage of the aggressive help defense by scooting his way into a passing lane behind the Suns for an open dunk.
Robinson has a good feel for getting open. Often times, however, the defense does the work for him and is drawn to either Aldridge or Lillard.
Lillard is the one that makes the play here. That, and awful defense. Look at how all five defenders are facing him.
Robinson drives to the rim and draws the foul. Robinson is not a finesse player, but he backs one up in Aldridge. Robinson is a good change-of-pace from Aldridge, who probably would have shot the jumper here. Neither move is incorrect and both players complement each other well.
Robinson also takes advantage of opponents double-teaming "Lilldridge" when rebounding. In this clip, Channing Frye has inside position on Robinson for the potential rebound but opts to double-team Aldridge who has the ball. That leaves Robinson with position on P.J. Tucker. It is still a tough rebound, but Robinson's long arms allow him to get the board among three other Suns players.
Part of what makes Robinson an excellent rebounder is that he is looking for the board before other players. On this Lopez jumper, you can see Robinson positioning himself for the box out while every other player is looking at the ball in Lopez's hands. Robinson got the rebound and the putback.
Finally, we have the putback dunk referenced at the beginning of this piece. Before the ball even leaves Aldridge's hand, Robinson is already running towards the rim while everyone else is standing around.
Robinson's energy accounts for second-chance points and helps ignite cheers from the fans at the Moda Center. For the Trail Blazers, he is an important part of a now-respected bench. What's more is that, of those bench players, Robinson has the highest ceiling. In his second season, Robinson has found a home in Portland, and it is a good match for both parties involved.