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Are Brooklyn Nets the Last NBA Chance for Thomas Robinson?

Fred Katz@@FredKatzFeatured ColumnistJuly 24, 2015

Thomas Robinson smiles during a news conference Thursday, July 9, 2015,  at the Barclays Center in New York. Robinson signed a contract with Brooklyn Nets NBA basketball team. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Craig Ruttle/Associated Press

When the Brooklyn Nets signed Thomas Robinson, it wasn't the first time they had expressed interest in him. Actually, they thought they were going to get him midseason. If only Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie hadn't blocked him.

When the Portland Trail Blazers dealt Robinson to the Denver Nuggets as part of the trade that brought Arron Afflalo farther west, the Nugs elected not to hold onto the third-year power forward and, instead, waived him. He and the Nets, who weren't eligible to claim him, came to a quick agreement. He would go to Brooklyn if he cleared waivers.

But then those sneaky Sixers swooped in like a stat-padding Ricky Davis rebound and and snatched him from Brooklyn when the Nets least expected. Teams are hardly going to wage a guerrilla war for a player of Robinson's caliber, but the Nets genuinely believed he could help, especially given the way Reggie Evans had contributed to a playoff-qualifying Brooklyn squad just a couple of years earlier.

Robinson isn't Evans. He's different in most ways. But that's kind of the point of his failures. He's not Reggie, but maybe he should be.

Athletically, those guys aren't similar. 

Robinson could jump over Evans and his entire family.

Evans, conversely, could jump over Robinson's shoelace. Not shoelaces. Just the one shoelace. But Evans' style is something Robinson might want to mimic.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

At this point, it's time to forget about Robinson's draft position. He wasn't just a good player in college; he was a great one, one of the best performers in recent Kansas history. But there comes a time when draft position no longer means anything. We know what we know. And there's enough evidence at this point to imply that Robinson wasn't a deserving fifth-overall selection.

Now, that's fine. It's not like the Nets got him with fifth-overall-pick money. They're paying him the minimum. He's just another player, another possible contributor—especially on the boards. And if he can eliminate some of his flaws, he could find ways to make positive contributions to a team that finished 23rd in total rebound rate this past season.

Robinson and the elite 18.7 percent of available rebounds he's corralled over his career can certainly help with that. His issues come in the less physical parts of the game.

He has always had a reputation of struggling to remember plays. But coach Lionel Hollins' offense is one of the league's more rudimentary ones. Even he says it—he's done it more than once. There isn't much for Robinson to remember, especially inside a gunning second unit, other than to set timely screens and clean up offensive boards.

That leads us to Robinson's main problem in the past, bringing us back to that Evans point: He doesn't always stay within his supposed role.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22:  Thomas Robinson #41 of the Philadelphia 76ers handles the ball against Ed Davis #21 of the Los Angeles Lakers on March 22, 2015 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

He'll get the ball in the pinch or low post and will put his head down to drive at the rim. But he doesn't command double-teams. He's not a passer. He's not a creator. He's not dynamic off the dribble. He doesn't have range beyond six or seven feet.

He's not a threat, and defenses acknowledge that. So, they let him drunkenly steamroll toward the iron. The results often speak for themselves.

Robinson can be most effective, though, if he just cuts all the complications from his game.

Concentrate on grabbing boards on both ends. Get points on offense by setting hard screens (which he's not always prone to do, even if he is an overall physical player) and rolling to the rim or by putting back teammates' misses. On the other end, create a defensive presence by pure, brute force. That's actually the way he guarded back when he was a Jayhawk, even if he didn't/doesn't always rotate to the right spots or help promptly when guards or wings would/do get into the paint.

As much as we concentrate on the help and recognition part of defense with big men, it's not the only aspect of their job, even if it is their most important. Robinson can still lay a body on cutters trying to swerve through the lane. He can make bigs attempting to seal him on the block uncomfortable. With that frame, there are plenty of visceral actions you're afforded that others just can't do.

For Robinson, it's not about improving in the areas of the game he struggles in anymore. It's just about concentrating on the ones that are already positives. Hollins, who has rightfully earned a reputation of developing big men over his decades of coaching, could be the right man for his future development. We are, after all, talking about a kid who's still only 24 years old. And if Robinson develops merely into a 20-minutes-a-night player who can clean up the boards and be a bully in the paint, the Nets may have got themselves a steal on a minimum deal.

Follow Fred Katz on Twitter at @FredKatz.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless noted otherwise.

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