Here we are with what will be the fourth installment of the Blazers’ season in review. I have taken a look at the rookies, Meyers Leonard‘s season and now this week we go deep into the workings of my favorite Trail Blazer — Thomas Robinson.
The Portland Trail Blazers have two players on their roster that you fall in love with instantly after watching them play this game — Robinson and Will Barton. These guys bring so much ferocity and vigor to the team and the arena during home games that you always find yourself wanting more, and unfortunately neither seem to be able to crack Terry Stotts’ rotation at this time.
Robinson just finished his sophomore season in the NBA and the Blazers are already his third team! He went from the fifth overall pick to being traded to the Houston Rockets last season and then they moved him to Portland this past offseason to create cap space to sign Dwight Howard — huge steal for the Blazers potentially. Thomas adds another young, athletic body to the bench and I know I’m sounding like a broken record here but unless Stotts plays him (and some of the others) they are of less worth than their potential shows.
Robinson’s numbers aren’t going to blow you away, but the opportunity as far as minutes go just was not there for him. Keep in mind he’s playing behind one of the best power forwards in the league in LaMarcus Aldridge, and he’s playing for a coach who plays all of the starters 30-plus minutes every single night (even in blowouts), a la Tom Thibodeau.
Keep in mind that 2012-13 was split between Sacramento and Houston but he still received more total minutes that he did with his first entire season with Portland. Even given less minutes Robinson managed an increase his efficiency, raising his field goal percentage by 5 percent, which allowed him score the same amount of points and his other numbers did not drop either. So, his overall production stayed the same with fewer minutes showing us that Robinson was able to streamline his play and maximize the minutes he was able to get on the court.
His major strengths are certainly his rebounding prowess (though he only managed one double-double on the season), his nose for the ball, his intensity on both ends of the court and his sheer unbridled love for the game. He brings an edge to the Blazers that frankly they sorely needed this season. Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez are all pretty quiet out on the court and they stay reserved for the most part, so Robinson, along with Wesley Matthews, were the ones that riled up the fans and got the team going when they were really in a rut.
Take Robinson’s best game of the season as a perfect example. On Feb. 23, the Blazers beat the Timberwolves 108-97 and in Aldridge’s absence (injury) Robinson played 33 minutes off the bench and notched 14 points, 18 rebounds (seven offensive!) and ignited one of the best defense to offense sequences I’ve seen in a long, long time. There were some amazing moments this season — most of them involving Damien Lillard in some way, shape or form but this was my favorite sequence of the season for Portland.
That unabashed energy is what Robinson brings. He’s not going to be a 15/10 guy who you can throw it to on the block when you need a basket in crunch time (at least not at this point in his career), but he is going to bring a non-stop motor and get his teammates riled up and ready to go. Sometimes those intangibles are tough to quantify but when you watch him play its apparent that he’s got that thing, that unexplainable thing that makes you want to see him play more and more.
Having gushed over Robinson for most of this article even I can admit there are many things that Robinson has to improve upon as well. The area I would really love to see him become more adept in is shooting the mid-range shot. He has one of the best role models in the league sitting next to him every night in LMA, so he needs to work with him and improve that jump shot so that he can be a real threat when he’s on the court.
There were many times this season where Robinson would catch the ball 15 feet from the basket and his man would simply dare him to shoot it. That might sound ideal because you get a wide open jump shot but the numbers show us that even those didn’t go very well for Robinson this season. Robinson took 293 total shots this season and 202 of those (69 percent) were from eight feet or closer — on those shots he was very good at 55.9 percent from the floor. So outside of eight feet he took 91 shots and only made 28 of them on the year — which comes out to 30.8 percent; not very effective.
Until that glaring weakness is fixed, or at least improved, teams will continue to play off of him when he catches it out there and that clogs up the lane for everyone else and ruins spacing for the Blazers’ offensive sets. Robinson is only 23 years old and has time to develop so I don’t think he’s a lost cause by any means, but he needs to get working so he can crack this rotation sooner rather than later. He will have a good chance to get some live-game work in this offseason as Robinson (along with C.J. McCollum, Barton, Leonard, Allen Crabbe and Joel Freeland) have all been announced as being part of the Las Vegas Summer League roster for the Blazers.
Next season will be only his third in the NBA, and the first time that he’s started the season with the same team as the prior year, so that will play a small role in his confidence as well. Robinson’s future is bright if he puts in the necessary work to improve and I’m really hoping he does.
**Disclaimer — I watched the YouTube clip in this article at least 20 times before posting this — so amazing!