Oct 18, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers power forward Antawn Jamison (33) guards Portland Trail Blazers power forward Thomas Robinson (41) in the second half of the game at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Robinson Continues to Climb

If you watched ABC’s hit television series Lost you may remember a conversation in which John Locke, portrayed by Terry O’Quinn, told of Michelangelo working with his eyes; day after day, staring at a block of marble, planning the statue of David. Thomas Robinson is the Blazers’ block of marble and Terry Stotts has been staring all preseason.

It doesn’t bother me that Robinson is a project in his own right, because I can see the masterpiece he is meant to become. His physical tools are unparalleled by any Blazer and he has an admirable motor. A little footwork practice here, a little court awareness there, and the regular season will sculpt him into a future starter (and leader).

In last night’s preseason victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, Robinson showcased his existing skillset and marked improvement in areas of weakness. He played 25 minutes in the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge (knee), dominating the boards and boxing out like a veteran big man. It was the most comfortable I have seen him in the paint thus far.

He reminds me of Kenneth Faried, in the sense that there is rarely a play called for him. His job is to be physical and aggressive and he does it well. It’s a good thing too, because the Blazers have a reputation for being soft at the rim. His most notable exhibition was boxing out both Darren Collison and Blake Griffin for a putback slam off of a Joel Freeland miss.

Clippers announcer Mike Smith’s backhanded compliment aside, it was a truly savvy play. It was as smart as it was explosive and it caught everyone off guard. That is Robinson’s principle advantage; the ability to change the course of a possession in an instant with superior athleticism. The more time he spends on the court, the more astute we will watch him become.

People (people are the worst) like to toss around the notion that Robinson is a problem. He landed on his third team before his second season—there must be something wrong with him. I understand the concern, but it’s simply not the case. Like Derrick Williams in Minnesota, he was drafted by the wrong team, but escaped through a series of fortuitous events.

If I may digress for a moment, Sacramento had the same problem with forwards last year that Portland has with guards this year. There were simply too many to integrate all of them. Fast forward to February and Houston has Robinson ride the bench while they set their sights on the playoffs. He was a necessary sacrifice to sign Dwight in the Summer and he fell into Portland’s lap.

Robinson underwhelmed in two systems that were designed for him to fail. Despite the roadblocks, he was able to piece together a hidden efficiency. It may (or may not) surprise you to know that Thomas Robinson averaged a double-double per 36 minutes with both of his former teams. As Portland’s strongest rebounder, we may see those numbers jump into his “per game” metric.

So I have been admittedly giddy watching Robinson in red and black. His summer league and preseason performances have been wrought with fixable problems and unteachable talents. Last night I saw a defensively attentive, offensively active, and undeniably growing Robinson take the floor. It won’t be long before he towers over it like a timeless work of art.

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