Thomas Robinson has not played since December 18th, when the Trail Blazers lost to the Timberwolves on the road. Coincidentally, Portland’s interior defense has slipped from sub-standard to egregious of late. Last night, the Trail Blazers conceded an unacceptable 62 points in the paint (13.4 points more than their already atrocious 48.6 season average) to the New Orleans Pelicans. They lost the game by just two points.
Head coach Terry Stotts stuck with Meyers Leonard for his offensive capabilities, but Leonard went scoreless in five minutes of play. In fact, Leonard’s only contributions to the game were a missed field goal, a turnover, and a personal foul. Both he and Robinson need court time to develop, but the onus is on Stotts to know when to play which without impeding the team’s success.
It’s not as if the warning signs weren’t there. Terry Stotts is a man of statistics, so I’m sure he knows that the Trail Blazers have allowed 58 points in the paint per game since officially replacing Robinson with Leonard (including 56 against the Pelicans the first time they met). Each of the four games were won or lost by the slimmest of margins:
- December 21st – The Trail Blazers beat the Pelicans 110-107 after trailing 103-105 with 1:30 remaining in the fourth quarter.
- December 26th – The Trail Blazers beat the Clippers 116-112 after a miracle 3-pointer from Nicolas Batum forced overtime.
- December 28th – The Trail Blazers lost to the Heat 107-108 after Chris Bosh drilled a 26-footer to beat the buzzer.
- December 30th – The Trail Blazers lost to the Pelicans 108-110 after Tyreke Evans sunk a fade-away with 1.2 seconds remaining.
Now, Thomas Robinson is by no means a defensive stalwart, but he’s a reasonable upgrade from Meyers Leonard. There’s only so much a 7’1” “presence” can do without any real defensive skills. Despite Robinson’s tendency to occasionally appear lost on defense, I don’t believe he would concede more baskets than Leonard. If he is able to affect just one or two shots in limited minutes, our last several nail-biters are whole different ball games.
Terry Stotts likes to play Meyers Leonard because he spaces the floor. His unique size and range theoretically open up the lane just enough for potential drives to the basket from other players, whereas Robinson’s hammer method shrinks the court. I am unconvinced that this is the right tradeoff for every situation. Sometimes a little more defense outweighs the benefits of experimental offense.
Thomas Robinson isn’t even a step back offensively either. He averages more than double Leonard’s points per game, but, much more importantly, 6.2 more points per 36 minutes of play. Meaning that if Robinson and Leonard were to play the same number of minutes, hypothetically Robinson would score 16.7 points to Leonard’s 10.5. It’s time to bring Thomas Robinson back—at least some of the time.
Terry Stotts has received a lot of criticism this year for the rigidity of his rotation. I appreciate that he’s warmed to experimenting, but there is a time and place for it. He has the incredibly difficult task of finding developmental minutes for one of the youngest and deepest teams in the NBA, and I have no desire to see Meyers Leonard fade away just as he’s beginning to grow. I suggest that adjustments are made when it makes sense to make them.