This is Thomas Robinson’s first real offseason as a professional basketball player. A Houston Rocket for the majority of last summer, his availability on the trade block was made known in early June, so he wasn’t exactly practicing with the team or trying to work into a particular system. On July 10th, he was officially traded to the Portland Trail Blazers and began the moving process. On July 12th, Las Vegas Summer League began. Let that sink in. He was haphazardly thrown into the Trail Blazers’ offseason mix halfway through what was supposed to be his developmental grind between rookie and sophomore seasons.
It is now May of 2014. Robinson is still just 23 years old and one of the league’s most impressive physical freaks. He has a full five months to train with a fully dedicated team. I haven’t been this excited for the potential development of a solitary bench player since the pre-injury days of Elliot Williams. Robinson is already better than he was last year and is far more comfortable in Portland than he was anywhere else. I whole-heartedly believe that he is the Trail Blazer that will make the biggest leap between now and the start of next season, even if only in limited minutes behind LaMarcus Aldridge.
Though his jump shot still has a ways to go, his ability to finish at the rim is starting to look as dominant as it did in college (there is a reason he was highly sought after in 2012). His overall field goal percentage has climbed from 44.9 percent to 48.1 percent since his rookie year, due in large part to the spike in his efficiency at the rim (53.6 percent to 62.6 percent). While this is partially because of his tendency to dunk whenever possible, there are two other major factors at play that have made a world of difference:
- 1. A large component of the Trail Blazers’ system is built around converting on offensive rebounds. Robinson’s main focus on the court is gradually shrinking toward the paint, where he excels at scrapping for position (though his 18-footer has seen some minor improvement under Aldridge’s tutelage).
- 2. His timing is coming along nicely. Sometimes the best thing a post player can do when adjusting to NBA basketball is slow down. Robinson is gradually developing the patience to attack when he has his opponent off-balance or out of position instead of the moment his shot could be considered available.
Robinson’s improved timing has helped him do more than just score. He has become a sneakily respectable interior passer – a commodity in short supply. He is not at the level of Joakim Noah yet, but he is bordering a poor man’s Greg Monroe in this department. It seems odd to say that a player who’s inner voice screams “HULK SMASH!” when making an offensive play has a rounded offensive game, but it is certainly in development. Robinson has good hands and a good mind.
“I think I turned a corner on making better basketball plays this year. I did a lot better instead of just thinking that I have to score to stay on the floor. Once I got that out of my head I think I did better. Now it’s just about coming back and making it consistent so that you know before I play a game, if an analyst is talking, he knows that if I catch the ball in the middle I could see the corner passes or see that my shot’s there or I see my other big in the short corner. You know, just being able to have those plays become natural for me.”
Of course, Robinson could really shine on the defensive end as well. If you had time to scrutinize that video earlier, you may have noticed Robinson absolutely lock down Kevin Love, the league’s best scorer at the power forward position (no, I do not count the Melo/LeBron small-ball hybrid circus). An athletic 6’9”/240, Robinson has the physical tools to be a premiere defender in the NBA. He knows it and would like to up the ante and bring even more to the table in 2014-2015:
“What I bring this year is the energy and being a rebounder and defender, which I would like to expand on. You know, making it known that I am a defender in this league, and then I can add scoring in times when I have to or in the flow of the game.”
He must put in some long hours with Trail Blazers assistant coach David Vanterpool in order to capitalize on his talents, but I have no doubt that he will. Now that he has recognized his optimal role with the team and knows what he wants to be as a player, he is a perfect storm waiting to make some noise. He has the right body, the right mindset, the right skills, and the right support system to make 2014-2015 a milestone season. The next five months will be the most important of his young career.
Robinson’s full exit interview can be found here, on nba.com.