zJan 18, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks center DeJuan Blair (45) fights for the ball with Portland Trail Blazers power forward Thomas Robinson (41) during the second half at the American Airlines Center. The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Dallas Mavericks 127-111. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Robinson: More important than we thought?

When Thomas Robinson checks into a game, he brings an energy unparalleled by anyone else on the Trail Blazers. There’s electricity in the air, and you know something is about to happen. You don’t know what, but it’s going to be something.

Only a few players in the league bring that intensity and fire to the game night after night. For that, in his short career, T-Rob has been labeled an “energy guy.”

While bringing energy and effort into a game is a great quality for a player, calling Robinson an “energy guy” is a backhanded compliment that implies he doesn’t perform well in other aspects of the game. And, that’s simply not true.

Robinson’s main contribution has been his effort in past seasons, and that’s what stands out when watching him play, but it’s not what defines him as a player. If the Las Vegas Summer League is any indication, Robinson is the ultimate team player, willing to do the dirty work and make his teammates better. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

In the Blazers’ first three summer league games, they went 2-1 and were ranked sixth for the bracketed tournament. Unfortunately, in the third game, T-Rob suffered a torn ligament in his thumb when the game was well in hand against the Atlanta Hawks (pardon the play on words). At the time of his injury, the Blazers were destroying the Hawks in every aspect of the game. When Robinson left, he had scored eight points, dished out five assists, grabbed seven rebounds, and had five steals in 25 minutes of action.

While the injury isn’t that serious, it has been reported that Robinson’s thumb could require surgery and keep him out for the rest of the summer. It is also expected he’d make a full recovery before the start of training camp and be ready for next season.

Before his injury, Robinson was dominating the summer league, and in the third game against Atlanta, the Blazers looked as if they’d found their stride in their 15-point victory over the Hawks. Without Robinson, the Blazers were a much different team.

Two days after Robinson’s injury, Portland met Atlanta again in the first round of the tournament. Without Robinson, it was a bloodbath. Meyers Leonard was run off the court by Hawks’ rookie Adreian Payne who finished with 19 points on wide-open jumpers. In their first meeting, Robinson shut down Payne for most of game and forced him into seven turnovers.

I know what you’re thinking, “It is just summer league,” and you’d be right. It is just summer league. It is not an actual representation of what players are in the NBA, but it is all we’ve got right now. Among other things, summer league made me realize how important T-Rob is to the Blazers and how often he’s overlooked when people discuss what made the Blazers successful last season.

That success comes from a guy like T-Rob, a top-five pick, doing the dirty work, making the extra defensive rotations, getting his hands on passes, and hustling back to swat a breakaway lay-in off the glass. There’s no one else on the Blazers like Robinson, and there are few guys like him in the league who can put their ego aside to help the team every chance they get.

Robinson didn’t need to play hard in summer league. He’s already got a spot in the rotation, contrary to what people might believe. No other big man on the Blazers can guard stretch-fours or undersized power forwards, aside from LaMarcus Aldridge. We just watched Leonard and Joel Freeland struggle to defend anyone for the entire summer league, and that’s against mostly rookies and D-Leaguers. T-Rob still showed up and brought it everyday. He proved, once again, why he is so important to the Trail Blazers, even if we all forget it sometimes.

Robinson doesn’t have the best offensive game yet. He struggles to make jump shots consistently, which makes him an easy target for criticism when he misses badly. It happens from time to time. He’s also a little undersized and gets exploited in the post against bigger, savvy post players.

With all of that said, Robinson is a game-changer for the Blazers. I, for one, don’t think the Blazers would have been a top-four team in the West last season. And that’s not because I don’t think Portland could have beaten Houston without him, I know Portland wouldn’t have beaten Houston without T-Rob.

I just forget sometimes. I get caught up in the appeal of the stars, and I forget about who is making it possible for Lillard to win the game with dagger threes. Let’s all make an agreement that we’ll never take T-Rob for granted again. Who knows where the Blazers would be without him?

 

 

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