Why Robin Lopez is a Temporary Fix


April 3, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; New Orleans Hornets center Robin Lopez (15) looks on during the third quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Hornets 98-88. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the deal has sunk in, let’s get one thing straight before I pull back my journalist sleeves and dig through the grimy negatives that accompany Robin Lopez; in the short term, snagging Ro-Lo is a good move for the Blazers. The Blazers needed a big man, the Blazers got a big man, but for his value in this case, the ‘what’ is less important than the ‘how’. Lopez only cost $5 million/year to add to the Blazer roster, and was opportunistically acquired for very little; the 39th pick (Jeff Withey), cash, and future draft considerations.

For a five year vet coming off of what could be considered a mini-breakout season (not failing as a first-time starter), a 2nd rounder, money, and a vague promise is minimal compensation in return for his support. The main reason this move works for Portland is that they sacrificed 0 active players to acquire more depth (similarly to the Robinson trade last Sunday).

While I’d like to say the story ends with Lopez coming in and solving Portland’s problems, let’s set the blue pill aside for now and focus on the red. Lopez is a below average defender. After all the hype, all the buzz, all the agonizing speculation about Portland’s interior defense cure-all to-be, they came away with a failed deus ex machina. As good as he is at his game, it’s non-essential to the Blazers’ recuperation as a successful franchise.

Dare I say Portland possesses no centers that can rebound the ball at a high level? Unless Meyers Leonard becomes a new player in one summer or J.J. Hickson decides he likes Portland pennies better that market millions, the Blazers have no 5’s that can reel in double digit rebounds (despite two seven footers). This has to be a major concern, since Portland finished last season at 24th in total rebounds league-wide.

Lopez isn’t much for defense either. While he does a passable job down low, he gets absolutely abused in the pick and roll. Even stopping spot up shooters is a struggle for him. These problems stem from the same juvenile microbe that plagues Meyers Leonard; poor footwork. They both need some rapid development if Portland expects either to be true a rim protector.

Now that I’ve deflated your excitement (or perhaps just renewed your uneasiness), Lopez is not at all a horrible player. He scores almost exclusively in the restricted area and boasted an impressively efficient 53.4 FG% last season (69.1% at rim). He is also a terrific free throw shooter for a center (just like Leonard) and is capable of playing heavy minutes if needed. If nothing else, he’s a massive individual that can body the leagues larger centers.

Lopez is a temporary fix, and while we were hoping for more, I don’t think anyone expects him to exceed this assumption. If the Blazers are smart (they are) they’ll bring him off the bench and dedicate the lion’s share of the minutes to Meyers Leonard’s development, as he has more long term potential. There has been a disturbing lack of faith in the former rookie among fans after just one season, and the Blazers would be wise to give him more time before prematurely declaring a bust. Lillard has spoiled us all.

Overall, Lopez is a good pickup, but his skill set is not tailored to the Blazers’ needs. He is set to patch a wound I don’t think he can cover. The Blazers have more than a skinned knee, so this bandage won’t be able to stop the bleeding without help. One has to wonder if Lopez is capable of making the necessary improvements.

[1] – Lopez averaged 11.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in 26 minutes per game last season

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