Thomas Robinson bandages Blazers’ old draft wounds


If you ask around for retrospective among Trail Blazers fans, you are unlikely to find anyone who doesn’t think Portland missed out on Kenneth Faried in the 2011 NBA draft. Selected 22nd overall, his career thus far has drastically outshined that of Nolan Smith, who the Trail Blazers drafted over him with the 21st pick. Just as Portland’s opportunity came and went, so too did the NBA career of Smith, who washed out of the league and currently plays ball in Istanbul.

Mar 1, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Denver Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried (35) fights for possession with Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard Wesley Matthews (2) in the second half at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Good hustle players are hard to come by. During 2011 pre-draft workouts, Trail Blazers Head Coach at the time, Nate McMillan, was quoted saying, “[Faried] ties his shoes hard. Everything he does is hard. He’s certainly a guy that’s on our radar screen.” Though years later we are left to lament the past, perhaps energy is better spent appreciating the present. Last year’s addition, Thomas Robinson, is well on his way to filling the void.

Much like Faried, Robinson is predominantly an energy guy. He is called upon to do the same things that Faried is, but in a more limited capacity. He fills lanes, crashes boards, blocks shots in transition, and looks for second chance opportunities at the rim; generally without a play called for him. Robinson’s growth has been much slower than Faried’s, but I suspect that has something to do with landing behind all-pro power forward, LaMarcus Aldridge, instead of starting. In a universe where Portland drafted differently in 2011, Faried would be facing the same problem.

Robinson also entered the league one year younger than Faried. Some growing pains should be expected, but he has more room for improvement at this stage of his career. This is why a statistical comparison is so encouraging. Robinson averaged 14.0 points and 12.7 rebounds per 36 minutes of play during his second season, where Faried averaged a highly comparable 14.8 and 11.3 per 36 in his second season. It stands to reason that Robinson could be similarly effective when inserted into a starting lineup (though I would not advocate this in Portland’s current setup).

In that sense, it is not so much important that Robinson has Faried-like potential, but that he uses his talents well behind Aldridge just as Faried was intended to back when pre-draft agreements were thought to hold weight. Yet, since potential is a reasonable indicator of future expectations, let’s explore it a bit. It is fun to think about a player on the Portland bench measuring up to one that just finished a stellar campaign for Team USA in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, but I think he can do more than measure— with time and proper circumstance.

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Robinson was projected to be dominant out of college, hoping to be taken number one overall in the 2012 NBA Draft over Anthony Davis. Faried was not favored so highly in 2011 because a) 2011 was a deeper draft, and b) he possesses fewer offensive tools. Production-wise, Robinson’s offensive “advantage” has yet to show real evidence because he has struggled with the mental side of the game. This is unlikely to be a permanent issue, as we saw far less hesitation from him toward the end of the last season.

Once Robinson builds a move or two into his back-to-the-basket game, aside from the less than controlled spin cycle, he could be more lethal at the rim than he already is. He may or may not ever boast Faried’s efficiency (69.1 percent at rim), but I would not necessarily expect him to, given Faried’s propensity for slashing. That is where we see the biggest divide in their offensive offerings. They both hustle on both ends, but they score in different ways. Robinson shows more promise as a mid-range shooter with a strong post game (the aforementioned offensive tools that have more room for building at higher levels of play).

Nov 22, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics small forward Gerald Wallace (45) blocks the shot of Indiana Pacers center Ian Mahinmi (back) during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Although I look forward to this development, I think Aldridge’s presence will cap his ceiling. We may have to wait for Robinson’s career to take him elsewhere before he becomes the player he is supposed to be. Parallels can be drawn to a young Gerald Wallace, who spent his first few years buried on the Sacramento Kings’ bench behind Peja Stojakovic before his hustle made him a star in Charlotte. That’s the beauty of hustle players; in few situations are they a detriment, but in the right ones they are invaluable.

While Robinson may not be a star in Portland, he is becoming exactly what the Trail Blazers need him to be: a rich man’s poor man’s Faried. The Trail Blazers were incredibly fortunate to find a player with a similar skillset just two years after passing on the one that got away. I have the utmost respect for both players, so I am pleased that it worked out this way. Faried was neglected onto a more successful path, and Robinson was given the guidance a young player searching for confidence needs. The mistakes of the past have led to a brighter future for all involved.

(Except maybe Smith)

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