Blazer's Edge Mailbag: The Ins and Outs of Thomas Robinson

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

Dave fields multiple questions about Thomas Robinson, his style, and where he's headed.

Dave,

T-Rob was my favorite pick up of the summer the instant Portland signed him.  What are your impressions so far?

Fath

I'm pretty comfortable that Thomas Robinson's story hasn't changed much.  He has one bankable skill--rebounding--and a dump truck full of athleticism.  It remains to be seen whether a regular rotation NBA player will emerge.  It's too soon to say yea or nay.  But that also means it's too soon to depend on him or call for him to play more.  Much of Robinson's development this year will hinge on practice.  He needs to prove to the coaches that he's worthy of minutes, which means developing his entire game.

Robinson's strengths are clear.  We just mentioned them: rebounding and build.  His weaknesses are also evident.  You only have to see him handle the ball a couple of times before you figure out it's better not to pass to him outside of an alley-oop situation.  His offense is random.  It's like he's making it up as he goes, which seldom ends well.  His defense isn't quite as glaring but he's not good, especially considering his physical gifts.  Mostly you hope he doesn't hurt you.

I can see being tantalized by Robinson's gifts, but he has a long way to go.

P.S. Technically he was traded for, not signed.  No biggie but someone will mention it if I don't.

Hey Dave,

I agree with some of the commenters on your site that T-Rob could fit a Dennis Rodman mode.  Do you see him being that productive?

Allen

The problem with comparisons like this is that the player you're comparing to is inevitably a Hall-of-Famer for multiple reasons while the guy you're trying to compare to him has but one of those aspects.  The reason young guys don't get compared to past players more commensurate to their likely level is that only basketball aficionados can recall players commensurate to their likely level a decade or more on.  Thus you hear Robinson compared to Rodman instead of, say, Loy Vaught even if the former comparison isn't apt.

When you're talking Dennis Rodman you think All-Eternal-Universe rebounder.  Robinson is a good rebounder, but he's not at that level yet.  It's true that Robinson's per-minute rebounding numbers as a rookie equaled Rodman's, but Dennis took that strong start and added 60-90% to those numbers as his career progressed...a phenomenal increase.  Even considering rebounding in isolation, Robinson needs to earn that Rodman comparison before it's made.

Dennis Rodman was also a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, a perennial nomination for the first unit of the All-Defensive team, and he even made the All-NBA third team a couple of times.  If Robinson ever makes the third team for All-Defense or All-NBA or even gets a single vote for Defensive Player of the Year, Blazer fans should be overjoyed.  I'm not saying it's impossible.  I'm saying there's zero way and zero reason to forecast any of those things happening based on Robinson's play so far.  The gulf between where he is and where he needs to be in order for that to happen is astronomical.

Given that distance, Robinson and Rodman should not be uttered in the same sentence.  If you were going to make a comparison for Robinson to grow into, you'd probably look more towards Kenneth Faried, though even that is a stretch because Faried is a massively efficient (if not particularly creative) player on offense.  But you'd be more than satisfied with a Faried level of impact from T-Rob.

Dave,

I agree that T.R. looks sketchy on offense. But in the games I've seen, he only ever catches the ball at the top of the key. He doesn't look comfortable there, and his offense from there is not good. Why do the Blazers keep putting him in that position?  Why not get your power forward down on the block and throw it to him there? His post game may not be great, but it seems like he would have more success from that spot on the floor.

What do you think? (Aside from the fact that it's pre-season and we are sure to see some adjustments)

Will

Simple.

1.  You don't design plays for Robinson because his offense isn't anywhere near good enough to merit it.  His job right now is to be the garbage man, picking up rebounds and figuring out how to score off of them.  He's not a player you'd change your offense for.

2.  He's not any more fundamentally sound catching the ball in the post than he is facing up.  In fact it seems to me that he prefers facing up so he can see the floor.  Without technique you can't score from the post any easier than you can score from the elbow or top of the key.

3.  Portland's offense is designed for the power forward to be mobile and face up.  This takes advantage of LaMarcus Aldridge's strengths and desires.  It also compensates for Robin Lopez needing to hang around the bucket when he's not setting high screens.  In order to get Robinson in the post you'd either have to change the entire play (in effect designing a new offensive set for Robinson...see Point #1 above) or you'd have to make him the center in the existing set.  But then what do you do with the actual center?  It's not just a matter of tossing Robinson the ball in a new place.  Moving him down there will affect what everybody else does too.  Until he gets more consistent it's better to play to their strengths than to his.

That last point might change if Robinson and Meyers Leonard get on the floor together.  But I shudder to think of the defense and continuity issues that tandem would bring to the floor.  Both need more time in the oven.

There is one other possibility, covered just below...

Dave,

I'm stoked the Blazers got T-Rob this summer.  He's amazing and brings a different look to the floor.  But now that they've got him how do they use him?  What would coach Dave say?  How do you see T-Rob playing best?

Byron

That's a tough question right now.  The other night I mentioned in the comments that Robinson's best bet might be as the token big in a small-ball lineup.  If you're worrying about pressure defense instead of holding a man or an area, if you're prizing getting up and down the court, and if you just need somebody to get a rebound and outlet, then Robinson could be your guy.  You can't run small-ball for big minutes, but if the Blazers were looking to change the tempo and shock the other team a little, I could see that working.  They have the shooters to pull it off.  You might get Robinson down low in the offense more...or even better get him streaking and cutting through the lane to catch and finish.  Robinson, Wright, Batum, and a couple of guards?  Could happen.  It'd be exciting!

Dave,

Terry Stotts is claiming the bench decisions are tough?  I call ridiculousness!  Thomas Robinson is the only guy who should be getting playing time.  I can't believe Stotts would even consider [Joel] Freeland or [Victor] Claver in front of him.  Those guys don't have any ceiling like Robinson does.  I know we're deeper this year but if he doesn't get minutes I'm going to scream.

Heath

There's depth and then there's depth.  Tough decisions sometimes come because you've got multiple players with legitimate claim to minutes stacked up at the same position.  (Think 2000-01 Trail Blazers or if the Blazers had gotten Andre Iguodala at small forward along with Nicolas Batum.)  But other times decisions get tough because anyone you put in there will have flaws, making you pick your poison.  A bunch of players at the same level--even if it's not the highest level--will create the same kind of difficulty.  The Blazers have the latter kind of depth.  Of the three players you mentioned, do you send in Claver (a stretch forward with a good sense of the game but no stretch) or Freeland (a more traditional forward with a limited repertoire but more toughness) or Robinson (the athlete with a high ceiling but missing technical ability)?  That's a tough decision, one without a right answer at this point.

Backup Quarterback Syndrome is common to all sports and all groups of fans.  When you see a guy with Thomas Robinson's raw tools, temptation runs strong.  Keep in mind that backup quarterbacks are usually backups for a reason.  If Robinson impresses enough in practice, rounds out his game, starts hitting some shots and playing a little "D" he's going to see floor time.  His athletic ability and potential put him ahead in the race for reserve minutes.  If he ends up not getting that time, it doesn't mean the coach is an idiot or conspiring against him.  It means that Robinson couldn't get to the finish line ahead of the other guys even with a head start.  That should tell you everything you need to know.  If he can't honestly and clearly beat out the also-flawed guys on his team, how is he going to beat the opponent?

However if Robinson does pull his game together he's going to blow away his competitors for minutes and it won't be close.  That may or may not happen this year.  We'll see.  But if you're guessing one of the Claver-Freeland-Robinson trio is going to be relevant three years from now, guess Robinson.

We answer all kinds of questions around here, even those that aren't Thomas Robinson related!  Send 'em in to the e-mail address below.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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