The Portland Effect: Part Three – Thomas Robinson

“All I have is my sister, all I have is Jayla.”

Those were the words Thomas Robinson managed to mutter to Bill Self, his coach at Kansas, on the night he found out about his mother’s death.

In the short span of a month, Thomas had to endure the pain of losing his grandmother, grandfather and mother. Robinson grew up with his 8-year old sister, Jayla,  under the care of his single-parent mother. Shortly after the news of the death, Thomas was fighting for the custody of his “self-confessed best-friend”, his sister Jayla.

“I want Jayla with me. I want full responsibility for everything. And I was in a position that if I took care of business with basketball, everything I wanted for her could become possible.” – Thomas Robinson, Never Blink

In his time of despair and sorrow due to his mother’s death at the tender age of 43, Robinson found someone he could turn to, someone that he could talk to whenever he found himself at the bottom. That person’s name was Angel, the mother of both Robinson’s Kansas teammates and current Phoenix Suns players Marcus and Markieff Morris.

Angel acted as a mother-type figure towards both Thomas and Jayla, being there whenever she could to support both Tom and Jayla through their time of difficulty. Angel stayed true to a promise she kept with Robinson’s mum, Lisa. Angel promised that she would make sure Thomas would always be safe at College, and would do whatever is humanly possible to protect him from such events occurring in his life. Angel never left Robinson’s side throughout the ordeal. This led to the closest of friendships; not just between Robinson and Angel, but between Robinson and the Morris twins as well.

Thomas’s life was filled with hardship. He was never the most privileged kid growing up, and went through circumstances that I would never be able to go through and still stay mentally stable. He used the obstacles he faced and the passing of his two grandparents as a motivation, a motivation to succeed. Thomas made this clear with one season at Kansas, where he went from being their 6th man to becoming the best player on the court and arguably the best player in the country.

photo credit: reidspice via photopin cc

photo credit: reidspice via photopin cc

“The ability to be needed by an NBA team.”

That was what Thomas always wanted as a player. Thomas was drafted with the 5th pick by Sacramento in the 2012 NBA draft, one spot ahead of the recent Rookie of the Year and current teammate Damian Lillard. Thomas was never given an opportunity to thrive in the toxic environment of Sacramento. Robinson was later traded to Houston in a deal that involved former Kansas teammate and close friend, Cole Aldrich, heading towards Sacramento.

Robinson never really got off the ground in Houston either. Robinson was a gamble taken by Houston that didn’t work out. Robinson only got onto the court 19 times for Houston shortly after the deadline-day trade, averaging 13 minutes, scoring 4.5 points and pulling down 4.1 rebounds a game.


On to Oregon

The summer of Dwight then started, and with Houston needing to open cap space for the big man, Robinson was seen as a possible trade asset. A deal for a first-round pick was talked about shortly before the draft, but nothing eventuated out of it. Robinson was shipped to Portland on the 30th of June for two second-round picks as well as two international prospects, in a desperate attempt to open cap space.

“Thomas is a dynamic young big man with tremendous upside. He is an elite athlete and brings a unique set of physical tools to our roster. He has the potential to be one of the best young power forwards in the league and his development will be a priority for us.” – Portland GM Neil Olshey on Thomas Robinson, Trail Blazers acquire Thomas Robinson from Houston

To be able to add someone with the ability and potential of Robinson who was the 5th pick in the 2012 NBA draft for just two 2nd-round picks and two international guys holds immense value for the Blazers. Thomas is another key addition to what was a woeful bench that Portland possessed last season (the highest scorer was Myers Leonard with 5.5ppg). The addition of Robinson allows the Blazers to have a talented big man capable of performing  back-up duties of supporting Portland’s sole all-star LaMarcus Aldridge. Under the tutelage of Aldridge –arguably the best power forward in the game– Robinson will undoubtedly develop immensely.

“I think I still have a lot more upside to my game. I don’t think I’ve even come close to a finished product. To him saying that, it’s a great feeling to be wanted. I’ve been in this league a year, been tossed around, that can mess with confidence and mess with everything. To hear somebody actually tell me they want me on their team, that’s a great feeling.” – Thomas Robinson on being traded to the Blazers, Transcript: Blazers Introduce Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson, Earl Watson & Dorell Wright


Potential and possibilities

What does Robinson bring to the court as a player though? What made him a potential number 1 pick in the 2012 draft? How will he improve Portland’s stature in the West? Will he lead them to that all-elusive playoff spot?

Tenacious on the boards, back in his junior year which was his standout season in college, Robinson pulled down 11.9 rebounds a game (14.1 per 40 minutes played). In contrast, his first NBA season saw a dip in his rebounding numbers, where Thomas was only pulling down 4.5 boards a game. Yet, these 4.5 rebounds per game were accompanied by a 15 minutes of playing time per game and his per 40-minute stats would indicate that if he were to play 40 minutes a game, he would have 12.1 rebounds which is a slight drop from his college days. Despite this quantitative drop in rebounds, it could easily be attributed to Robinson’s relative inexperience playing against the best in the world.

What makes Robinson such a great rebounder is his size and strength. His big-muscled body allows him to jostle in front of opponents and then pull down boards with his extreme length, athleticism and energy in a way that makes it looks ever so easy. For Robinson to be successful in Portland, he’ll need to work his rebounding averages to a level comparative to his college days or better.

Robinson has good physical tools that make him an asset on defense. He is a big man that has the ability to push out to the perimeter and defend smaller players due to his extreme athleticism and long wingspan. As such, smaller opponents will be having difficulty trying to speed past this 6’9 power forward. Post defense comes naturally to Robinson – his quickness allows him to move into position quickly, while his long arms makes it easy to trouble opponent’s shots.

However, he isn’t a great defender yet. There’s still a lot more that Robinson can learn on the defensive end. His biggest issue right now is ball-watching. Instead of being focused on his man, he tends to let him wander off while the ball is always in his sight, leading to breakdowns in communication on defense because of the open man. Robinson will need to work on this aspect of his defense to become a more established player in the NBA.

Robinson’s offense can still be seen as a work in progress. While he is a talented player in scoring at the rim (80% of his shots come from this area), he lacks consistency in draining the mid-range shot. If he was to work on this, he’d be a much tougher opponent to play against. Imagine Robinson dragging his opponent out to defend his mid-range shots, thereby opening up space and creating a host of opportunities inside the paint area for him and his teammates.

The ability to work with LaMarcus Aldrige, one of the premier big men in the game, should only help Robinson’s cause to become a game changer in the NBA. Aldridge should be able to teach Robinson where he needs to be on defensive plays, as well as helping him develop that killer mid-range jump shot required on offense in order to become a truly difficult player to guard.

Robinson’s summer league for Portland was a good indicator of exactly what he can do in the league this year. He averaged 10.4 points and 12.8 rebounds a game, where his best game was against the Chicago Bulls with him scoring 12 points and bringing down 18 boards.

Even though the Summer League isn’t against top-quality opponents, Robinson still showed that he had the tenacious ability to crash for every board. Robinson looks like a player that is going to do the dirty work for Portland. He isn’t afraid to go up against bigger bodies or dive for loose balls, all of which would be important qualities for him in his time with Portland. One area where he did struggle was his shooting. With a paltry 37% shooting average, Robinson would need to bring up this number before the season starts in order to make the most of his limitless.

Robinson should aim to mimic the effect that J.J Hickson had on the Blazers last year and use it as an indicator as to the type of player he should become in the Blazers offense and defense.

“He’s a beast, man. The league better get ready. He knows what his job is, he knows what he’s great at and he does it to the best of his ability. T-Rob is a very hard worker, an excellent rebounder and he’s definitely skilled for someone of his size. I have no doubt about it that he’ll turn his career around in Portland.” – Houston star James Harden when asked about Thomas Robinson, Harden thinks Robinson will turn his career around in Portland


I hope you and Jayla both enjoy Portland, Thomas. We’re really happy to have you here.

What do you think of Thomas Robinson, do you think he will finally make his mark in Portland? Let me know in the comments below.

Michael Tozer

Michael Tozer

Basketball fanatic. Loves the Trail Blazers and more specifically the greatest Point Guard in the league in Damian Lillard. Loves the EPL and the AFL too, following Liverpool and Essendon respectively.
Michael Tozer

@PyschoT_

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Comments

  1. FrancisOKC says:

    This is a great story guys, great work on the background research about his family and projections for this season at Rip City.

    1. Michael Tozer Michael Tozer says:

      Thanks Francis! It is a truly inspiring story with T-Rob. Hope he’ll find a home here in Portland.