Thomas Robinson, listed at 6-10, 237 pounds, can take up some space, so much so that teammates and coaches took to calling him “Truck” this season due to his broad frame and muscular build.
But all that size isn’t worth much if you don’t have somewhere to put it, which was the case for Robinson the last two summers. Neither the first months after being drafted with the fifth overall pick in 2012 nor the all but certainty that he would be traded sometime during the summer of 2013 afforded Robinson the opportunity to find the offseason stability young players need in order to improve.
But this summer, Robinson finds himself in the stable confines of the Trail Blazers’ practice facility. Now with Portland for almost a full year, Robinson says he’s set up just right in Portland after being a bit lost in the shuffle for the last two summers.
“I feel comfortable,” said Robinson after a recent workout at the team’s practice facility in Tualatin. “I feel like I know I can came back here and work every day. I can go home and come back here and work! It’s just a fact of being comfortable. That’s all I want. I love it here. I just like the feeling of being comfortable, that’s all.”
Immediately after the Trail Blazers were eliminated from the 2014 postseason, Robinson took “a solid seven days off” relaxing with friends and family on the east coast before getting back to work on the court. Now back in Portland, he has put in hours and hours of practice with Portland’s coaching staff in an effort to replace some of the less endearing parts of his game with skills more useful within Terry Stotts’ system.
“I’m not trying to do nothing crazy out here,” said Robinson. “I’m just trying to either break bad habits or get used to doing stuff that I need to do next year. So I’m not in pickup trying to score 1,000 points or nothing. Even working on a move consistently that I’ve been working on, getting used to catching and shooting or catching and making a pass instead of catching and holding (the ball). Really just trying to find my teammates. I’m trying to do that, get into the swing of things and be good at finding my teammates.”
For a player who has been somewhat of a ball-stopper by his own admission in his first two seasons, understanding the importance of ball movement, particularly in an offense dependent of what Stotts refers to as “flow,” and how he can use his athleticism to open things up for himself and his teammates has been a revelation. Robinson has made a habit of putting his head down on drives to the basket with the sole intention of going to the rim regardless of the defense, with limited success (he shot 25 percent on drives last year, the worst mark on the team for any player with at least 10 drives). But now, thanks in part to help from Portland’s coaching staff, Robinson is out to change that.
“Knowing that when I drive, thinking that I’ve faster than everybody that I just drive and try to get to the hole every time,” said Robinson of one of the “bad habits” he’s trying to break. “Now, I can use my driving ability to drive and kick. After that, things open up for me, It becomes a lot easier because I’ve found myself driving one time and kicking it, then driving the next time and the rim is wide open just because I kicked it the play before.”
Robinson has also been working on perfecting “two or three moves from different spots” in an effort to diversify his offensive repertoire. But as is the case for many young players, Robinson is trying to find a balance between utilizing the skills he’s already good at (what he refers to as “the easy things”) while continuing to expand his game. That can be a bit tricky for a player coming off the bench for a 50+ win team, but the relative calm of the NBA offseason provides players like Robinson the opportunity to refine and expand skills at the same time.
“Don’t get it wrong, I’m going to do what I do best to help my team win next year,” said Robinson. “Individually, I don’t think I’m close to being just a rebounder and an energy man. I’m not stopping, not at all. At this young stage in my career and for this team, that’s what I’ll do, but that’s nowhere close to everything I can do. They know that. When that time shifts to when it’s time for me to show individual work, then I’ll be able to do that. But my talent is going to come out anyway.”
“The balance for (Robinson), and a lot of these guys, with summer league is they’re put in a position where they can do more things, but at the same time they have to understand their role next season,” said Terry Stotts. “I don’t want to limit any of our guys as far as expanding their game, and that’s part of summer league and what we’re doing here is being able to expand things, make some mistakes and play through them. Thomas is a young player, he’s finally gotten some continuity in his NBA career, he feels more comfortable with not only how we want to play but he understands where he can be successful in the NBA. All those things are going to be important for him.”
Not to mention important for the Trail Blazers. With no draft picks and limited money to spend in free agency, it will be incumbent upon the bench players, particularly Robinson, to make strides this offseason in order for Portland to take the next step in the Western Conference.
“I think with hard work, our (bench) guys can be great,” said Robinson. “We literally have a second core that’s talented. If we get those guys strong within the organization, we can do damage. Our starters don’t have to do anything but come back and get that extra help from us. Us getting better will take us above 54 (wins), cause our starters are going to be our starters. They’re established players, Dame is only getting better, LA is in his prime and so on. It’s really down to us. If we go from 54 wins to 55, we were in the gym this summer and this work helped us get one more win.
“When it comes to who has more guys to get better between the second and first group, it’s going to be the second group. You have two all-stars, three arguably. One of the best all-around players I’ve played with ever in Nico, you’ve got a dog in Wes. That’s who he is, that’s who he’s been. Them guys know who they are already. With us getting better, we made noise this year, but I think we can put ourself and keep ourself in that category with the Spurs, Oklahoma City, Miami.”
That might sound like Robinson putting the onus of success or failure next season on himself and the second unit, which, to an extent, is true. But he’s built to carry that weight, especially now that he has a stable place to put it.
“It’s just up to us,” said Robinson. “That’s cool, I want the pressure, because then you’ve got to get better. You can’t complain about something if somebody gives you a chance and you don’t do nothing. So we’re going to work, and when the chance comes, we ain’t got no excuse. If you don’t show up, you don’t show up.”
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”