With Summer Stability In Place, Thomas Robinson Sets Out To Fix ‘Bad Habits’

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 years ago

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.”

Show Comments

Podcast: Rip City Report, Second Round, Game Two Edition

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
17 mins ago

Now back in Portland for games Three and Four of the second round series versus the Golden State Warriors, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio to record a Game Two recap edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…

On this latest edition we discuss Portland’s collapse in the fourth quarter of Game Two that turned what looked like a rare road win at Oracle Arena into an 11-point loss, how the Trail Blazers go about putting that game behind them before Game Three at the Moda Center, the reports of Stephen Curry sitting out Game Three, Maurice Harkless’ defense on Klay Thompson, the overall quality of the defending champs and answer a few questions about Game Three adjustments, Portland’s locker room, Draymond Green, how far we can run at this point in our lives and a few more random things that I’ve already since forgotten.

You can find the Rip City Report on SoundcloudiTunes and Stitcher. See you at the Moda Center on Saturday.

Show Comments

Disastrous Fourth Quarter Ruins Portland’s Chance Of Snatching Home Court From Golden State

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 days ago

OAKLAND — For the first three quarters, it looked as though the Portland Trail Blazers might actually beat the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena, something that only two teams have managed to do in the last seven months.

But unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, NBA games last four quarters. And Tuesday night in Oakland, the Warriors outscored the Trail Blazers 34-12 in the final 12 minutes to come away with a 110-99 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 in Game Two of the Western Conference semifinals.

“We played three really good quarters, and we showed that we can compete with them, and it got away from us in the fourth quarter, obviously,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “It was disappointing to lose a game that you’re competitive and you’re in a position to be in the fourth quarter. But we’ve got to close it out… It was an opportunity to get a win on the road, and we’ve got to learn from it and be ready to go get one in Game Three.”

The Warriors now lead the series 2-0.

“I think nights like tonight, they suck,” said Damian Lillard. “It hurts to go back in the locker room after you play so well for so long and you come back in there with the L. But it is a part of growth. The entire season has been growth for us. But nights like tonight, we have to close that out. We have to get that done. It was just a missed opportunity.”

The first half of Tuesday night’s game went about as well as the Trail Blazers could possible expect, with Portland taking a 17-point lead in the second quarter thanks to shooting 51 percent from the field and 50 percent from three. Though the Warriors would cut into the Trail Blazers lead thanks to an 18-3 run, Portland, as was the case for most of the night, always seemed to counter at just the right time to quiet the Oracle Arena crowd. That counter in at the end of the second quarter came courtesy of back-to-back threes from Al-Farouq Aminu and Damian Lillard to push the lead back to eight by the intermission.

Portland, thanks mostly to Lillard going 6-of-11 from the field and 4-of-5 from three in the third, extended their lead to 11 going into the fourth quarter before Golden State got white hot to finish out the game. The Warriors took their first lead of the night early in the fourth quarter and would go on to win by 11 after finishing out the game by shooting 11-of-18 in the final 12 minutes of regulation. The Trail Blazers also play right into the Warriors’ hands by turning the ball over five times while going 5-of-19 from the field.

“I think the last run, they were desperate,” said Lillard. “It got to the point where it was win or lose. There wasn’t another quarter after that. It wasn’t just stay with it. It was, ‘We’ve got to do it now.’ And they played desperate, and we just didn’t respond to it well enough to finish the game.”

The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who scored 17 in the third quarter before finishing with 25 points on 8-of-20 shooting from the field and 6-of-11 shooting from three, six assists and four rebounds in 40 minutes. CJ McCollum went 9-of-19 for 22 points, two rebounds and two assists in 41 minutes.

Aminu got off to a fast start, scoring 10 points in the first quarter before finishing with 14 to go along with six rebounds and two assists. Maurice Harkless would add 11 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes with Gerald Henderson coming off the bench to add 12.

As was the case in Game One, Klay Thompson would lead the Warriors with 27 points on 7-of-20 shooting from the field and 5-of-14 shooting from three. Draymond Green, who was the driving force along with Festus Ezeli in Golden State’s pivotal fourth quarter, was just shy of another triple-double with 17 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in 41 minutes while also blocking four shots.

“I think there came a point where me and Klay were trying to do too much,” said Green. “When we settled down and trusted everybody else, that’s when everything started to click for us. So as far as the way I’ve been playing with the exception of that one game, it’s playoff basketball. This is what we live for. You play the whole season to get to this point.”

Shaun Livingston and Harrison Barnes scored 14 and 13 points, respectively, with Andre Igoudala putting up 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting off the bench.

Next up, the series takes a three-day break before shifting to Portland for Game Three on Saturday at the Moda Center.

“We’ve been in bad positions time and time again, and we’ve never shied away,” said Lillard. “We’ve never not answered the call. I don’t see why this time it would be any different. In our last series against the Clippers, we were down 0-2. We went home, and the next two games they were pretty much full strength. They had their guys and we got it done those two games. Obviously, Golden State is a different monster, but we know the same thing can happen, and that’s what we’re going in there thinking and believing, and we’re back on our home floor. We’ve got to go out there and play a game like tonight and go finish it.”

Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 pm on ABC and 620 AM.

Show Comments

Shootaround Notes: Fewer Adjustments, Balancing Small Lineups And Lillard Feeling Better

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 days ago

The Trail Blazers held shootaround Tuesday morning at the Olympic Club in downtown San Fransisco in preparation for tonight’s Game Two of the Western Conference semifinal matchup versus the Warriors at Oracle Arena (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 pm on TNT and 620 AM). Some notes from shootaround…

• The Trail Blazers, after losing badly in Game One of their first round series versus the Clippers, made a host of adjustments going into Game Two. Whether it was having Al-Farouq Aminu guard Chris Paul, using Mason Plumlee to initiate more of the offense or giving spot minutes to Chris Kaman, Terry Stotts and is staff came up with a number of ways to mitigate L.A.’s advantages, which ultimately helped the Trail Blazers go on to win the series in six games.

So after the Trail Blazers lost 118-106 to the the Warriors in Game One of their second round series on Sunday afternoon, one might have assumed that Portland would once again make wholesale changes in time for Game Two Tuesday night at Oracle Arena. Turns out, that isn’t necessarily the case. While the Trail Blazers are sure to try a few different things, their adjustments will likely be a change of approach rather than tactics.

“The short answer to that is a little bit less only because it’s such a different style,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of whether he’d be make more or less adjustments versus the Warriors. “So the adjustments that we’re making for this series is just trying to adjust from playing a team that’s so different than the team that we just played six games. Clippers play a different style of game, and that’s the adjustment we have to make.”

That difference in styles between the Clippers and Warriors makes Portland’s preparation for Game Two a bit more abstract than it was in the last series. The Warriors tend to play more of a freewheeling brand of basketball than the Clippers, which requires more nuanced adjustments on Portland’s end.

“I would say fewer adjustments for sure, because they play basketball,” said Mason Plumlee. “There aren’t a whole lot of plays, they exploit what they see as their playing the game. So it’s not a whole lot of scouting of plays, it’s more tendencies and personnel.”

The changes that worked versus the Clippers not necessarily working versus the Warriors is more proof of the individuality of every playoff series. The situations might be somewhat similar, but that doesn’t mean the solutions are the same.

“Everybody keeps drawing comparisons; you’ve got to let that last series go,” said Plumlee. “Every series is new, they’re a better team. This series is completely different so we have to make a point to come out and win this next game. I don’t think you can count on them getting up 2-0 and then giving you four-straight, so this next game is a big one.”

• When the Warriors went to their small lineups in Game One, the Trail Blazers countered by doing the same, with varying degrees of success. Portland played multiple lineups during the course of Sunday afternoon’s loss that have rarely been on the court together this season, if at all, including a five-man group that featured Maurice Harkless at “center” surrounded by four guards.

But Golden State has extensive experience utilizing small lineups, at least relative to Portland, and with the personnel on their roster reflecting that reality. So it’s debatable just how much the Trail Blazers should try to match those units rather than trying to take advantage of a size advantage.

“I’ll be dating myself, but when Seattle beat Golden State back in ’92, ’93, something like that, and (Don Nelson) was playing small ball and George (Karl) stayed big with Benoit Benjamin and Derrick McKey and Shawn Kemp. So (Seattle) beat (Golden State) playing to their strengths. I think the important thing is that you play to your strengths more than anything else.”

Stotts will likely continue to give some nontraditional lineups a try when the Warriors go small, but it’ll be just as important for their standard lineups to fare better than they did in Game One, particularly after giving up 16 offensive rebounds, which led to 17 second-chance points.

Said Mason Plumlee: “I think a way to punish them when they go small is to own the glass, get second-chance points and finish everything inside.”

• Though no one in the media knew about it until he answered questions in a decidedly raspy voice after Game One, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has been battling a significant chest cold for roughly the last week. While it stands to reason that an athlete, especially one playing at the highest level, would be affected negatively by such an illness, Lillard refused to blame the infirmaty for his less-than-stellar performance Sunday afternoon at Oracle Arena.

“I actually felt pretty good,” said Lillard. “Obviously being clogged up inside, it has you a little bit more winded than usual. There’s no excuses. The bottom line is my team needs me to perform better than I did.”

And it sounds, literally, like Lillard’s lungs won’t be as much of an issue in Game Two. The 6-3 point guard in his fourth season out of Weber State didn’t exactly sound like his normal self prior to Tuesday morning’s shootaround, but he said he’s making progress toward feeling better and didn’t sound as though his chest was on fire when making said proclamation.

“I feel better,” said Lillard. “Obviously still trying to shake it. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing the last two days, just trying to do different stuff to make myself feel better for tonight.”

Show Comments