Thomas Robinson Looking for the Right Situation
While many of the marquee free agents are off the market, there are still some intriguing NBA players available. One such unrestricted free agent is power forward Thomas Robinson, who spent last season with the Brooklyn Nets.
Robinson, who just turned 25 years old in March, is looking for the right situation after playing for five teams (the Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, Philadelphia 76ers and Nets) in his four NBA seasons.
When given an opportunity, the power forward has done well. Perhaps most importantly, Robinson’s former teammates and coaches from his various stops around the league have nothing but positive things to say about him.
“He worked tirelessly, day and night, while with us,” Blazers assistant coach David Vanterpool said of Robinson. “He would work out before practice. Then, we would have our team practice, and he would stay after to get shots up or play one-on-one with Will Barton. Then sometimes, he would come back late at night to shoot and work out some more. He wants to grow and improve, but more importantly to him, he wants an opportunity to show how good can be. He works [hard] to make sure that he’s prepared when that opportunity comes. I think he’s also learned a lot about what type of player he is and how he can contribute to his team’s success. As his former coach, and being from Washington, D.C. as well, I root for T-Rob to do well. I hope he reaches that level of success he’s working so hard to get to.
“He was definitely coachable. He was like any other younger player, who’s not sure of their ‘role’ on a team being enough to ease their mind because of what they feel they’re capable of. T-Rob can do a lot of different things on the court, and at times would try to use his entire arsenal on one given play (laughs). Those things are a part of the growth process. With us, he did accept that we needed him to be a beast on the boards, a monster on defense and a fireball of energy every time he got on the court. And he was elite at doing those three things and had a huge impact on our team. I loved working with him.”
Last year’s Most Improved Player, C.J. McCollum, also praised Robinson’s effort and professionalism. Robinson was on the Blazers during McCollum’s rookie year (and for half of his sophomore year), and the young shooting guard learned a lot from Robinson.
“T-Rob is a guy I connected with right away because of his work ethic and passion for the game,” Blazers guard C.J. McCollum said. “I remember going to the gym after midnight on multiple occasions and seeing him in there working out with his trainer and our video coordinator. He is a great competitor and fearless rebounder. I think he can help every team in this league with his skill set and motor. He just needs to get the right opportunity.”
Last year, Robinson averaged 4.3 points and 5.1 rebounds in just 12.9 minutes per game with the Nets. Put another way, he averaged 16.9 points, 19.7 rebounds (including 7.5 offensive boards), 2.5 assists, 2.1 steals and two blocks per 100 possessions.
Robinson’s minutes were up and down all year long, mainly because of a midseason coaching change. For example, he averaged just 6.5 minutes per game in December under head coach Lionel Hollins. But when Hollins was replaced by interim coach Tony Brown, his minutes nearly tripled. By the final month of the season, he was averaging 25 minutes per game.
When given the chance to play significant minutes, he often thrived. He started seven games for the Nets and averaged 14.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, two assists and 1.6 steals in those contests, while shooting 54.4 percent from the field. This is obviously a small sample size, but he produced the previous year in Philadelphia as well, suggesting he just needs minutes: During his 22-game stint with the 76ers, he came off the bench to average 8.8 points and 7.7 rebounds in just 18.5 minutes a night.
Robinson’s Nets teammates saw the impact he made when he was on the court.
“T-Rob plays hard as hell and he is a workhorse,” said Shane Larkin, who played with Robinson last season in Brooklyn. “He’s a monster on the boards and he was always a very positive teammate. He just needs a situation where somebody will allow him to show his skill set and give him a chance to grow within a franchise. He has played for several teams and several coaches his first few years in the league and, speaking from experience, that isn’t the easiest thing to do. At the end of the day, he is an energy source off the bench and a great teammate. I hope somebody will give him the opportunity to show his true talent because that is all he really needs. He was the fifth pick in the draft for a reason.”
“That’s my guy,” said Willie Reed, who signed with the Miami Heat but played with Robinson last year on the Nets. “T-Rob is an extremely hard worker and tough competitor. He was in the gym working every day because he wants to get better. He’s the type of guy who wants to be the best he can possibly be, while pushing you to do the same. He’s a relentless rebounder and explosive athlete. He’ll be a great fit for whichever NBA team gets him in free agency.”
As Larkin noted, Robinson has been in some difficult situations – each year having to adjust to a new system, coaching staff, group of teammates, city and more. It’s not easy to maximize one’s full potential under these circumstances, and Robinson is hoping that free agency brings him the opportunity to settle down somewhere and focus on playing his best basketball.
Robinson certainly learned that the NBA is a business rather quickly, and it seems that the constant changes of scenery have humbled him a bit. The former number five overall pick admits that he wanted to be a star early in his career, as just about every young player selected in the top five does. Now, he just wants to be known as a player who aggressively rebounds, plays intense defense and hustles on every play.
He cited Orlando’s Bismack Biyombo and Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson as big men he emulates now.
“I’ve matured so much,” Robinson said. “I see things completely different now. Coming in young, I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to hear, ‘Be a defender! Be a rebounder! That’s all you need to do!’ I didn’t want to hear those things. I’m okay at doing things other than just rebounding and defending, so I didn’t want to just do that. But after all of the trades and constantly hearing that, it sold me. I think the biggest sign of my maturity is the fact that I’m not striving for the same things that I was when I came into the league. I’m not trying to put the ball on the floor and score a lot. Being traded that many times, I looked in the mirror and realized I need to stick with what I do best and all of this will go away. If I’m out there averaging 14 rebounds per game, those misconceptions will go away (laughs).
“It’s frustrating because anyone who knows me – and a lot of people in the NBA know me since I’ve been with a few different organizations – they know how I am. Some of the stuff, like being upset about playing time as a rookie in Sacramento, was back when I was an immature 19- or 20-year-old. I wanted to come in and I wanted to be Kobe! You know? (laughs) Now, I’ve accepted my role and understand the player that I am. It wasn’t easy to do when I was younger, and I feel like that one mistake I made is staying with me. Now, people say, ‘He doesn’t know his role,’ but that’s something I learned that first season when I was traded several times. I know that my job is strictly to be a solid rebounder and defender. I want to make it clear to everybody: that’s all I want to do. I want to be one of the best rebounders in the league and lock down anyone who comes my way.
“I’ve heard things like I’m uncoachable and standoffish and act a certain way, but I can tell the people saying those things don’t really know me. I am a quiet person, that’s just the reality. That’s just my personality, it has nothing to do with my attitude or anything like that. For people to say, ‘Oh, he’s a bad kid,’ or, ‘He’s some type of way as a person,’ is unfair. The stuff I’m hearing isn’t factual and that has made this process a little bit hard. It took a turn that I didn’t expect.”
Despite the fact that Robinson has earned praise from teammates and coaches and tried to be a positive influence in the community, he continues to hear negative things associated with his name.
“I do a lot of work in the community, but for some reason teams want to talk about one mistake I made when I was a kid and when I didn’t know who I was as a player,” he said. “The negative thing can stick with you and keep coming up, but all of the good stuff I do isn’t discussed. Every team I’ve played on, I’ve done some type of charity event in that city. And I’m not saying that because it’s something that I want praise for, I’m just saying that it’s interesting what people focus on. Instead, ‘I’m a bad kid who hangs with the wrong people.’ It’s all wrong. I’m kind of tired of fighting that. I just want people to know the real me so I can be comfortable around them and build those relationships. Right now, there are misconceptions.”
Now, Robinson is hoping to find the right situation in free agency and ultimately change the way he’s perceived.
Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.