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NBA AM: Thomas Robinson Looking for Right Situation

After playing for five teams in four seasons, Thomas Robinson is carefully choosing his next stop.

Alex Kennedy

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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.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA

Fred VanVleet is Finding Success in the NBA

David Yapkowitz speaks to Toronto’s Fred VanVleet about his unheralded path to the NBA and more.

David Yapkowitz

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Fred VanVleet is used to being the underdog. Prior to the NBA, he spent four seasons at Wichita State, a school that hasn’t always been in the national spotlight when it comes to college basketball. Even after he finished his college career in impressive fashion, leading the Shockers to the NCAA tournament every year he was there, he went undrafted in the 2016 NBA draft.

But despite the lack of recognition from national media outlets, VanVleet always knew that he was good enough to play in the NBA. He knew that his path to the league was going to be much different than many other top prospects, but he was confident. He put his trust in NBA personnel to recognize what was right in front of them.

“If you can play, they’re gonna find you. That’s the best thing about the NBA, you can’t hide forever,” VanVleet told Basketball Insiders. “You just got to try to wait and keep grinding for the opportunity, and when it comes be ready to make the most of it and that’s what I did.”

Making the most of his opportunity is definitely what he’s done. After he went undrafted in 2016, he joined the Toronto Raptors’ summer league team in Las Vegas. He put up decent numbers to the tune of 6.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 54.5 percent shooting from the three-point line.

He also showed solid defensive potential as well as the ability to run a steady offense. The Raptors were impressed by his performance and they invited him to training camp for a chance to make the team. They already had 14 guaranteed contracts at the time and had invited five other players, in addition to VanVleet, to camp.

VanVleet did his best to stand out in training camp that year, capping off the 2016 preseason with a 31 point, five rebound, five assist performance against San Lorenzo de Almagro of Argentina. The Raptors were in need of another point guard after Delon Wright was ruled out to start the season due to an injury.

Not only did he make the Raptors’ opening night roster, but he ended up playing some big minutes for the team as the season went on. This year, he started out as the third-string point guard once again. But with another injury to Wright, he’s solidified himself as the backup point for the time being.

“You just want to grow each year and get better. I had a smaller role last year, I’m just trying to improve on that and get better,” VanVleet said. “It’s a long process, you just try to get better each game on a pretty good team, a winning team. Being able to contribute to that is what you work for.”

VanVleet’s journey to the NBA is one that is not very common anymore for players coming out of college. More and more players are opting to spend one, maybe two years at most in college before declaring for the NBA draft.

Players like VanVleet, who spend the entire four years in college, are becoming more of a rarity. Although for him, he feels like the additional time spent at Wichita State helped him make more of a seamless transition to the NBA than some of his younger peers.

“I think more so off the court than anything, just being an adult, being a grown man coming in the door,” VanVleet said. “A pro before being a pro, being able to take care of your business. Coming in every day doing your job and being able to handle the things that come with the life off the court.”

The NBA season is a long one. Teams that start out hot sometimes end up fizzling out before the season’s end. Similarly, teams that that get off to a slow start sometimes pick it up as the season progresses. The Raptors have been one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference the past couple of years and this season looks to be no different.

Even with the Boston Celtics’ hot start, the Raptors are only three games back of the top spot in the East. They’re only one game back in the loss column. There was a time when mentioning the word ‘championship’ was unheard of around this team. Things are different now.

“We’re trying to contend for a championship. Obviously, we’ve been at the top of the East for the last few years,” VanVleet said. “We’re trying to get over that hump and contend for a championship, that’s definitely our goal. It’s a long year and still pretty early, but we’re just trying to grow and build and get better each game.”

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G-League

NBA DAILY: Tyrone Wallace Is Breaking Out in His Own Backyard

On his second G-Leauge team in two years, Tyrone Wallace is putting up numbers close to home, working towards his NBA shot.

Dennis Chambers

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Located in the heart of Southern California, Bakersfield sits just on the cusp of Los Angeles’ shadow.

In terms of size, it’s not easy to overlook this Californian destination. Bakersfield is the ninth most populated city in the state. But it doesn’t hold the glamour that its contemporary two hours south down Interstate-5 possesses. Instead, Bakersfield rests its laurels on the farming past that made it the city it has become today, with three of the four top employers in the city either being farm or produce companies.

Working for a produce company doesn’t interest Tyrone Wallace, though. He’d much rather spend his time on the hardwood. Wallace grew up in Bakersfield. He’s Bakersfield High School’s all-time leading scorer and two-time Bakersfield Californian Player of the Year.

Wallace has sown his oats with a leather ball as opposed to some vegetables.

Growing up in Bakersfield is crucial to Wallace’s story, however. On the outskirts of Los Angeles, Wallace grew up a hardcore Lakers fan, caught up in the generation of kids who idolized Kobe Bryant. It’s Kobe, and Wallace’s brother, Ryan Caroline, who led him to where he is now.

Where that is, exactly, is playing professional basketball in the NBA G-League for the Agua Caliente Clippers. About another 45 minutes down Interstate-5 from his hometown.

For Wallace, getting an opportunity to work towards his dream of playing basketball at the highest level so close to home is a blessing.

“It’s been really fun for me,” Wallace told Basketball Insiders. “You know (Bakersfield) is a smaller city, not too many guys make it out, especially for basketball. It’s more of a football city, but the support there is awesome. Everybody’s behind me you know. Good games, bad games, guys are treating me, and you know the whole city is, I feel the whole support from the city. So to be so close to home is definitely a treat. I have friends and family that will come out to our games quite often. During preseason I had friends and family come out and watch. It’s been a blessing.”

Playing in front of familiar faces isn’t new territory for Wallace. After making his mark in Bakersfield, the 6-foot-4 guard went on to play his college ball at the University of California. Amid his four years at Cal, Wallace finished first-team All-Pac 12 his junior year, along with being named a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation’s best point guard.

Sharing the court with the likes of other NBA players like Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb in college, Wallace joined the professional fraternity himself at the eleventh hour on draft night in 2016 when the Utah Jazz selected him 60th overall.

Pick one, or pick 60. It didn’t matter to Wallace that night in June. He was just happy to get the first chance he worked his whole life for.

“It was emotional, man,” Wallace said. “You watch everybody and see them go, I had Jaylen (Brown) earlier in the first round who I was really excited for. Just sitting there, pick after pick you’re waiting there hoping you get called. But it was a dream come true, better late than never. Very few people get the opportunity to say that they were drafted so it was emotional. But after I was finally selected, I was happy, there was tears of joy. There was a lot of family with me watching throughout and we were just sitting there hoping to be called, and it happened, so it was a dream come true.”

After being selected by the Jazz, Wallace experienced his first summer league action. His performance at the time was marginal, and didn’t warrant an invite to the big league club. Instead, Wallace found himself down in the minors for Utah, with their G-League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars.

During Wallace’s first taste of professional basketball, he displayed some flashes of why, as he put it, he was one of 60 guys drafted in 2016. His first season in the G-League was promising when he posted per game averages of 14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.3 steals on 27 minutes of action a night.

Alas, that wasn’t good enough for the Jazz organization. On July 18, 2017, just over a year after being selected with the last overall pick on draft night, Utah renounced Wallace’s draft rights, leaving him free to sign with any team.

For some, being let go after what could be considered a productive developmental year may have been a derailing let down. Not Wallace, though.

“I think in every situation you always reflect,” Wallace said. “And look back and say what could I have done better, on the court or off the court. So I think you know you always do that, but I’ve always stayed confident in myself, and I believe in myself. I kinda let that as a new opportunity that I was gonna have to go somewhere else and prove that I can play, and that I can belong. So I wanted to continue. I look at everything as a chance to learn and grow so I was just excited for the new opportunity that would be coming for me.”

New opportunities did come for Wallace. More than a few actually. But it was the opportunity that allowed the California native a chance to return to the place that led him to professional basketball initially, that has really allowed the second-year guard to flourish.

On Sept. 27, Wallace inked a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. They weren’t his childhood favorite Lakers, but they were the same distance down Interstate-5 from his hometown. Most of all, they represented a chance to keep chasing his dream.

After playing in the preseason, Wallace was one of the last players cut from the NBA roster, and he again found himself in the G-League. This time with Agua Caliente.

Wallace’s second go-around in the G-League so far this season feels different than his last, though. Almost as if the comfort of playing in his own backyard, something he’s been accustomed to for the majority of his basketball life, is easing him out on the court. Whatever it is, it’s reflecting itself in his performance. This year, Wallace upped his averages from last season to 22.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and five assists per game.

“I worked really hard this summer,” Wallace said. “Just going to the gym, hitting the weight room. I don’t think I necessarily changed anything. I just think being a year in, another year of experience playing in the G-League, I think that helped within itself. Then I think the system here that we run in LA helped a lot, fits my game,  more uptempo. Trying to get out on the break, a lot of pick and rolls. So I think everything just took off at once. I definitely feel like I got better in the offseason, but also just playing in this system where it helps my game.”

It’s been an interesting journey for Wallace since he left college. With the way things have shaped out, especially during this season where he seems to do no wrong on the court, it’s imperative he stays focused on his own goals. Instead of looking at others across the league who may be getting a shot he feels he deserves, Wallace wants to just “stay in my own lane.” Patience and hard work are what Wallace believe will ultimately deliver the goals he’s after.

“I know it’s coming,” he said.

When that opportunity does come, whether it’s near home in Los Angeles, or somewhere else across the country, Wallace will be happy to just be wanted. Just like the way Bakersfield has always treated him.

“Man, I’ll tell you any team for me it would be great,” Wallace said. “I haven’t really had a real NBA deal, and so for me just getting to that level on a team would definitely be a dream come true. I don’t have a specific team I would like to play for. Whoever wants me, I’ll want them.”

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NBA

NBA DAILY: Lou Williams Stepping Up For Injured Clippers

The Clippers have been hit by injuries again, but Lou Williams is doing everything he can to keep the team afloat.

Jesse Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers have been decimated by injuries this season. Blake Griffin is sidelined until approximately February of next year. Danilo Gallinari has been sidelined for an extended period of time with a glute injury and will continue to be out of action for some time after suffering a second glute injury recently. Patrick Beverley underwent season ending microfracture surgery in November. Milos Teodosic suffered a foot injury in just the second game of the season and only recently returned to the lineup. Austin Rivers just suffered a concussion and could miss some time as well.

With so many injuries, the Clippers currently find themselves in the 10th seed in the Western Conference with an 11-15 record. This isn’t what the Clippers had in mind when they brought back a solid haul of players last offseason in exchange for Chris Paul.

Competing with the top teams in the Western Conference was always going to be difficult for this Clippers team. Los Angeles has plenty of talent on the roster and added a few younger prospects to develop. However, key players like Griffin and Gallinari are injury prone and both needed to stay on the court for the Clippers to have any hope of staying in range of the West’s top teams. The Clippers lost 9 games straight in the middle of November and it looked as though they were on course to be competing for a top lottery pick in next season’s draft.

However, despite all of the injuries and setbacks, Lou Williams, along with iron man DeAndre Jordan, has picked up the slack and has done more than his fair share to keep the Clippers’ playoff hopes alive. This season, Williams is averaging 20 points, 4.8 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game, while shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range (on 6.2 attempts per game). Williams is sporting a healthy 21.2 Player Efficiency Rating, which is a near career best rating (Williams posted a 21.4 PER last season). His True Shooting percentage (59.3) is tied with his career high rating, which Williams posted last season as well. Williams’s free throw rate has taken a dip this season, but his ability to draw timely (and often questionable) fouls has been a valuable asset to his team once again. Simply put, Williams has been particularly efficient on offense this season for the Clippers – a team that has lost its most reliable scorers and playmakers.

“We’ve had some guys go down with injuries and somebody has to step in and fill that scoring void,” Williams said after helping the Clippers defeat the Magic. “I’ve been able to do it.”

Williams has also hit plenty of big shots for the Clippers this season. Most recently, Williams knocked down a go-ahead three-pointer in the final seconds against the Washington Wizards that sealed the win for the Clippers. The Clippers are used to having a natural born scorer coming off the bench to act as a sparkplug as they had Jamal Crawford on the roster for the last five seasons. Similar to Crawford, Williams struggles to hold his own on the defensive side of the ball. But Williams has been more effective defensively so far this season for the Clippers than Crawford was for the majority of his time in Los Angeles. Williams isn’t going to lock down the Russell Westbrooks of the world, but he isn’t giving back the majority of the points he scores either.

In addition to his scoring, Williams is a solid playmaker and has managed to facilitate the Clippers’ offense at various points of the season. Williams isn’t exactly Chris Paul in terms of setting up his teammates for easy baskets, but he has been notably effective in this role, which is very important considering how many playmakers have falled to injury this season. Williams is now, arguably, the team’s best offensive weapon and one of its most effective floor generals. Now that we are nearly two months into the NBA season, it seems as though Williams and his teammates are starting to find a little more chemistry with one another.

“I think these guys are just starting to be more comfortable. They understand we’re going to have some injuries and guys are going to be down,” Williams said recently. “So they’re just playing with a lot of confidence. I think at first you’re kind of getting your feet wet and guys don’t want to make mistakes. Now guys are just going out there and playing as hard as they can.”

Williams will need to continue building chemistry with his teammates if they are to keep pace until players like Gallinari and Griffin make it back onto the court.

The Clippers have won six of their last 10 games and are starting to steady what had becoming a sinking ship. Smart gamblers and predictive algorithms would caution against betting on the Clippers making the playoffs this season, but they are in much better shape now than they were in the middle of November — an accomplishment that Williams deserves plenty of credit for.

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