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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 Daily: Marcus Morris Thriving Off Bench

Marcus Morris has been one of the Clippers’ most dependable reserves this season, David Yapkowitz breaks it down.

David Yapkowitz

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When Marcus Morris Sr. came over to the Los Angeles Clippers last season near the trade deadline, he stepped right into the starting lineup at power forward. He started all 19 regular season games – including the bubble – and when the team re-signed him this past offseason, he looked like a lock to remain in the starting lineup.

But he’s been one of the main anchors of the Clippers’ second unit this year and coming off the bench was something he requested of new head coach Tyronn Lue. Along with Lou Williams, the pair have spearheaded one of the most formidable bench units in the NBA. The pair has combined for 24.8 points per game on the season and they’re both shooting lights out from three-point range.

On a call last month with media, Morris admitted that this dynamic pairing with Williams was exactly what he was envisioning when he initially asked to be part of the second unit.

“Building that chemistry with me and him both coming off the bench, we’ve to be one of, if not the best bench in the league. Both of us are proven vets, proven scorers in this league,” Morris said. “I think our camaraderie, us being really good friends, I think that helps on the court. Not just scoring but just being vets, being able to talk and being able to lead our unit.”

As well as he’s played this season, it wasn’t always such a smooth transition to the Clippers. Morris’ numbers dropped last year from his career averages and he shot 31 percent from the three-point line; the lowest he’s shot since his second year in the NBA. Like most of the team, he faded a bit during the team’s second-round playoff debacle against the Denver Nuggets.

This season, although his scoring isn’t as high as it used to be at 12.4 points per game, Morris’ shooting has been much more efficient. His 46.3 percent from downtown is a career-high. He looks much more comfortable in the flow of the offense and he’s played his role to perfection. Naturally, Morris credits Lue with helping him establish his role.

“I think the biggest difference is just having that exact from [Tyronn Lue] just talking to me and telling me exactly what he’s wanting me to do. Last year, I thought I was a lot of times in no man’s land, I couldn’t really put my finger on my role,” Morris said.

This year, I’m coming off the bench to be aggressive, coming off to bring energy, shoot the ball, the guys I’m playing with just playing off them. Lou does a great job of drawing the defense and you have to have guys that can knock it down. I’m just here to do whatever it takes, whether it’s to bring energy or to score.”

Morris began the season missing the first eight games due to a knee injury. But he’s always been one of the more durable players in the league and since then, he only sat out one game. Thankfully for him, he didn’t end up needing surgery only rest.

Lue has been quite pleased with Morris’ contributions this season. He credited Morris’ conditioning while acknowledging the extra work he’s put in to be as effective as he has.

“Just putting in the work, just trying to get his body right, just trying to adjust to the speed of the game, when you’ve been out for so long it is kind of tough to just step back in and play well,” Lue said. “We’ve been needing and asking more from him in the post, rebounding the basketball and, of course, shooting the basketball. He’s been great and he’s been putting in the work. You see the results.”

Like the rest of the team, Morris has been able to shut out any lingering effects from the bubble. He knows the Clippers have championship aspirations this season and, because of the way they flamed out in the playoffs, there will doubt as to whether this team is capable of winning a title.

“Seeing how many people jumped ship last year, I think it definitely helped us. That’s how it works when you have a good team and doesn’t work, people tend to jump off the ship,” Morris said. “We get back to work and we get a championship, people will jump back on the ship. That’s just how it works. We are going to continue to find our camaraderie and we are going to continue to get better. Come playoff time, we’re going to be ready.”

And for the Clippers to win their first championship in franchise history, they’re going to need Morris to be at his best. His versatility is key to their attack, while that ability to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting –plus putting the ball on the floor or posting up – is a big part of what makes the Clippers so dangerous.

He’s willing to do whatever needs to be done.

“I’m a hooper. Whatever you need me to do. One thing I do, I don’t just talk,” Morris said. “I’m just playing. I’ve been in the league for a long time, going on my eleventh year. It doesn’t change for me. One thing you’ll find out about me is I’m never too high, never too low.”

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NBA AM: Defensive Player of the Year Watch

Will we see Rudy Gobert win another Defensive Player of the Year Award? Or will we have a new winner this year?

Dylan Thayer

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In the fourth edition of the Defensive Player of the Year Rankings, Basketball Insiders continues to look at the players excelling on the defensive side of the ball. The Utah Jazz continues to be a powerhouse in the Western Conference amidst a surprising season, and they will still be well represented in these rankings. But there’s another newcomer to the list, an MVP-caliber player looking to lead his team to the NBA Finals. Ready to take look at the rankings? Let’s get into it.

1. Rudy Gobert (Previous: 2)

The 28-year-old center out of France is one of the best defensive big men the game has seen in recent years – and this year is another example of that as Gobert has been the anchor of the best team in the NBA. Better, he has been a vital piece to their unanticipated success by taking part in all 35 of the Jazz games thus far.

Looking at Gobert’s numbers, he is still second in the league in blocks with 2.8 blocks per game, trailing only Myles Turner in that category.  Gobert has had three or more blocks in 18 games, even reaching four in 12 of them. 

In the defensive rating category, Gobert ranks third in the league with a rating of 103.0, per NBA Advanced Stats. This number is just enough behind Lebron James at 102.6 and teammate Mike Conley, who leads the NBA with a rating of 100.8. These three players are also in the top three for defensive win shares, with Gobert sitting in third with a DWS of 0.154. Gobert should be the current frontrunner as he has led the best team in the NBA on defense through the first half of the season. 

2. LeBron James (Previous: 4)

As a reminder, LeBron James has not made an All-Defensive Team since 2014. How about breaking that streak with a DPotY award as well? He very well could.

Without Anthony Davis, James is unarguably the tone-setter for the defense. The Los Angeles Lakers’ victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 26 is a prime example of this. During that contest, James had 3 blocks and 4 steals as the Lakers won by 9. Furthermore, James has managed to average 1 block and 1.3 steals per game since the injury to Davis.

Notably, James ranks in the top three in both defensive rating and defensive win shares. James is just behind Conley in defensive rating at 102.6 compared to Conley’s 100.8 rating. Keep an eye on James’s defensive impact for the defending champs as the season continues to unfold.

3. Joel Embiid (Previous: N/A)

Embiid has been very neglected on this list, but now is the time for him to make his appearance. Yes, it is very high for a player to debut on this list, but he’s been on a tear as of late. 

In his career-high night on Feb. 19, Embiid went off for 50 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks in a matchup with the Chicago Bulls. This is the game that put the league on notice of Embiid’s brilliant season, both offensively and defensively, as he leads the first-place Philadelphia 76ers. As things stand right now, he’s averaging 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game.

Taking a deeper dive into Embiid’s floor presence is what makes him stand out. He’s 13th in the NBA in defensive rating at 106.6. He also ranks 10th in defensive win shares with 0.131, per NBA Advanced Stats. The coaching change in Philadelphia has allowed Embiid to run the Sixers’ offense and, as things stand right now, he’s certainly in both the MVP and DPotY conversation. 

4. Mike Conley (Previous: 1)

Since an extended absence, Conley returned to make an instant impact in the Jazz lineup, averaging 2.0 steals over his last five games. The unexpected success has been due in large part to Conley’s improved play. Of course, Conley is high up on this year’s All-Star snub list, but his significant individual improvements won’t go unnoticed here.

Conley is currently tied for third in the league in steals per game at 1.5. He is also first in defensive rating with a rating of 100.8. Beyond that, he then ranks second in defensive win shares with 0.168. Without Conley, it’s hard to see the Jazz having the success they’ve enjoyed this year. Watch out for him as the season approaches the midpoint as he tries to become the first guard to win the award since Gary Payton during the 1995-96 season. 

5. Myles Turner (Previous: 3)

Despite a slip in the standings for the Indiana Pacers, Myles Turner has been a very bright spot for the team defensively. He leads the league in blocks with 3.4 per game and has a pretty sizeable lead over Gobert in that category. Add in the fact that he is averaging 1.1 steals per game, it’s easy to see why Turner is so high in these rankings.

If the Pacers can manage to get things back in order amidst a sub-.500 record thus far, Turner could rise into the upper part of these rankings again.

Honorable Mention: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Previous: N/A)

While voter fatigue may hinder the chance of Giannis earning his second consecutive DPotY award, he should be in the conversation again. The Milwaukee Bucks are amongst the top three in the Eastern Conference standings, thanks to the stellar defensive play from the two-time MVP. 

It will be interesting to see where he finishes in the voting after the season’s end. Maybe he gets this award for a second-straight year, while the voter fatigue towards him takes place in the MVP ballots.

While these rankings have gotten competitive as of late, there’s still plenty of time for rising and falling in Basketball Insiders’ weekly Defensive Player of the Year rundown.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are Good Now?

The Washington Wizards went from 5-15 to 13-18 out of nowhere. Much improved from their early-season play they make a run? Dylan Thayer examines.

Dylan Thayer

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After the swap of John Wall and Russell Westbrook, the Washington Wizards did not look like they were going to be a playoff team. 20 games into the season, the team found themselves at 5-15 with trade rumors constantly buzzing. At one point, they even had the worst record in the NBA, while looked like a trade of Westbrook, Bradley Beal or even both was a certainty with the team was set to pivot into a true rebuild.

Now, all of a sudden, Washington has the look of a team that could make the postseason play-in game. 8-5 in their last 13 with wins over the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, the Wizards have started to climb the conference, now just 2.5 games back on the Charlotte Hornets for the East’s eighth seed.

But what’s changed? Let’s take a step back and look at what exactly made them start the season out so slowly.

Early in the year, the former MVP Westbrook was playing through a left quad injury. He wasn’t nearly explosive with the ball as he’s always been, settling for low-percentage jumpers and outside shots, perhaps the biggest weakness in his game. Between the injury and COVID-19 postponements, Westbrook and many other Wizards were away from the court for a significant time — the whole team was in flux.

Then, on Valentine’s Day, the team took the floor in Boston and destroyed the Celtics; the 104-91 final doesn’t truly reflect that, but at one point the Wizards led by as many as 25. A national game beatdown, their play led into the best stretch the Wizards have seen this season.

Westbrook, over his injury, looked like his former explosive self. He’s posted six triple-doubles since, while he came within a point or assist of doing so in three other contests. And, back on the court, the entire team was also able to spend some time together, which allowed them to further jell as a unit and build some momentum toward future games.

It was a surprise when Beal came out and said he did not want to be traded from Washington, with more than a few curious as to how the NBA’s leading scorer could be satisfied with such subpar play from the rest of his roster. But he “shared a consistent viewpoint” with the team, according to Shams Charania, as to what they have done to build around him. The Wizards’ clear leader, Beal has signaled he’s in it for the long-haul, while additions like Westbrook should only serve to solidify that commitment.

Beyond their two stars, the Wizards roster has also stepped up in their most recent stretch. Sophomore Rui Hachimura has proven capable alongside the star-duo in the first unit, while Robin Lopez has stepped up in the absence of Thomas Bryant, who was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Deni Avdija and Garrison Matthews have both flashed as well, with Matthews shooting 41.3 percent from three and even earning a starting role.

If they can sustain their recent success, Washington could easily make the postseason in an underwhelming Eastern Conference. In fact, the tightly-packed nature of the East — while they’re 2.5 games behind Charlotte, just four games separate the Wizards and the fourth seed Celtics — should only serve to benefit Washington in their quest for their first postseason berth since the 2017-18 season. And, if the Wizards want to bolster their team for a playoff run and look to buy at the deadline, they certainly have the pieces to make some interesting moves. With most of their draft capital for the foreseeable future, along with some interesting contracts they could flip for more win-now type players, anything could happen.

The Beal-Westbrook, while it started rough, has not nearly been as bad as most people would think. For the team, the 2020-21 season has proven more promising than they may have thought and, if they can continue to elevate their game, don’t be shocked to see the Wizards on the big stage come May.

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