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.
NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension
Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.
Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.
In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.
At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.
The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.
There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots.
A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks.
Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.
More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter.
But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic?
It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.
Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.
NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track
D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.
D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.
The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.
Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.
Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.
The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.
COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.
The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.
Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).
Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?
Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.
Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.
Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.
On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.
Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).
But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.
At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.
And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.
To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.
So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.
NBA AM: Is This It for Indiana?
Following their major drop-off, Matt John explains why the Pacers trying to get back to where they were may not be the best decision.
Remember when, following the maligned trade of Paul George, the sky was the limit for the Indiana Pacers? The 2017-18 Pacers were one of the best stories in the NBA that season because they made their opponents work for their victories, and they put on a spectacle every night.
It’s hard to believe that all transpired three whole years ago. When Cleveland eliminated Indiana in a very tight first-round series, I asked if having the exciting season that they did – when many thought it would turn out the opposite – was going to benefit them in the long run. Three years later, this happens.
Goga Bitadze and Pacers assistant coach Greg Foster got into a heated discussion.
Myles Turner and multiple other players got involved to attempt to break up the confrontation. pic.twitter.com/9Xr96HmJg8
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 6, 2021
We were getting plenty of smoke about the Pacers’ drama behind-the-scenes beforehand, and now, we have seen the fire firsthand. More and more reports indicate that the crap has hit the fan. Indiana has seemingly already had enough of Nate Bjorkgren in only his first year as his coach. When you see the results they’ve had this season compared to the last three, it’s not hard to see why.
The Pacers have routinely found themselves in the 4-5 playoff matchup for the last three years. Sadly, despite their fight – and, to be fair, they had pretty awful injury luck the past two postseasons – they haven’t been able to get over the hump in the first round. They may not have been in the elite tier, but they weren’t slouches either. So, seeing them not only fail to take the next step but look more and more likely for the play-in is as discouraging as it gets. Especially after they started the season 6-2.
If these reports about the tensions between the players and Bjorkgren are real, then this has already become a lost season for the Pacers. It’s too late in the season to make any major personnel changes. At this point, their best route is just to cut their losses and wait until this summer to think over what the next move is.
In that case, let’s take a deep breath. This has been a weird season for everyone. Every aspect minus the playoffs has been shorter than usual since last October. Everything was shortened from the offseason to the regular season. Oh, and COVID-19 has played a role as the season has turned out, although COVID-19 has probably been the least of Indy’s problems. Let’s think about what next season would look like for Indiana.
TJ Warren comes back with a clean bill of health. Caris Levert gets more acquainted with the team and how they run. Who knows? Maybe they finally resolve the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis situation once and for all. A new coach can come aboard to steady the ship, and it already looks like they have an idea for who that’s going to be
Report: Mike D’Antoni ‘leader in the clubhouse’ to become the next Pacers head coach https://t.co/42Ik5nPTyU
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) May 6, 2021
Should they run it back, there’s a solid chance they can get back to where they were before. But that’s sort of the problem to begin with. Even if this recent Pacers’ season turns out to be just a negative outlier, their ceiling isn’t all too high anyway. A team that consists of Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Caris Levert as their core four is a solid playoff team. Having Turner, Doug McDermott, TJ McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, and the Holiday brothers rounds out a solid playoff team. Anyone who takes a good look at this roster knows that this roster is a good one. It’s not great though.
Just to be clear, Indiana has plenty of ingredients for a championship team. They just don’t have the main one: The franchise player. Once upon a time, it looked like that may have been Oladipo, but a cruel twist of fate took that all away. This isn’t a shot at any of the quality players they have on their roster, but think of it this way.
For the next couple of years, they’re going to go up against Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. All of whom are on the same team. For potentially even longer, they’ll be going up against the likes of Giannis Antetoukounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum. With the roster they have, they could make a series interesting against any one of those teams. However, it’s a rule of thumb in the NBA that the team with the best player usually wins the series. Not to mention, they’d have to beat most of the teams those players play for to go on a substantial playoff run. That’s a pretty tall order.
There’s no joy in talking about the Pacers like this because they have built this overachieving underdog from nothing more than shrewd executive work. They turned a disgruntled and expiring Paul George into Oladipo and Sabonis. Both of whom have since become two-time all-stars (and counting). They then managed to turn an expiring and hobbled Oladipo – who had no plans to return to Indiana – into the electric Levert. They also pretty much stole Brogdon and Warren away while paying very little for either of them.
That is fantastic work. The only hangup is that, as of now, it just doesn’t seem like it will be enough. But, doubt and skepticism are things Indiana’s had thrown their way consistently since 2017. Many thought their approach to trading Paul George would blow up in their face, and since then, they’ve done everything in their power to make everyone eat their words.
Kevin Pritchard’s got his work cut out for him this summer. This season will hopefully turn out to be nothing more than performance ruined by both the wrong coaching hire and an unusual season that produced negatively skewed results. But at this point, Pritchard’s upcoming course of action this summer shouldn’t be about getting his team back to where they were, but deciding whether he can get them a step or two further than that by adding more to what they have or starting over completely.
Indiana’s had a rough go of it in this COVID-shortened season, but their disappointing play may have little to no bearing on where they go from here.