It’s Time for the Lakers to Start Thomas Robinson

Thomas Robinson has had a long struggle to find his place in the NBA. After getting drafted to Sacramento, Robinson has made his way around the league. Since being drafted in 2012, Robinson has played for Sacramento, Houston, Portland, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and now Los Angeles. Robinson has not been able to find a permanent home, but this stint Lakers has been his best yet.

Robinson has always been athletic.  His problems have not been as an athlete, but rather as a basketball player. Robinson’s defensive instincts and offensive touched just haven’t sufficed. He hasn’t been able to dominate the NBA like he was in college.

At Kansas, Robinson averaged an excellent 17.7 points, 11.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game his junior season at Kansas. Those are very good numbers for a very good college team. It’s what made him a higher ranked draft prospect than players like Damian Lillard, Andre Drummond, and Draymond Green on draft night.

Images / Amazon
Images / Amazon

Unfortunately, Robinson was not given a chance by the Kings. They gave up on him 51 games into his rookie season by trading him to Houston with Francisco Garcia for Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich, Toney Douglas, and cash. Those were three solid players, but they do not merit the risk of losing the potential production a top-five draft pick possesses. Still, after Robinson’s rookie season, he was flipped to Portland for even less: Two European prospects and two 2nd round picks.

It is very possible that Robinson’s lack of success in the NBA is solely because of teams not believing in him from the getgo. His production in his career has actually been very adequate. In fact, there has only been three other seasons in which a player has produced at Robinson’s level with the Lakers this season by averaging Robinson’s 12.2 points, 14.9 points, and 1.4 steals per 36 minutes. Those seasons were had by Roy Tarpley in 1987-88, Andre Drummond in 2015-16, and Drummond again this season. None of those players even had as many assists per 36 minutes (1.7) as Robinson either.

Robinson’s efficiency has been especially strong for a weaker Lakers team. Robinson leads the team in defensive rating at 108 while finishing a respectable 6th in offensive rating – also 108, which is still a considerable 1.3 above the team 106.7 offensive rating. Robinson is also 5th in win share rate (.093 per 48 minutes,) and he is one of four players on the Lakers (Larry Nance Jr., Julius Randle, Luol Deng) with a positive defensive box plus/minus.

Counsel Heal
Counsel Heal

Considering the Lakers are a below average rebounding team, giving Robinson, the player leading Los Angeles in offensive (18.0,) defensive (27.8,) and total (22.7) rebounding percentage, more minutes would definitely improve their success at rebounding the basketball. This rebounding on both ends of the court will in turn give more possessions to Los Angeles on offense, and take away possessions from Lakers’ opponents on defense.

The myth that the Lakers need Timofey Mozgov‘s shot blocking is wrong on many levels. The first is that no such shot-blocking is present. Mozgov is actually averaging less blocks per 36 minutes than Robinson despite his taller frame. The need for such shot-blocking is also false, as Mozgov’s 114 defensive rating is pitiful – among centers that have started at least 10 games this season, Mozgov is dead last of the 29 centers. Mozgov is even performing worse on defense than notoriously bad defensive centers like Nikola Vucevic, Jahlil Okafor, and Brook Lopez.

Robinson, the owner of a 108 defensive rating, might not be perfect, but he is a definite upgrade over Mozgov. Considering how many times the Lakers games were blowouts, this upgrade is very necessary. Only four of the Lakers 25 losses were within four or less points, and 14 of their 25 losses were by 10 or more points. Who knows how much more competitive the Lakers could be in games with an adequate defensive center?

AP Photo / John Locher
AP Photo / John Locher

Robinson is also the much better option from a practical sense. He is younger, more athletic, and plays harder than Mozgov. His work ethic is what earned him a roster spot on the Lakers, and we have never seen a confident Robinson at play. Only the insecure Robinson that hasn’t been trusted with significant playing time despite production and lottery talent. Considering the Lakers are also the 5th fastest team in the league, the more youthful Robinson is also the more identity friendly option at center for this reason.

The fact that the Lakers are 13-25, which is 12th in the Western conference, they have nothing to lose by giving Robinson a chance. They actually only have something to gain. If Robinson pans out at center, the Lakers win more games and have themselves an asset going forward. If the Lakers get worse, then they might just slip back into the bottom five of the league to get a top three draft pick, which is the only way they keep it because of the trade with Phoenix for Steve Nash. Either way, the Lakers only gain from this personnel change.

The bench would be good for Mozgov too. His height at 7’1″ is something the bench does not have besides the sparingly used Ivica Zubac. Many times it takes a move to the bench for a player to find themselves and thrive. It happened for Enes Kanter, Jamal Crawford, and many other players who couldn’t compete defensively as a starter. Robinson, however, just might be able to, and the Lakers should give him that chance.

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