SACRAMENTO – Under his fluffy hair is the mind of an intellectual. (Basketball IQ: unknown.)
Robin Lopez is misunderstood like many unconventional thinkers, but his NBA game is straight and narrow. The traditional center is logging a career-high 30.7 minutes per night this season for the Portland Trail Blazers and a big reason why the club is 27-9 a year after missing the playoffs.
The Trail Blazers acquired Lopez in a three-team trade in July in exchange for Jeff Withey, second round picks and cash. The move was a necessity at the time because Portland had been a wasteland at the pivot. Aside from a brief stint by Marcus Camby, the Trail Blazers trotted out names like Sean Marks, Hasheem Thabeet, Fabricio Oberto and J.J. Hickson since the fall of Greg Oden. The stagnation of 2012 lottery pick Meyers Leonard only hastened the need.
In Lopez, the Trail Blazers added a body (7-feet, 255 pounds) who could finally clog the lane. Not sexy, but steady, the 25-year-old focused on defense as a youth which was apparent by his basketball idols.
With Lopez on the floor, his teammates can focus without the dread of empty space in the key. This season the Trail Blazers are third in the NBA in total rebounds up from twenty-fourth in 2012-13. Portland is also first in the league in 3-pointers allowed (up from tenth a year ago), partly since the presence of Lopez won’t mean an automatic score when their guards and wings hug the perimeter tight.
“I like to bring a little bit of edge, a little bit of dirty work. I try to be that utility guy,” Lopez added. “When we need rebounds, I try to get rebounds. When we need stops, I try to help out on the defensive end. When we need to get easy baskets, I try to get extra possessions off offensive rebounds.”
Through 36 games (all starts), Lopez is averaging 10.2 points, 8.3 rebounds (4.0 offensive), 1.5 blocks and 1.1 turnovers. The former Phoenix Sun and New Orleans Hornet is shooting 64.1 percent in the restricted area, and 27.7 percent of his attempts have been put-backs (per NBA.com, Mysynergysports.com). Lopez can run the floor and more importantly protect the rim, where he’s an enormous upgrade over Hickson.
Lopez is enjoying his recent success (as is LaMarcus Aldridge, who seems content to stay with his new partner long-term), but he still takes a moment to reminisce. Some of his fondest years happened to be at Stanford where he teamed with his older twin.
“(I miss) hanging out with friends, doing ridiculous stuff that you can’t get away with now, not being accountable,” Lopez recalled.
The big misses playing with Brook Lopez, but he was adamantly clear about where they stand as individuals.
“(I’m better at) everything. I’m kind of a renaissance man.”
Photo Credit: Rocky Widner / Getty Images