When the Portland Trail Blazers traded for Robin Lopez in the summer, most thought that he would improve one of the better starting lineups in the NBA last season.
But this? The most wins in the Western Conference and just one game back in the loss column of having the best record in the NBA?
Few expected this and Lopez continues to be an unsung hero, doing the work that doesn’t show up in the box score.
“He brought so much energy,” said Nicolas Batum on Lopez after he guarded Dwight Howard one-on-one in Portland’s win Thursday night against Houston. “On defense, every night, he never complains, he just plays. He plays hard, he gets rebounds.”
“I think they are more of a power team,” said Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel when asked about the difference in Portland with Lopez in the middle. “They are a better offensive rebounding team and a better defensive team.”
Portland’s starting line-up has played more minutes than any other group of five players in the NBA. Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Batum, Wesley Matthews and Damian Lillard are outscoring their opponents by 14.6 points per 100 possessions according to NBA.com.
The team has been better on both ends of the floor when Lopez is on the court and Lopez is having a career-year in rebounding numbers. He’s averaging 8.4 rebounds per game, which is a career-high and he’s one of the best in the league on the offensive glass, averaging four offensive rebounds per game.
While the Blazers have been lauded for their shooting, Lopez’s offensive rebounding has played a big role in the team having the best offense in the NBA. The Blazers are second in the league in offensive rebound rate. Lopez leads the charge as he is fourth in the league in offensive rebounds per game.
Also, it’s not a coincidence that Aldridge is having an MVP-type year alongside a true center who does the dirty work. “He takes so much pressure off LaMarcus,” said Batum. “LaMarcus can really play the four now because we have this young five who can do all the dirty work inside. He do all those screens, get all those rebounds inside. He’s got those big guys. I love Robin Lopez. He’s a blessing for us.”
“He’s a good big man that rebounds, blocks shots,” said Aldridge. “He just controls the paint so that’s been big as far as playing off of him.”
Offensively, Lopez has helped too.
“Yeah because I think their bigger guy has to guard him and then not me and I’m getting the actual power forwards now,” Aldridge said.
Lopez formed instant chemistry with Aldridge as well as Batum.
While Lopez won’t ever complain, the Blazers try to reward his hard work by getting him the ball in places to score.
“On offense when he is open I try to give him the ball to reward him because he deserves to get some touches on offense too,” said Batum.
According to Lillard, they saw what Lopez could give them when they started playing pick-up games before training camp even started.
“I figured when he first got here and we started playing open gym,” he said. “He was doing a lot of the things that he’s doing now, maybe a little bit better. Just the fact that he’s been able to have that same presence in the game so far this season has been huge for us.”
When it comes to basketball, Lopez is always serious. While he loves his comic books, updating the Instagram page for his cat Prince Edward Zephyr or appearing in car commercials with Aldridge, his serious demeanor when it comes to every game has rubbed off on the Blazers.
“Huge,” said Lillard about Lopez’s impact on the team. “From his attitude and how intense he is all the time, defensive rebounding, protecting the rim, blocking shots, altering shots.”
Aldridge and Batum have remarked that this is the best chemistry they’ve ever had with the Blazers. From looking at the numbers and talking to the players, it’s clear that Lopez has been the catalyst of a remarkable chemical reaction.