Four years removed from the start of his college basketball career, Thomas Robinson finds himself in a familiar position even though he’s not in Kansas anymore.
“You know when I was at Kansas playing behind the (Morris) twins, I kind of felt the same way that I feel now,” Robinson said.
Now with the Portland Trail Blazers, Robinson is again scrapping for minutes. Instead of being a star, the former lottery pick will back up LaMarcus Aldridge at power forward.
Robinson started his college career as a backup forward at Kansas. Playing time was limited as the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, now both with the Phoenix Suns, played the majority of the minutes. Robinson found time on the floor, but it was scarce.
“Like, ‘Oh, I could be a star player if I had the chance or I could do this if I had the chance.’ But I found some way to maintain my composure and keep working and wait my turn.”
Robinson eventually became the player of the year in the Big 12 his junior season at Kansas.
“I ended up being the player I wanted to be within two years,” Robinson said. “So, it turned out good and I just look at it the same way here.”
The Sacramento Kings chose Robinson with the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft.
But his first 12 months in the league that saw him traded twice. Sacramento chose to go in a different direction and traded him to Houston.
The Rockets then decided to free up salary cap space to sign Dwight Howard this summer and traded Robinson to Portland.
Now, Robinson is just trying to play his role for his third team in two NBA seasons.
“It’s a new stage, my first couple of years in the league, I gotta be a role player. That’s what I am right now,” Robinson says.
Instead of the Morris twins, Robinson is behind arguably the best power forward in the NBA. Aldridge will be in the spotlight and Robinson knows that.
“I’m going to steal as much as I can from that guy over there, LaMarcus, and just keeping working. You know, one day my name will be called in this league and I’ll be ready,” he said.
Coach Terry Stotts has been clear about how he envisions Robinson contributing early in his Trail Blazer career.
“I want him to play to his strengths. And his strengths are obviously his rebounding, his athleticism,” Stotts said. “We’re playing team defense but he can definitely have an impact on the defensive end. Offensively we’ve got a lot of scorers. He’s going to be an opportunistic scorer kind of the way JJ (Hickson) was last year.”
Robinson had pretty good rebound numbers, averaging 10.7 per 36 minutes during his rookie season. He rarely played 36 minutes in Sacramento and Houston and isn’t being asked to in Portland, but it is an encouraging sign he can be an NBA quality rebounder.
While Stotts won’t be calling plays for him, he does have confidence in Robinson’s midrange game. Robinson is enjoying Stotts’ system and the fact that the coach has shown confidence in Robinson’s jumper both privately and in speaking with the media.
“I’m going to turn into a jump shooting four or nothing,” he cautioned. “But you know it’s just something I’ve always felt I could add to my game. He believes the same and he’s letting me do it.”
Robinson says he’s more concerned with getting back on defense, running the floor, getting stops and rebounds. Essentially, he wants to crawl before he can walk on this Blazers team.
So far, Robinson likes that even though Portland added veterans,the team has a “young feeling.”
“There’s a lot less commotion here than other places. But you know, every place is different. Still that young feeling, nobody here really old,” he said. “Even D-Wright (Dorell Wright), ten years in the league still only 20-something and then Mo (Williams) is a cool old head, so I like it.”
Before Robinson could become the star that he was in college, he had to wait his turn. Behind Aldridge, he will have to do so again. Before he can become a star, he has to show he can contribute in a meaningful way on a consistent basis.
Robinson has to wait again, but is reminded of a lesson he learned from his time waiting in college:
“Patience is key, man.”