On January 1st, Alvin Gentry indicated that Robin Lopez would remain a part of the Suns rotation saying, "We'd like to keep him in the rotation forever." Robin was coming off solid games against the Lakers and Celtics where even his teammate Channing Frye said that he was difference in the game against Andrew Bynum's size. Gentry noted that when Robin is in the game the Suns don't have to double team the post.
The very next day Gentry seemed to change his mind and talked about shortening the rotation and leaned towards Louis Amundson getting the time, "When we get into a situation where there are not overpowering big guys, Lou (Amundson) has played well enough where he deserves those minutes. His energy brings something to the table that we don't normally have."
Gentry's indecision has been evident in the playing time for the two guys who come off the bench for the Suns front line. Amundson has played in all 7 games this month averaging about 12 minutes while Lopez, before last night's game in Atlanta, had played in 3 games and averaged 10 minutes per.
Now after playing 30 minutes including the entire 4th quarter against the Hawks, Gentry has changed the conversation again. And Robin's play which included 6 blocks and a team high +12 (earned with his defensive presence) has raised the bar for what kind of team the Suns can be.
The floor time question now isn't between Robin and Lou battling for scraps of backup time but between Robin and starter Channing Frye (30 mpg) who's defensive and rebounding deficiencies seriously hurt the team on nights when his outside shot isn't falling.
Phoenix is a horrible rebounding team and defensively has been soft in the middle. These are exactly the problems the team tried to solve by trading for Shaq and exactly the reason why they drafted Robin Lopez who's physical abilities are finally demonstrating how he can impact the game.
His interior presence allows the Suns perimeter defenders to stay home on shooters. He is very effective stepping out and squelching penetration and he is the most physical Suns player on a team that needs to shed its soft reputation by occasionally knocking someone on their ass.
On the glass Robin's size (both width and length) keeps balls alive and gives second chance opportunities on the offensive end and denies opponents multiple looks on the other. Unlike Shaq, Robin can even trap ball handlers on perimeter ball screens and still recover quickly to his man in the paint.
Since his now famous door shattering incident, Robin has even been noticeably more controlled. In the locker room he seems more loose and talkative and on the practice court he's not screaming after every miss.
The tools have always been there as has been the effort but we are hopefully now seeing the opportunity to go with it.
Robin has a long way to go from one great game but we've seen how young big men like Joakim Noah and Marc Gasol can take giant steps forward given the chance to play consistently. This team needs that from Robin but to get it will have to be willing to sacrifice some of Frye's range and floor spreading ability.
Channing is a great guy and universally loved and respected while Robin is more reclusive and awkward in his personal interactions. Perhaps that's played into the decision to give Frye so much more time than Robin as much as the team's inclination to stress offense over defense. I don't know that to be true but we've seen how good the Suns can be when Channing is hitting his three's. It's time to see how could the Suns can be when Robin is controlling the paint.
The ability to mix the two together based on who's got the hot hand and which match-ups are more favorable will only make the Suns more potent as a team.
We will have to wait and see if Gentry truly gives Robin the chance to platoon at the Center position with Frye. On night's when Frye's shot isn't on and the Suns aren't putting up big points from long range they are going to need to win games with their defense. We saw that potential last night as Robin helped hold the Hawks to 6 for 21 in the fourth quarter (before the final 6 seconds anyway).
He might be a bit of a goof ball, but the Suns are a sub .500 team since the start of December and are ranked 29th in defensive efficiency. It's time to shake things up.