Robin Lopez Still an Enigma as Phoenix Suns Frontcourt Finds Early Success

The Phoenix Suns sure are putting together an interesting early season for us fans.

So many new and interesting things are happening on the court: rookie Markieff Morris has been making the Suns front office look good for once, Channing Frye is finally finding his range (4-4 last night from 3!), and Steve Nash is reminding us yet again why we come back year after year to watch the Phoenix Suns play ball. That said, one thing has remained unchanged: fourth-year big man Robin Lopez remains an inconsistent enigma.

Last year, Robin struggled with a persistent back injury, eventually conceding his starting position to new acquisition Marcin Gortat. During this season's training camp, Robin displayed a new positive mindset and an optimism about his renewed health and energy level, saying that he "feels bouncier". He put this new trait on display in the first game of the season against the New Orleans Hornets, breaking out for 21 point on 8-12 shooting, including a confident 3-5 from beyond 16 feet and 7 boards.

Robin_lopez_2011-2012_medium

In the next five games combined, he had 21 points, 16 rebounds and his usage rate dwindled from 30% to around 16%.

I bring out these statistics only to show that even in a microcosm of 8 games, it's plain to see that there are still consistency issues with our big guy. My preseason hope that the "big 4" of Robin, Marcin, Markieff, and Channing Frye coalesce into a cohesive, complementary front court has yet to be realized. Gortat, as the Phoenix Suns' current breadwinner in the block, is earning 30% more minutes than Lopez. Markieff Morris, the best surprise of this early season, is outperforming the rest of the Suns front court in every category per 48 minutes, and Channing has been getting it done on the boards as well as from behind the arc. The only thing missing is a little bit of production from Robin Lopez.

I'm being a little too harsh here, of course. As strange as it is to say, the Suns have a small embarrassment of riches at the 5 spot. Gortat has been solid so far, and Robin, though inconsistent, has shown flashes of being he enforcer and finisher that he revealed two seasons ago that he could be.

Where does he go from here? With the Suns at 4-4 and Gortat holding the line at center, I can only expect the contribution from Robin to continue increasing. Last season, he was under extreme pressure to perform as the focal point of the Suns' frontcourt. With a solid partner at the 5, he doesn't have to carry that burden and can focus instead on improving his overall game. What we saw flashes of in Game 1 of the 2011-2012 season, I think we'll see much more of as the season goes on.

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