How good will Robin Lopez be? We should finally get a chance to find out now that he's been traded from the team that drafted and discounted him to a team that needs him to start next to rookie Anthony Davis on what could be one of the biggest, baddest and hairiest (head and eyebrows combined) front lines in the NBA.
The big guy from Fresno goes to a team that wants him, a coach that respects him and an organization that didn't throw him under the bus in one of the most callous acts of bus-throwing-under I've seen in recent years.
Robin won't have to fight for minutes with Marcin Gortat and fight against memories of a coach who hears the sound of glass shattering at every scowl.
I might be the only one left on the Robin Lopez bandwagon, but that's because I remember just how freaking athletic this kid was before his back injury in March 2010 and how skilled he was on both ends of the floor.
Robin Lopez doesn't rebound, you say? Well, no, actually, he's not a very good rebounder and I don't think he ever will be...if you only measure rebounding by individual rebounds.
In this era of advanced stats, there's still no on-court/ off-court rebounding plus/minus but when we ran those numbers ourselves in 2010 the results were remarkable. The Suns net rebounding rate improved 7.5 points once Robin "got into the game" and that wasn't because Amar'e Stoudemire suddenly started chewing glass and spitting up boards.
What Lopez does is put his wide hips in the other team's biggest guy and gets his long arms on balls. He slows down fast breaks by tipping the rock out of bounds and he opens up rebounding opportunities for wing players that know how to rebound.
During that stretch in his second year, Robin was well on his way to a very respectable career before he blew out a disc in his back that pinched a nerve going down his right leg.
In fact, I have no problem saying that stretch with Robin starting at the five was the best Suns basketball played during the Nash Era. They were incredibly efficient on the offensive end, they were solid defensively and yes, as a team, they rebounded the ball. Oh, and they were super deep with Frye, Dudley, Dragic, Barbosa and Amundson coming off the bench.
Good times. But I digress into fuzzy-headed fits of nostalgia.
Let me interrupt my Suns bashin' and Robin lovin' to say this:
This. Was. A. Great. Trade. For. The. Suns.
(See, Lon, I'm not just about that hatin')
The Suns moved a bad contract and created more cap space. They opened up front court playing time at the four (since Frye can now move to the backup five). Got a first round pick that will probably be roughly equivalent in value to the one they lost in the Dragic / Brooks swap (sorry, Lon, parting shots). And get a clean look at Wesley Johnson, a very talented player who so far hasn't lived up to top-five pick expectations but might just have something special to offer at a position the Suns needed to fill.
It's also a fantastic situation for Robin to go to a new team with a new coach where the fans haven't been poisoned against him by a team that didn't support him through the recovery from an injury that took EIGHT INCHES off his vertical ... a fact only admitted to publicly by his coach at the end of the 2011 season after months of hearing him get killed on talk radio.
Robin's agent, by the way, did a horrible job protecting his client. All season while Robin's getting bashed in the media for his lousy play and the team is untelling the truth regarding his physical status, the agent should be doing something to cover for a guy who did himself no favors when it came to protecting his own image and "brand".
I don't know what the story is now on the nerve damage in his right leg that limited his play for the last two seasons. But as recently as April 2012, Robin said he was still working himself back to where he was before the back injury robbed him of elite-level big man athleticism.
He's shown signs of improvement but it's been slow. Will he ever get back to being this guy who could dunk anything, block shots and converted nearly 70% of his pick and roll finishes with uncanny flair? I don't know.
If he does, look out.
If he does, Robin Lopez will be better than his twin brother Brook and not unlike Tyson Chandler, could become a dominant defensive force later in his career but with far more offensive ability. It was clear that wasn't going to happen in Phoenix so it's best for everybody that he's given the chance to start over somewhere else.
Best of luck, Robin. You are a different dude and that sometimes didn't work well for you in relationships with the media or team. But underneath the gruff exterior and grunted answers is a super smart guy who can play this game at the highest levels. I believe that.
Here's Robin's final media availability as a Sun. Around the 2:05 he talks about working to regain his explosiveness.
Here's a fun story I was told but never verified: That door busting incident in Robin's rookie year came after a spirited post-practice three-on-three game. Jarron Collins of all people, was apparently a knock down shooter on the practice floor. He hit a game-winning J in Robin's face and proceeded to talk some trash. Robin lost his cool, stormed up the stairs and pushed open the door so hard that the glass shattered.