Thomas Robinson is the definition of an NBA journeyman. At just 26 years old, Robinson has already played for seven different teams in a span of five seasons. Once the fifth overall draft selection by the Sacramento Kings in 2012, Robinson simply hasn’t reached the potential he showed after his junior year at the University of Kansas, when he was named the Big XII Player of the Year. After one season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Robinson is an unrestricted free agent who needs to find the right environment that will maximize his distinct talent.
In 48 games this season, Robinson averaged 5 points and 4.6 rebounds in 11.7 minutes per game. Robinson’s per game numbers are easy to dismiss, but his level of production in a limited amount of playing time is eye-popping. Per 36 minutes Robinson averaged 15.5 points, 14.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals. It is important not to lose sight of the proper context when viewing raw production, but it’s safe to say Robinson can be a hyper-active player when given the opportunity.
Robinson’s biggest strength is his athleticism. Robinson has some typical highlight-reel moments off of put back dunks and tomahawk jams, but his athleticism is much more evident in how he carries himself on the court. He plays like a guard in a 6-10, 240-pound body. He is built to bang around with centers, yet extremely light on his feet. He handles the ball so well for a big man. He has no problem catching the ball on the perimeter and taking his defender to the hoop where he can muscle or finesse the ball home. In fact, he prefers that. Not many players of Robinson’s stature can do this:
Rebounding seems to come naturally to Robinson. For players who played 40 games or more, Robinson had the eighth highest total rebound percentage at 21.8 percent, which was equal to Rudy Gobert’s percentage on the season. Once Robinson grabs the rebound he’s shown the propensity to push the ball himself, which can ignite the fast break in spurts.
Robinson is also a fantastic finisher. For players who played more than 40 games this season, he had the ninth highest field goal percentage (61.7 percent) when defenders were 0-2 feet away, per nba.com stats.
Another one of Robinson’s strengths is his motor. Part of that stems from a light workload, but Robinson has also learned his niche in the league. He is a high-energy, athletic big that can take advantage of the abundance of plodding backup big men populating benches around the NBA.
Robinson has one glaring weakness that is hard to overlook: he is one dimensional. His lack of any real mid-range game confines him to the space around the basket. He is much more comfortable putting the ball on the floor and making a move to the basket than he is catching and shooting from 15 feet. 64 percent of Robinson’s shots within 0-3 feet of the basket this season, whereas a mere 9.7 percent of his attempts came from 10-16 feet. Pick-and-pops are not an option, rendering him predictable. His desire to put the ball on the floor also makes him susceptible to turnovers.
Fit with the Mavericks
Robinson’s fit in Dallas only works if Dwight Powell is not on the roster. Robinson offers more on the defensive side of the ball, but Powell is more polished on offense. Robinson’s weaknesses now are the same weaknesses that plagued him going into the draft. At this point in his career, he’s not likely to change. If Robinson ever suits up for the Mavericks, he will probably be used as a versatile big who could mix and match with multiple lineups. Robinson could defend pick-and-rolls better than Salah Mejri, and still be the shot blocker Powell isn’t. The Mavericks have had success taking fliers on talented young castoffs in the past, and Robinson would likely be a cheap gamble that poses little risk. If Dallas can get him for cheap, why wouldn’t they buy low on someone who can do this?
Currently, the likelihood the Mavericks sign Robinson is small. With Powell on the books, it would be foolish to sign another forward with limited range. But if a hole opened, Robinson is a uniquely talented big man who would be worth a look for around $2-3 million per season.