Can Thomas Robinson Help Houston Rockets Compete in Short-Term?

Grant Rindner@grantrindnerContributor IIIFebruary 27, 2013

Nov 2, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Sacramento Kings forward Thomas Robinson (0) reacts to a call during the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center. The Timberwolves defeated the Kings 92-80. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

During a NBA trade deadline that consisted primarily of cap-conscious trades and marginal role players being dealt for second-round draft picks, the Houston Rockets made one of the few noteworthy moves; sending Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Francisco Garcia, Tyler Honeycutt and 2012 fifth overall selection Thomas Robinson.

Based on statistics alone, Robinson does not seem like the most impressive player in this deal, but the former Kansas star was brought to Houston to play a much more expanded role than he did in Sacramento, especially since the Rockets sent Marcus Morris to the Phoenix Suns in the same deal. 

On the year, Robinson is averaging just 4.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 0.7 assists per game. He is shooting just 42.4 percent from the field, which is low for a shooting guard, let alone a bruising power forward, and has appeared in just 15.9 minutes per game for the Kings.

He played well in the preseason for the Kings, but had some difficulty finding a consistent role once the regular season began.

None of that matters now though, as Robinson has gone from being third on the depth chart to a key cog for a team hoping to make the postseason. James Harden and Chandler Parsons can do the brunt of the work for Houston, but at some point they are going to need a player like Robinson to step up.

In a very small sample size, Robinson has not looked like a dominant player on the offensive end, but he has been a strong rebounder. His rebounding rate of 16.9, a statistic measuring what percentage of total rebounds a player grabs while on the floor, ranks him 30th in the league, above the likes of Joakim Noah, David Lee and Greg Monroe. 

Regardless of anything else, Robinson should earn time based solely on his ability to snag loose balls. Patterson and Morris both averaged over four boards per game, and it will be up to Robinson, Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones to replace that production.

Robinson will be a rebounding asset from the jump because of his ability to make multiple efforts. He can leap several times in one possession and always work to keep the ball alive. The combination of Robinson and Omer Asik on the offensive glass will be a tall order for size-starved teams to contain.

However, his player efficiency rating of 10.85 is well below league average, although that could be a product of his role with a Sacramento bench unit that did not exactly encourage ball movements and high-percentage looks.

On the offensive end of the court, Robinson's game needs to be polished considerably. He scored 17.7 points per game in his final season at Kansas, but that mostly came on the strength of his athleticism.

Robinson has worked on his midrange jumper, but it is still a ways away from being NBA ready. Once he develops that shot, it will force defenses to respect him outside of the post and open up more minutes for him in Houston's drive-and-kick offense. He could also become a legitimate pick-and-pop threat with Harden and Jeremy Lin handling. 

He has an average post game, and would be well served to work with head coach Kevin McHale, one of the best post-up scorers in NBA history. 

He is also developing as a screener and roller to the rim. Robinson is a strong 6'9" and has the ability to set an extremely effective pick. He has had some trouble finishing at the rim in his rookie campaign, but remains a viable threat because of his explosiveness.

The Rockets have clearly shown a willingness to bring Robinson along slowly, as he has been practicing with the team but sat out their first two games with him.

Hopefully, maturity is not an issue for Robinson. He was suspended two games earlier in the season for throwing an elbow at Detroit Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko. After the incident, he seemed genuinely apologetic, but that is not the kind of reputation a young player wants to develop in this league.

Although he may be able to make some positive effort plays and chip in a productive 18-24 minutes per game, the reality is that Robinson should not be counted on to be an instant impact player for the Rockets.

With Motiejunas, Jones, Greg Smith and potentially Royce White all capable of playing power forward, this is a team that is clearly looking to fill that spot by committee.

Robinson is not a three-point threat, something Houston values in their big men since they need someone who can space the floor for Asik. His ability to run the floor makes him a natural fit for the young, athletic Rockets, but he needs time to develop before he can be a true impact player.

Trading for Thomas Robinson is a move that should pay dividends for Houston in a season or two, but he won't make a huge impact in 2012-13 as he learns the ins-and-outs of the NBA game.

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