Every preseason or training camp, no matter the sport, no matter the level of play, there is always that guy. He’s gone by many names, but his characteristics are always the same. Some level of untapped potential that he shows flashes of realizing. The type of hustle that can only be brought about by a player fighting for their livelihood.
Fans and media will debate his merits endlessly, despite the very nature of his position as the 14th or 15th man essentially guaranteeing he won’t play a meaningful role for the team at any point. Last year, that guy was Robert Upshaw. This year, he’s Thomas Robinson.
The former lottery pick certainly checks the “potential” on the list of qualifications to be the Lakers’ preseason fan favorite. After being selected fifth-overall by the Sacramento Kings in 2012, Robinson bounced between Houston, Portland, Philadelphia and Brooklyn before finally landing on a non-guaranteed deal worth $980,431 in Los Angeles.
His hustle, athleticism, and defensive effort have endeared him to a fanbase that watched a team sorely lacking in all three of those qualities last season. They aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed.
“I think he’s been phenomenal,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said of Robinson following the team’s practice on Tuesday. “I know other teams haven’t gotten to see him like we have, but the way he’s played, if he didn’t make our roster I wouldn’t be surprised if another team jumped on him pretty quick.”
The latter scenario Walton mentioned seems like the most likely one at this point, and for reasons almost entirely unrelated to Robinson’s play on the court. The Lakers have fourteen guaranteed contracts and only fifteen roster spots, and Yi Jianlian’s incredibly trade-friendly contract seem to give him the edge on Robinson despite his seeming lack of NBA level talent.
In the bizarre world of professional basketball, oftentimes what you’re making is more valuable than whether or not you’re earning it.
It’s another instance of Robinson, at least in part, ending up the victim of forces beyond his control. The Kings, Sixers, and Nets have hardly been halcyons of player development in recent seasons, and there is a case to be made that while Robinson wasn’t necessarily worthy of his high draft slot, he has NBA-level skills and just ended up in the wrong situations.
Whatever the cause of his inability to stick anywhere, Robinson has been fighting for his NBA life during his 32 preseason minutes in Los Angeles. In just about one game’s worth of time, Robinson has scored 16 points and pulled down 14 rebounds (along with six fouls) while the Lakers have outscored their opponents by 24.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
Preseason stats should always be taken with a heavy dosage of salt, but Robinson has done everything anyone would want from a preseason fan favorite. It just ultimately may not be enough.
“I think it’s an important time in anyone’s career. It’s the business we’re in. It’s always stressful, you’re always fighting for a job,” Walton said. “I don’t think this is his last chance.”
It might not be, but it’s worth wondering where on the globe the former lottery pick’s next one will come.