The Los Angeles Lakers’ frontcourt rotation is far from being stable, especially with the absence of Larry Nance, Jr. Thomas Robinson has gone above and beyond expectations filling in for Nance, Jr., hitting the glass hard and playing with the same reckless abandon that earned him the Lakers’ final roster spot. LA fully harnessed that level of energy by lining him up with Tarik Black, and what transpired over a five-minute stretch in the first half was nothing short of miraculous.
The lone five minute stretch serves as the tiniest of sample sizes; a crumb of a crumb of a crumb. The eye test screamed yes, this. More of this. The math checks out, too. The Lakers outscored Toronto by 99.2 points per 100 possessions (160.7 offensive rating, 61.5 defensive rating) during the assault the former Kansas Jayhawks launched, according to NBA.com. They were fairly successful together, to say the least.
“We’re both Jayhawks ... and we’re the best in the world,” Robinson said of the shell-shocking effort he and Tarik blitzed Toronto with. “We both play with high energy, and so I think that was effective especially in the first half when we first did it.”
We’re used to seeing Black hustle to make plays like this:
Just as we’ve become accustomed to seeing Robinson carve angles around the rim for rebounds. Jonas Valanciunas has a huge size advantage on T-Rob, but was tossed aside like a plush Care Bear™:
But watching them together was like watching Lendale White and Reggie Bush assaulting offensive lines in their USC heyday. Thunder, lightning and demoralization of the opponent.
“We have a connection because we come from the same university. Honestly it’s pretty cool playing with him, to be real with you,” Black said. “I watched him play at Kansas and I went there right after him, so now playing together and being out there on the floor with him, it felt good.”
That connection Tarik and Robinson have clearly translates on the court. The two combined for 21 points and 18 rebounds against Toronto, essentially playing catch with each other at times while the Raptors couldn’t keep them off the glass:
Put it together and what do you get? A pretty good explanation as to how this all came about from Head Coach Luke Walton, who once-upon-a-time declared Tarik was going to have to find his way back into the rotation behind Robinson because of how well Thomas was playing. Walton’s flexibility in trying them together paid off.
“We were talking about it as a staff as a way to try to find better defensive lineups, and where we can go and what we can do,” Walton said.
“We've kind of gotten away from that double-big lineup in the second unit and gone more to a small lineup with Luol at the four.
“We figured we'd give it a shot and see how that would impact us a little bit, and I thought they were great. They really competed on the boards, they were making plays for us on the defensive end, allowing us to get out and run.”
Whether the Lakers found something sustainable remains to be seen, but they definitely found an avenue worth driving down going forward. Both bigs have limited skillsets, but for rotation players playing spurts of minutes, that’s something the rest of the lineup can compensate for. Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson put in the kind of contagious effort you want from your bench bigs, and if Walton can pick the right spots to make the most out of that, there’s but one thing to say:
Rock chalk, baby.
*Quotes transcribed via Spectrum SportsNet and Lakers.com