Thomas Robinson was a candidate for National Player of the Year his junior season at the University of Kansas, an example at the sustained level of play the nearly 22-year-old power forward can produce. Scouts lauded him for his relentless motor and NBA-ready body before the draft, many considering him the most prepared to contribute to his team as a rookie. He was traded Wednesday night to the Houston Rockets for Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas.
Robinson slipped slightly in the draft, falling to No. 5 and the Sacramento Kings, a team already flush with frontcourt pieces in DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson and Chuck Hayes. The 6'9 forward showed flashes during summer league and the preseason, but talk of him being forced to play the small forward didn't sit well with those who knew his game. He's an inside bruiser, without much of a perimeter jumper or a dribble-drive.
As the season got started, Robinson saw the floor inconsistently, playing more than 20 minutes just four times in his first month. By January, he already had nights when he was seeing just three, five and seven minutes of playing time.
The biggest impression Robinson made wasn't for his play, however: it was for his behavior. Robinson was suspended for two games after throwing an elbow to Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko's neck in his fifth professional game. He hasn't been heard from since on a national scale — before Wednesday night, anyway.
He has a chance for a fresh start in Houston, and consistent playing time. Trading Patterson, and Marcus Morris to the Suns at the same time, cleared up a presumed starting role for Robinson. He will likely also see playing-time competition from Donatas Motiejunas and D-Leaguers Terrence Jones and Royce White.
The Rockets are bidding that they'll get the Robinson who scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds a game as a junior, not the one whose lone highlight of his rookie year has been the back of his jersey as he leaves a game early.
In the games he's played, Robinson hasn't been terrific, but he's showed energy on the court. He's also endeared himself to Kings fans, who were sad to see him go. He only has a PER of 10.8, far below the league average, and -0.2 win shares, according to Basketball-Reference. But the one thing everyone knew he would do coming out of college — rebound — he has done, grabbing 10.6 boards per 36 minutes, snatching up 16.8 percent of all available rebounds while he's on the court.
The Rockets could use that sort of play, since their defense has been abysmal. Robinson should complement his frontcourt counterpart Omer Asik nicely, forming a defensive backline that should be significantly above average to compensate for the perimeter defense that isn't even close.