Here at Bright Side of the Sun we take the words TOTAL COVERAGE pretty dang seriously.
While our beloved Suns are off taking nice vacations, we are still slaving away, attempting to provide you all with first class Suns coverage.
So friends, without further adieu, we present you with the Phoenix Suns Season in Review, 2011-12.
Up for discussion today is Robin Lopez.
The story of Robin Lopez as a Phoenix Sun so far has been that of a meteoric rise in the 2010 season, great disappointment last season, and now Lopez settling into a role as an above average backup center. It's important to look past his meager 5.4 points and 3.3 rebound averages, as he played only 14.0 minutes per game and didn't have stable point guard play for much of his time on the court.
This past season, Lopez regained his athleticism, continuing to progress since the bulging back disc he suffered in March of 2010, led the team in blocked shot percentage, and proved to be an effective finisher on the pick and roll. Still, Lopez continued to struggle with foul trouble, overall inconsistency, and shot an all-time low FG%.
For a fourth year player who was picked #15 in the 2008 NBA Draft, ahead of the likes of Serge Ibaka, Roy Hibbert and Ryan Anderson, Lopez has been a disappointment in comparison. However, as a backup center for the Suns this past year, he filled his role well.
Is the glass half empty, or half full? It's both!
Let's start with a look at Lopez' career, basic per 36 minute numbers:
His scoring and rebounding numbers were right at career averages. Unfortunately, so were his personal fouls, and his FG shooting was a career low. Lopez used to have a little bit of range on his jumper, but that's one thing that did not return to his game this season. In fact, he was fairly inefficient overall on the offensive end except for one area.
According to mySynergySports.com, Lopez was 20th in the league in PPP (points per play) as roll player on the pick and roll, with 1.15. This wasn't far behind Gortat's 11th place finish at 1.22. The difference is that Gortat was the P&R roll player on 33.4% of his shots, Lopez for only 14.4%. It stands to reason that Lopez would be much more efficient if he was Steve Nash's roll player more frequently.
What might be most impressive is that in a 66-game season, Lopez was able to play in 64 of them, nearly the most games in a season for his career. If Lopez is finally healthy and can get consistent minutes, he should be able to build some momentum in his improvements as a player. He just turned 24 years of age in April.
Looking inside the numbers some more, here's Lopez' standing among his Suns teammates in win shares/48 minutes and other advanced stats:
Noteworthy for Lopez:
- #1 with 4.8 blocks per 100 opponents' field goal attempts.
- #1 in offensive rebound % and #2 in overall rebound % (though well behind Gortat).
- #5 in offensive rating
- #5 in defensive rating
- If you put any value in on court/off court team performance, Lopez was the best among all bench players at only -4.2, according to 82games.com.
Lopez' breakout performance playing alongside Amar'e Stoudemire in 2010 probably gave us inflated expectations of his abilities. Last season burst that bubble, and Lopez fell as far as to behind Garrett Siler on the depth chart for a spell. Now, the big man of crazy hair and few words seems to finally be settling in as the player the Suns expected when they drafted him.
Here's some tidbits from Porter and Lopez on the radio tonight:
Porter says Lopez will play and be a rotation guy playing along side Amare or Boris. Not sure about his ability to play with Shaq. That makes sense. Lopez was the top guy on the Suns draft board ahead of Rush, Randolph, Batum and Courtney Lee in that order. The Suns like Robin better than Brook and think he will end up being the better of the two and would have picked him ahead of Brook.
They love his motor and intensity, but also he has good hands and a high basketball IQ. Lopez understands his role - defensive energy, and that's what the Suns need. His numbers weren't great at Stanford but he was often defending the other teams' best big and played unselfishly with his brother giving up stats to box out or guard guys on the perimeter. Again - exactly what the Suns need next to Amare.
And, just so everybody knows that Seth's man crush on Lopez is no passing fancy:
For the 15th pick you aren't going to get an all-star, so why not get the kind of glue guy that any playoff team needs? I think Suns fans are going to love this kid in no time.
Lopez' motor and intensity are indeed fine. In fact, sometimes his high intensity gets the best of him and that compromises his basketball IQ. Doing the dirty work and bringing defensive energy are strengths of Lopez as well. Though Amar'e is, of course, long gone, the need for a big man willing to fill that role will always be there.
Bench play of the Suns has been widely discussed and recognized as a key difference between the early season struggles and late season push into playoff contention. Lopez is the Suns' best bench player by a few measures but, more importantly, he would be the toughest of the bench crew to replace. Big men are always at a premium, especially those who protect the rim as Lopez does.
As a restricted free agent this off-season, the rest of the league's teams will be able to offer him a contract proposal the Suns can either match to keep him, or decline and let him leave, with salary cap space the only compensation for the Suns.
President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby, in a recent lunch with the media, called Lopez' second half performance "excellent", and said that "it's quite likely, if not certain that we're going to match" any offer made by another team for the 7'0" center. We'll see how that plays out and what kind of offer Lopez might receive. He's an asset worth keeping around, but it always depends on the cost.
Overall, Lopez is a dependable backup player who has a rare skill set and brings more to the team than his basic stats indicate. For being a low lottery pick, and seeing who the Suns passed on to take him, he has achieved to expectations at best, including this past season.
For that, I give Lopez a C.
What say you?
Here's what Lopez had to say to the media after his exit interview with head coach Alvin Gentry, including this answer when asked how he felt physically and if he had his full explosiveness back:
"A little bit. I still think it's a little bit of a process. It's slowly returning."