Nothing in life has ever come easy for Sacramento Kings rookie Thomas Robinson. The 21-year-old forward’s story has been told and retold, but now that he is in the NBA, he is just another first-year player struggling to find his way.
More than 20 games into his rookie season, Robinson is still learning the pro game, which has been a grind. It’s a process, but he is coming along as a player. He still doesn’t know who he’ll be at the NBA level, but a player that plenty of pundits compare him to came through Sacramento on Sunday evening.
Last season Kenneth Faried, an undersized power forward out of Morehead State, struggled to play minutes early on for the Denver Nuggets.
“I had vets in front of me, guys who had been here,” Faried said following the Nuggets 122-97 drubbing of the Kings two days ago. “Guys who had been in the organization. (But) when I got in, I just played.
“I just came in and played and played my game and showed coach that hey, you can play me earlier and I can maybe step up and do some things to help the team,” the 23-year-old added.
Kings coach Keith Smart likes the comparison of Robinson and Faried so much that he is trying to have his rookie model himself after the Nuggets forward.
“That’s exactly what we’ve tried to tailor his game to,” Smart said before Sunday’s game.
Smart later added: “We’ve shown film to Thomas of this guy to share with him here’s a player – same high-energy-type personality. He figured out where his shots are going to come from and not shooting all over the floor, playing with energy and playing defense.”
Smart has had a tough time getting Robinson to control his motor and his shot selection has been all over the board. For a coach that likes to collect data, the last thing you want to see is your prized, top-five pick shooting just 40 percent from the field.
Robinson seemed to play confused during Summer League in Las Vegas. Surrounded by only Jimmer Fredette and fringe NBA’ers, he moved away from what made him such an effective college player. He played more off the dribble, much of the time out of necessity. He shot further away from the basket and when he did go inside, he was blocked countless times.
That has continued into the regular season. But as games roll on, Robinson is starting to focus more on what he and Faried both do best.
Monday night in Phoenix, Robinson set a new-career high in boards with nine. He is currently averaging 9.1 rebounds per 36 minutes this season.
Those aren’t Faried-type numbers yet, but Nuggets coach George Karl sees where these two are similar. The 25-year-coaching veteran also hinted that Robinson might be more than just a rebounding-energy player when all is said and done.
“I think Robinson’s much better out on the floor than Kenneth is,” Karl said of where the Kings rookie edges his second-year counterpart. “Kenneth’s forte is five to 10 feet from the hoop. Right now, I think Robinson’s searching for an identity, but I can see why you can compare them.”
Karl is right. Robinson is clearly searching for his niche with this Kings team. There are glimpses of the player that put Kansas on his shoulders and took them to the NCAA Finals. But there are other times when Robinson can’t hit a layup to save his life.
During training camp and preseason, Kings brass raved about Robinson’s jumper and his ability to handle the ball, but we aren’t seeing any of that now. We are seeing a player that has lost so much confidence in his offensive game that he often throws the ball high off the glass for fear of getting blocked and his jumper isn’t even in the ballpark.
The game is moving way too fast for the rookie and with the losses piling up, the pressure to perform and make a difference can only be wearing on the 21-year-old.
While he’s not well-versed in Robinson’s game, Faried has some sage advice for the Kings rookie.
“Just have heart,” Faried said. “Just go out there and play your game, do what you need to do and listen to the coaches.”
If there is one thing we know about Robinson, it is that he has heart. In a season where not many things are going right, it is time for Robinson to start slowing down and begin relying on the heart and instincts that made him a fearless force in Kansas.
Video: Kenneth Faried on the comparisons to Thomas Robinson