Why We Should Stop Underrating Robin Lopez
Are we properly appreciating Robin Lopez?
Brook Lopez, Robin’s twin brother, is the All-Star of the family and often stands out as the better basketball player. Brook is a key cog for and arguably the best player on the Brooklyn Nets and scores around 20 points per game for them each season. Robin, on the other hand, has posted modest scoring averages just above 11 points per contest the last two seasons (the only times in his six-year career he’s scored in double-digits) and is considered by many to be the fifth best player on the Portland Trail Blazers, behind LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, and Wesley Matthews.
Robin and his big hair have bounced around from Phoenix, to New Orleans, and finally to Portland over the last few years and he could easily be mistaken for a role playing journeyman. A closer look at his numbers, however, suggests that he might be one of the most important centers in the whole Association.
Wipe that incredulous look off your face and take a look.
According to Basketball Reference, Robin’s 128.1 offensive rating was the best in the entire NBA last season, beating out guys like Chris Paul and Kevin Durant. Having a better offensive rating doesn’t suggest that Lopez is more offensively gifted than CP3 or KD (don’t be absurd), just that he produced more points per individual possession than they did. Considering Lopez only had a 14.0% usage rate and rarely had the undivided attention of opposing defenses, his path to efficiency was easier, but no less impressive.
Lopez finished seventh in the whole league in field goal percentage (55.1%) and second among centers in free throw percentage (81.8%). That combination of efficient scoring from the field and skill from the line helped him finish eighth in the league in true shooting percentage (weighted twos, threes, and free throws) at 60.5%. He may not have scored a ton of points, but he was a reliable option when called upon on offense.
One of his most important skills on the offensive end for the Blazers, though, was his ability to grab offensive rebounds. He was second in the league in offensive boards per game at 4.0, trailing only Andre Drummond at 5.4. His offensive rebound percentage of 13.6% was fourth in the league, while his 326 total offensive rebounds placed him third. He also scored 278 second-chance points off those offensive boards, the eighth-highest total in the NBA.
The Blazers were consistently dismissed as true contenders last season because of their mediocre defense, but Robin Lopez did absolutely all he could on that end to change the narrative. Portland finished 16th in the league with a defensive rating of 104.7 (points allowed per 100 possessions), the third worst among playoff teams behind the Dallas Mavericks and the Brooklyn Nets. They were much better, however, with Lopez on the floor (103.7, which would have finished 13th comparatively) than when he was off (106.6, 24th).
Notably, Lopez’s defensive rebounding numbers didn’t quite match up with the way he crashed the boards on the offensive end, with his 4.6 defensive boards per game representing one of the lowest averages among starting centers in the league. This is somewhat understandable, however, when you consider how much time he had to spend defending the rim for Portland instead of getting into good rebounding position.
The 10.3 shots that Lopez faced at the rim per game last season is tied with DeAndre Jordan for the most in the whole NBA. RoLo not only swatted away 1.7 shots per game (eighth in the Association), but he also held a ridiculously low rim protection rate of 42.5%.
Of all players that faced at least 4 shots within five feet of the basket last year, only Bismack Biyombo (38.8%) and Roy Hibbert (41.4%) fared better. Lopez didn’t get a single All-Defensive Team vote last year - Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah and Hibbert were obvious and deserving choices - but perhaps he would've been considered right there with DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond as part of the next tier if an All-Defensive Third Team had been selected.
If you look at the list of the top 20 win share totals from last season, you will find 14 NBA All-Stars and five other players that received All-NBA votes at the end of the year. The one outlier in the group, coming in at 19th, was none other than Robin Lopez. In fact, his 9.5 win shares last year was just shy of teammate Damian Lillard’s 9.6 and more than LaMarcus Aldridge’s 7.5.
Lopez played and started in all 82 games for Portland in 2013-14, so that probably gave him a boost in something cumulative like win shares, right? Well, his rate of 0.176 win shares per 48 minutes was actually the best mark of any Blazer last season and placed him once again at 19th overall in the whole NBA.
If win shares is not your “one number” statistic of choice, our own nERD metric was an even bigger RoLo fan. Robin’s nERD of 8.4 - which indicates that a league-average team would finish roughly 8.4 games above .500 with Lopez as a starter - was the best score on the Blazers. What’s more, it ranked him 18th in the whole league and third among centers.
Robin Lopez might not be garnering any All-Star votes anytime soon, but the role he plays for the Portland Trail Blazers on both ends of the floor is crucial to their success. He is a perfect complement to LaMarcus Aldridge up front (the Blazers had a net rating of 8.8 when the two were on the floor together last season) and he brings a number of intangibles to a starting lineup filled with flashy skill sets. If the Blazers hope to repeat their successful run from last season, Robin Lopez will be a big part of it.
We might still be under-appreciating “the other Lopez brother”, but the numbers have clearly taken notice of his value. Perhaps it’s time that we do too.