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Blazers forward Thomas Robinson: No complaints about Year 2 in the NBA

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Blazers power forward Thomas Robinson challenges a shot by Orlando Magic guard Arron Afflalo during a regular-season game.HOUSTON — Denizens of the Trail Blazers' Moda Center locker room notice two things right away. One, it's fancier than the dressing area at the local YMCA. Two, in a locker room full of brotherhood, the most willing smiles often come from reserves Will Barton and Thomas Robinson.

Robinson, in particular, is happy to be where he is. Living in a condo near Portland State. Enjoying his time as a Blazer.

"I love it in Portland," said Robinson, who will be in coach Terry Stotts' rotation for Wednesday night's Game 2 of the Portland-Houston first-round playoff series at the Toyota Center. "The city's so chill to me, so relaxing. Once you get past the rain, you be fine."

A year ago, Robinson's head was spinning after a rookie season divided between the team that took him with the fifth pick out of Kansas in the 2012 NBA draft, Sacramento, and Houston, where he landed after a midseason trade. He played sparingly at both stops, and the B-word -- bust -- reared its ugly head. Self-doubts, too, sprouted like weeds in fertile soil.

The 6-10, 240-pound power forward got a new lease on his career when Portland general manager Neil Olshey acquired him last summer for a song -- the draft rights to a pair of European players and two second-round picks.

Ironically, Robinson is back facing the Rockets, with whom he never got off the bench in last season's first-round playoff ouster by Oklahoma City. Is there extra incentive to stick it to his old club?

"I'm over that by now," Robinson said before Portland's Tuesday practice session. "I just want to help my team get to the second round, man. That's all the motivation I need. Houston is just the team we have to play to move on."

Robinson's production was a mixed bag in his first taste of playoff action, the Blazers' 122-120 overtime victory over the Rockets Sunday night. He snared six rebounds -- three off the offensive glass -- and had a posterizing first-quarter block. He made only one of four shots, though, during his 14 1/2-minute stint off the bench.

"Defensively, I was active," Robinson said. "I got to the glass. But I got a better performance in me. My stat line would have been if I hadn't missed those two little bunnies, but I won't do that again. I know that's there for me. I can keep getting that all series."

Robinson was disappointed the five Portland reserves who saw duty Sunday combined for only seven points on 2-for-14 shooting.

"We were terrible, just terrible," he said. "We stuck together mentally, but on the stat line we weren't there. I guess when we can't affect the game offensively, we have to find other ways to help the starters out."

Robinson's self-confidence is back after a regular season in which he kept his spot in Stotts' rotation most of the way. Robinson played in exactly as many games as a rookie (70) and actually played considerably fewer minutes -- 873, down from 1,056 in 2012-13. His averages were almost the same -- 4.8 points and 4.4 rebounds compared to 4.8 points and 4.5 rebounds last season. But he shot .481 from the field, considerably up from .430 as a rookie, and .564 from the foul line, better than the .523 he posted a year ago.

"He's going to blow you away," Olshey predicted on media day before training camp.

Robinson hasn't done that, at least not yet. But he has shown glimpses of promise and performance that lead you to believe he could at least be a starter in the league some day.

Those players picked before him in the 2012 draft (Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal and Dion Waiters) and those chosen directly after him (Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes, Terrence Ross and Andre Drummond) have all experienced measurable success their first two seasons, ranging from All-Star status to at least part-time starter. Not Robinson, who is on his third team in two years. Has he gotten an unfair shake?

"I'm not complaining," he said. "No, I don't think so. But you go back to the top half of the (2012) draft, I'm the only one who didn't play 20 minutes a game as a rookie. I've played one 30-minute game my whole career."

That came on Feb. 23, when, with LaMarcus Aldridge inactive due to a groin strain, Robinson came off the bench to fashion career highs in points (14) and rebounds (18) in 33 minutes of a 108-97 victory over Minnesota.

Would Robinson like more such opportunities? Of course. But he's looking forward, not back.

"Things work out like that sometimes," he said. "Everybody doesn't have the same story. My story 10 years from now could be I didn't play my first couple of years."

Robinson is playing now, though, getting six-minute stints in each half, doing what he can do.

"Be active," he said. "Cause havoc. Get defensive stops, rebound, run the floor."

"He brings a lot of energy for us," said Joel Freeland, Portland's other "big" off the bench. "He runs the floor, crashes the boards. He's a great rotation player, and a great guy with great character."

Robinson said he loves his teammates, veterans such as Dorell Wright and Mo Williams, "who have won in this league before." And point guard Lillard, "a superstar who gives me extra motivation to keep pushing."

And especially Aldridge, who has become a mentor.

"L.A. has helped my whole career so far, and this is just the beginning," he said, adding with a grin, "and this summer, I'll definitely try to steal more stuff from him."

"We talk daily," Aldridge said of his understudy. "During practice, I try to point him in the right direction. During games, I'm always pulling him aside. What he brings to the table this team needs. What I mean is, a controlled recklessness -- crashing the boards, being active on the defensive end, blocking shots, kind of being nasty out there.

"He fouls guys and doesn't even know he's fouled them sometimes. That's good for us."

What did Robinson think about Aldridge's 46-point, 18-rebound gem in the Houston series opener?

"Same thing everybody else in the world thinks," Robinson said. "Him, Wilt … but he's capable of that every night. I don't ever think he's going to miss when he shoots."

The Wilt reference is to an esoteric stat that pits Aldridge with Chamberlain as the only players to collect 40-plus points and 15-plus rebounds in a playoff road opener. So give Robinson credit for paying attention to media lists almost as much as what Aldridge is counseling.

"He tries to prep me mentally," Robinson said. "Physically, we're two different players. The offensive side I haven't grabbed yet. That's the next step. Everything else is average or above average -- rebounding, defending. That stuff is already there because of my athletic ability and my mind-set. Offensively, I can learn that. Having a player like LaMarcus at my position, I see no reason why I can't get better."

Robinson has enjoyed playing for Stotts, comparing him to his college coach, Bill Self, who helped polish him from a raw freshman who averaged 2.5 points and 2.7 rebounds to a unanimous first-team All-American as a junior.

Stotts "has been patient with me, active in getting me to learn the process I was expecting to get last year," Robinson said. "He has stuck with me all year, through ups and downs. He has punished me when I haven't done right and rewarded me when I have. I love him for the way he's coaching me. It reminds me a lot of what Coach Self did with me. (Stotts) has brought me from ground zero to be the backup (power forward)."

Robinson isn't sure if he'll participate on Portland's entry to the Las Vegas Summer League. He expects to spend a good part of the summer in his hometown, Washington D.C., working out with Blazers assistant coach David Vanterpool on "all aspects" of his offensive game. "Lots of one-on-one," Robinson said, "lots of shooting."

Stotts will keep an open mind on Robinson as time moves forward.

"He'll continue to improve all around with the experience he gets," Stotts said. "He can improve at both ends of the court. He already has. His understanding of the team game at both ends is important. He has gotten better with that as well."

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