Outside of one 18-point, 14-rebound burst against the Lakers, Robin Lopez has been largely invisible thus far in this young season. When you're seven feet tall, it's pretty damn difficult to stay invisible for long and it's time for Lopez to make his presence known. Seriously.
Yeah, okay -- I know foul trouble has played a part, but he's only actually fouled out in one game.
One thing I've noticed about Robin Lopez in his brief Suns career (that really only began with his emergence as a starter last season), is that he's kind of a frontrunner. When he starts well -- gets some early points, a first quarter block or two, snags some vicious rebounds, and of course avoids stupid fouls -- he's in-tune and aggressive for the whole of the game, and you get a solid double-double from him, generally.
But when the cards aren't falling -- when his shots are rimming out, when rebounds are slipping off his fingertips, when the refs are punishing him for his aggressive defense -- his frustration with himself and the game causes his focus to deteriorate and his game falls apart. He can't corral those Nash PNR passes. He's too eager to score and doesn't wait for the high percentage opportunity. He either slinks away from defending hard to avoid more foul calls, or his lack of concentration results in silly fouls. Etcetera.
Coach Alvin Gentry seems to realize this trend, as well. When Robin's not having a great start, that usually means he'll end up playing only 12 or 13 minutes, as he has the past two games. When he's rolling, he'll play 30+. How often do you see a true starter's minutes fluctuate so wildly?
Every player has a bad game here and there. That's just what happens when you're playing so many games so close together. It's hard to stay on-point for all 82.
But a couple things need to happen here:
(a) Robin Lopez needs to get over it. Whether it's the frustration of a bad start or if the pressure to perform like one of the team's stars is getting to him, he needs to stop focusing all that noise and just play basketball. Smart and successful players learn from their mistakes -- they don't compound them.
(b) If Robin's your starting center, for real, then he needs consistent minutes. He doesn't always need 35, but he shouldn't have games where he's only playing 10 injury-free minutes. He's got to play through the adversity and find other ways to contribute.
I realize Gentry's got a reputation for riding the hot hand and the approach has worked, for the most part. In fact, it's almost a necessity when you don't have any true go-to players on your team outside of Nash (who's been shooting poorly) and possibly, maybe Jason Richardson. But, Lopez just can't have these games where he barely makes a dent, both in impact and in minutes played. Lopez and Gentry need to fix that, or perhaps come to the sad realization that maybe Robin's not a starter after all.
Personally, I don't buy that. I've seen enough to know Lopez can be a top-10 center in this league. His head's just not where it needs to be right now. We're still in the wee baby stages of this season, so there's time. But not much. The team needs Robin this season and they need him badly. It's time for him to get over whatever's ailing him and, as the great philosopher Hedo Turkoglu would say, "ball."