It’s only four games so we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. But it’s hard not to notice the impact that Robin Lopez has had on the Phoenix Suns since he has been getting extended minutes. In the last four games Lopez has shot 27-for-38 from the field for 64 points, grabbed 22 rebounds, blocked 13 shots and given the Suns a defensive physical presence that they have lacked.
It had been a long time since the Suns attempted to develop a center they drafted in the first round. In fact since 1975 when the Suns drafted Alvin Adams at 6-9 to play center, the Suns have drafted just four true centers in the first round. That’s four centers in the last 35 years. First was William Bedford in 1986. One was Oliver Miller in 1992 with the 22nd pick. Jake Tsakalidis came in 2000 with the 25th pick and now Robin Lopez, whom Phoenix took with the 15th pick in 2008. And just in case anyone is wondering, Jason Williams was drafted to play power forward and never actually played here.
For the most part the Suns ignored the center spot choosing to sign minimum salaried players to man the position — players like Steven Hunter, Jake Voskuhl, Tim Thomas, Pat Burke, Joe Kleine, Chris Dudley, Jahidi White and Scott Williams. The Suns did throw some real money at a center back in 1999 when they signed Luc Longley, but that decision backfired big time as Longley flopped and lasted just two seasons here. And then of course there was the ill-advised trade for Shaquille O’Neal which also didn’t work.
So here they are two years into the Lopez development and the Suns and their fans are starting to see the results. And make no mistake the Suns drafted Lopez knowing he had great upside and potential but that they would have to work with him and develop him into an NBA center.
All that work is starting to pay off. Lopez plays the game hard, he plays with a passion and sometimes that is misunderstood, like when he broke the practice door glass a month ago. He gets up and down the court, hustles on both ends and shows tremendous effort every time he takes the court. Recently, Lopez has benefited from playing with the starters, giving him an opportunity to have more of an impact on the game offensively.
While Lopez still has a lot of work to do and can’t get too excited about his recent accomplishments, there are at least signs now that this first-round draft pick and true 7-footer can pay big dividends.