Robin Lopez

Three takeaways: Robin Lopez racks up 29 PTS on his birthday

Three takeaways: Robin Lopez racks up 29 PTS on his birthday

 

The Bulls took on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in a matchup of teams set to have top-four odds in the 2019 NBA Draft lottery. In a game that most expected to close--ESPN had the line for the game listed as Bulls +3.5--the Bulls went down 37-19 after one quarter, and the Knicks never looked back.

New York’s largest lead of the night was 28 points and the deflating loss drops Chicago’s record to 21-57 on the season. But there were still some solid takeaways from the Bulls 113-105 loss to the Knicks, specifically for the young players on the floor for Chicago, who are actively fighting for spots in the league.

JaKarr Sampson’s career night shows off how he could be an intriguing depth option at PF/C

JaKarr Sampson had a solid year for the Windy City Bulls, putting up  21.1 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 2.0 APG on 54 percent shooting. During his stints in the NBA, Sampson was a solid finisher in the paint, but little else. Per Cleaning the Glass, he has always shot 59 percent or better at the rim and also made sure that the majority of his shot attempts are in the restricted area. There is something to be said about playing to your strengths and Sampson definitely does that.

Against the Knicks on Monday, Sampson did his damage in the paint, finishing with 22 points on 80 percent shooting from the field.


And though level of competition obviously has to be factored in, his outing was encouraging because he got the free throw line six times as well, playing physical with a Knicks frontline that was thin on athleticism outside of rookie Mitchell Robinson.

Sampson’s big third quarter dunk on Knicks forward Luke Kornet got the Bulls bench hype and was a perfect encapsulation of the ability he has as a rim runner, especially in transition. He is not much a 3PT shooter, which makes him a bit of a “tweener” in today’s league.

The Madison Square Garden rims were kind to Sampson, who hit one of his two 3PT shots on Monday night. If he could bring his 3PT shooting to anywhere near NBA average levels, he could easily stick in an NBA rotation. Monday night was a step in the right direction for Sampson’s NBA stock.
 

Robin Lopez plays big on his birthday

April 1 is April Fool’s Day, but more important, it is the birthday of Bulls center Robin Lopez, who turned 31 on Monday. And RoLo made sure not to disappoint on his big day.

Lopez ended the night with 29 points, one shy of his career-high. RoLo received plenty of looks in the low post--as he has post All-Star break--and cashed in, converting on 11/18 from the field.

He showcased plenty of nifty footwork on the night and made rookie Mitchell Robinson looks silly on multiple occasions.

All in all, it was another great night for the hard-working veteran big man. And on a day where he was curiously left off the list of candidates for the Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award, it was fitting that RoLo turned in one of his best performances of the season.

Ryan Arcidiacono: Always under control

Arcidiacono has put in more work this season than any basketball pundit expected coming into the year. He is one of the top three Bulls players in terms on minutes played this season and has been solid throughout, with his decision-making shining as his best attribute.

On the season, “Arci” has a sparkling 4.31 assist-to-turnover ratio that not only leads the Bulls, but is head and shoulders above anyone else on the team. His skill as a  pick-and-roll ball handler creates open lanes to the basket, but the Bulls simply don’t have the rim-running bigs needed to leverage this skill often.

In Monday’s loss in New York, Arcidiacono ended the evening with 14 points, 2 assists, a rebound and in classic Arcidiacono fashion, zero turnovers.

Arcidiacono has played well enough this season to be considered as a backup PG next year, even with Kris Dunn and other possible additions in the backcourt over the offseason.

NBA Buzz: What's next for Robin Lopez?

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USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: What's next for Robin Lopez?

The transformation of 11-year veteran Robin Lopez from a hard-working role player to a low post scoring machine is one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in my long career covering the NBA.

Lopez owns a career scoring average of 9 PPG playing for the Suns, (formerly New Orleans) Hornets, Trail Blazers, Knicks and Bulls. His previous high for a season was an 11.8 PPG average in 2017-18. But all of a sudden, the guy they call RoLo has morphed into a modern day version of Kevin McHale with a series of advanced low post and pivot moves that have left defenders totally perplexed.

Since the start of February, Lopez has reached double figures in 16 of the Bulls’ 20 games, including six games of 20 points or more. He’s averaging right around 16 points over that span, shooting 63% from the field.

What’s behind this sudden offensive explosion? Part of the reason is the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Jim Boylen. Boylen likes to play an inside-out style in his half-court sets, using post touches and guard penetration to set up open looks on the perimeter. That means more touches for the center, with a green light to score if opportunities present themselves in the low post.

Another reason is the thumb injury that sidelined top draft pick Wendell Carter Jr. for the season after 44 games. If Carter Jr. was still active, Lopez would still be in a limited 15-to-18 minute role off the bench.

But even with increased touches and minutes, it still comes back to a more aggressive mindset on offense that we really hadn’t seen in any of Lopez’ previous NBA seasons. RoLo always had the ability to score from in close, using jump hooks with either hand, but now he’s displaying spinning crossovers and up-and-under moves right out of the McHale textbook.

What makes this even more amazing is the scoring spree comes right after most fans and media believed RoLo’s run in Chicago was about to come to an end. Lopez is on the final year of a contract he signed with the Knicks, paying him $14.3 million this season. The Bulls explored trade possibilities before the early February trade deadline but couldn’t find any takers, with interested teams assuming they could get Lopez without giving up assets on a contract buyout.

As it turned out, Bulls’ Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson decided he wanted Lopez to finish out his contract, especially with Carter Jr. done for the season, Bobby Portis traded to Washington, and little faith in holdover 3rd string center Cristiano Felicio. Instead of brooding over losing the chance to join a playoff team, Lopez focused his energy on expanding his game and continuing to play a vital leadership role on the youngest team in the NBA.

So, will this late season scoring spree earn Lopez another contract in Chicago?

Right now, it’s hard to predict how the Bulls’ offseason plans will develop. They could draft a big man with their early 2nd round pick, and Paxson has indicated the Bulls will pursue quality veterans to strengthen their bench unit in free agency.

This new and improved version of Lopez could fit into that equation, but there are several questions to be answered, including what kind of salary Lopez will expect in free agency, and whether he’d be satisfied in a more limited role backing up Carter Jr. in seasons to come. The Bulls also could look to add a free agent big man who fits more with the modern day NBA. Someone like Portis, who’s a threat from 3-point range and has a better chance with hard shows and switches on high pick-and-roll actions. But it won’t be Portis, whose salary expectations led to the deal with the Wizards in the first place.

And then there’s the issue of the Felicio contract that has two more seasons remaining at around $8 million a year. The Bulls’ front office would have a hard time convincing Lopez that he should re-sign at a figure lower than what Felicio is making to be the primary backup for Carter Jr.

Any way you look at it, Lopez has made his upcoming free agency a lot more interesting by unveiling his complete offensive arsenal on an unsuspecting league. It’s provided a fun storyline as the Bulls head towards another last place finish. You can’t help but root for a guy like RoLo, who always puts the team first and is one of the hardest workers in the game.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

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One of the teams that had been mentioned as a possible destination for Lopez in the buyout market was the Golden State Warriors. When the Bulls decided they wanted to keep him for the rest of the season, Golden State turned to an old friend to provide some depth behind starting center DeMarcus Cousins.

The Warriors plucked Andrew Bogut out of the Australian professional league (NBL) after he won the NBL MVP and his team’s season had been completed. Ironically, because of an injury to Cousins, Bogut wound up starting in his debut with the Warriors, scoring 7 points and grabbing 7 rebounds in a loss to San Antonio on Monday.

Bogut was the starting center on Golden State’s 2015 championship team, so he’s very familiar with Steve Kerr’s offensive system. Bogut has always been an underrated passer for a big man, and will set hard screens to free up the team’s deadly 3-point shooters. Adding another quality veteran to the mix should only improve the Warriors’ chances of winning a 3rd straight title, and 4th in the last five seasons.

San Antonio Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich is working his magic again, leading his team on a late season run that could bring home court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. After limping through their annual rodeo road trip with a 1-7 record, the Spurs have suddenly caught fire, reeling off nine straight wins to pull within a game and a half of Portland for 4th place in the West.

San Antonio was one of the league’s worst defensive teams through the first two-thirds of the season, and gave up an average of 122 points per 100 possessions during their disastrous road trip in February. Just when Pop thought he had lost the ability to motivate his squad, they suddenly turned it on at both ends of the court.

Unheralded 2nd year guard Derrick White has played a big role in the turnaround, providing quality minutes alongside DeMar DeRozan and Bryn Forbes in the Spurs’ three-guard starting lineup. During the current nine-game winning streak, San Antonio has beaten the Bucks, Warriors, Nuggets, Thunder and Trail Blazers. The Spurs probably aren’t talented enough to made a deep run in the playoffs, but anyone who thought Popovich couldn’t stay competitive in the new NBA is sadly mistaken.

Finally, did you hear about the fan who paid nearly $7,000 on StubHub for a pair of courtside seats at Fiserv Forum to watch LeBron James and the Lakers square off against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks Tuesday night?

Turns out both superstars were declared out for the game. James because of a lingering groin injury and Giannis because of a sore ankle.

Never a good idea to count on star players suiting up for games late in the regular season, especially with James ready to bring down the curtain on one of the most disappointing seasons of his career.

Oh well, at least the fan will have plenty of time to tour the Bucks’ brand new arena.

Dunc'd on Podcast floats Robin Lopez to Rockets trade idea

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USA TODAY

Dunc'd on Podcast floats Robin Lopez to Rockets trade idea

On Tuesday’s episode of the Dunc’d On Podcast, Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux discussed the idea of the Houston Rockets trading for Bulls center Robin Lopez.

This comes in part because of the news that Clint Capela will miss up to six weeks with ligament damage in his thumb and Houston could certainly use a fill-in at the center position.

Duncan and Leroux did not suggest any hyper-specific trades but Leroux suggested the framework of the possible deal as:

“I had floated the idea of them trading Brandon Knight and an asset for Robin Lopez, not because Lopez is a perfect fit though he is a capable center and there is some value in that, but also because it’s a way for the Rockets to get off of 2019-20 money”

The Rockets have oft-discussed issues with the amount of money on their books but it costs to be a winning team, and Houston has found a way to succeed even after not extending contracts to defensive-minded forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah Moute last offseason.

At the time of this writing, Houston is sitting at 25-18, good for fourth in the Western Conference, an amazing turnaround after their rough start to the season. But even with all of their recent James Harden-led success, the Rockets still rank 26th in the league in defensive efficiency, a worse rating than the 10-34 Bulls.

Lopez, while not the the traditional rim-runner or floor-spacing big man that the Rockets would usually go after, still provides a huge defensive upgrade over any big on their roster not named Clint Capela.

Per NBA.com, opponents are shooting 7.1 percent worse when defended by Lopez, a testament to how good he is at using his length to frustrate scorers at the rim, and occasionally on midrange closeouts. Of course, he is too slow-footed to play in a switching defensive system, but the Rockets have not went to that strategy as much as they have in past years.

If the Bulls do decide to use their cap space to acquire draft assets rather than going after free agents, the Rockets-Bulls deal floated by the Dunc’d on Podcast makes a TON of sense.

Brandon Knight, the oft-injured 27-year old guard, still has some promise despite was has been an awful stinit in Houston. He has said all the right things, and by all accounts seems like a great guy who has just had some awful luck with injuries. And it is important to remember, this is a guard who as recently as the 2015-16 season, was putting up 19.6 PPG.

Knight is certainly thankful just to have a chance to prove himself again on the NBA stage.

Houston is gearing up for the stretch run. And Lopez would be perfect to be stationed right in the middle of the paint as the Rockets defensive anchor until Capela is 100 percent.

Another interesting note--though Mike D’Antonio, Daryl Morey and co. definitely aren’t as concerned about it--is that Lopez is shooting a (obviously) career-high 0.9 3-point attempts per 36 minutes, while hitting them at a 28.6 percent rate.

His brother Brook has notoriously turned himself into one of the NBA’s premier 3-point shooting centers, taking 8.7 attempts from 3-point range while hitting 37.8 percent of them. Now no one is expecting Robin to turn into Brook overnight, but on a team that leads the league with 43.3 3-point attempts per game, there is precedent for Lopez to become an interesting (last-ditch) pick-and-pop option, considering how skilled he is at screening combined with the offensive gravity of Harden.

The Rockets are the same team that reportedly offered four-first round picks in an effort to get Jimmy Butler, so it is not insane to think that the Bulls would be able to extract a first-round pick for the Rockets as long as they were willing to take money back.