From Bench to Beast

Robin Lopez = Impact Player?

The presence of Robin Lopez in the Phoenix Suns starting lineup has coincided with a complete turnaround in the team’s fortunes. Initially seen as a 1st round draft mistake, in just one month Lopez has emerged as a legitimate NBA starting center.

In the 18 games with “Rockin’ Robin” in the lineup, the Suns are 12-6 despite the fact that Lopez became a starter in the midst of the team’s low point of the season. During an 11-game stretch, the Suns went 3-8 which included 2-4 in Lopez’s first 6 starts. They have gone 10-2 since.

Sure, there was the Amare Stoudemire fourth-quarter benching during the Suns January 28 win over Dallas. And there was Alvin Gentry’s recent pep talk to Jason Richardson. These factors have lit a fire under these two players. But no change for the Suns has been as drastic as moving Lopez from part-time benchwarmer to full-time starter.

Looking at Lopez’s stats, the change has been dramatic:

Points per game:
Starter, 12.2
Bench, 4.0

Field goal percentage:
Starter, 61.9%
Bench, 55.2%

Free throw percentage:
Starter,77.1%
Bench, 57.1%

Rebounds per game
Starter, 6.2
Bench, 2.8

After the Suns flew out of the gate 21 games into the season, I was still bearish on the Suns overall prospects. Simple statistics suggested that they would decline to the point that their playoff possibilities would be in jeopardy. In contrast, the most recent 18 games tell an entirely different story. Here is a quick look comparison of the early 2009-10 Suns stats with the Robin Lopez version:

Points per game
Starting Lopez, 108.0
First 21 games, 109.3

Points allowed per game
Starting Lopez, 103.7
First 21 games, 106.0

Rebounds per game
Starting Lopez, 44.6
First 21 games, 41.9

Rebounds allowed per game
Starting Lopez, 41.0
First 21 games, 43.3

Field goal percentage
Starting Lopez, 48.1%
First 21 games, 49.3%

Field goal percentage allowed
Starting Lopez, 45.5%
First 21 games, 46.2%

While the early ’09-’10 Suns relied on sharpshooting to outscore their opponents, the new Suns have been succeeding with better defense and rebounding. Furthermore, the early Suns lost 5 games by 15 points or more in 21 games while the new Suns have not suffered any such blowout losses. Their worst defeat was an 11 point loss to Chicago.

With 23 games left in the season, the signs point to a strong finish for the Suns. The presence of Lopez has brought a toughness to the lineup that was sorely lacking. With the ability to play better defense and rebound, the team’s confidence in close games has increased dramatically. While this year’s Suns certainly won’t challenge the Los Angeles Lakers, I do believe they are now a very solid playoff team with a realistic chance of advancing to the second round.

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2 Responses to From Bench to Beast

  1. Fred Moore says:

    Jeff: Cannot not add anything that would differ from your assessment. I think I might add the development of Dragic may have also played in this resurgence.

  2. Jeff D says:

    Lopez added an exclamation mark by going for 30 points and 10 rebounds, on 81% shooting from the field in the Suns win over the Clippers last night!