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The other Lopez is growing up

Mar 9, 2010, 10:27 AM EDT

Robin Lopez was able to play alongside his brother, Brook, at Stanford before both were drafted into the NBA in 2008. But while Brook’s production has skyrocketed him to a near-elite class of NBA centers (albeit while playing for the worst team in the league) during his short NBA career, Robin was buried behind Shaquille O’Neal during his rookie campaign and faced some serious struggles during the first half of this season. It looked for a moment like Lopez may have been more Taylor Griffin than Marc Gasol, doomed to live in his brother’s shadow throughout the duration of their respective careers.

But Robin’s mid-season renaissance has him playing with more confidence than ever, and while his contributions don’t quite match Brook’s, he’s making meaningful plays for a team that matters. Robin Lopez is becoming a difference-maker in the middle for the Phoenix Suns. From Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic:

Since being inserted into the starting lineup Jan. 18, the Suns are 16-8, and 14-4 in their past 18 games. Since the All-Star break, the Suns have held five of 12 opponents to fewer than 100 points. During that stretch, Lopez poured in 30 points against the Clippers and promptly messaged his brother, Brook, who plays for the Nets. “Until I score 33, he still has the family record for most points in a NBA game,” Lopez said.

With Lopez on the bench, the Suns were outrebounded in 25 of their first 41 games. Since the change, they have won or tied the rebounding battle in 19 of 24 games. Now, a soft-serve franchise suddenly is besting its opponents by an average of 4.4 rebounds per game. But this isn’t about numbers. Simply put, Lopez has changed the personality of this basketball team.

That’s a tall claim about a guy who could barely crack the Suns’ rotation a year ago. But Robin Lopez is coming into his own, and he’s using defense and rebounding to significantly alter the complexion of the Phoenix Suns. There was a serious need for Lopez’s particular skill set, and he’s merely stepped in to do what he’s always done best.

If anything, stories like Robin’s only preach to the patience that NBA prospects deserve. Phenomenal talents like LeBron James, Derrick Rose, and Tyreke Evans can step into the league and be dominant players from day one. But other draftees are simply better suited as bit players during their early careers.

Maybe they’ll someday develop into a star or maybe they won’t, but during a prospect’s crucial formative stages, confidence is key, and that confidence comes from within, from their teammates, from the coaching staff, and from the fans. The weight of expectation can be enough to drag down anyone’s career, and while Robin Lopez wasn’t faced with an unbearable burden, he may have been unfairly counted out despite the fact that his NBA career is still in its infancy.

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