Suns’ Big Man on Campus Finds His Comfort Zone
By Josh Greene, Suns.com
Posted: Sept. 29, 2010
With all the continuing on-court improvements shown by Robin Lopez, there’s been one thing seemingly missing from Lopez’s basketball repertoire until now – a smile.
That’s not to say the big man is taking Training Camp in San Diego lightly. In fact, the center is still showing many of the attributes that made him the club’s starting center midway through last season. But if his more easygoing demeanor is any indication, the center is continuing to look more and more at ease while at work.
“I feel comfortable with the guys, and that goes a long way,” Lopez said. “They trust me, and I trust them. The coaching staff has been very helpful for me, too. They are making sure I know what I need to do as one player, and then they make sure the whole team knows what they need to do collectively.
“Being out here in San Diego with the guys is work, but we balance it out with fun times, too. I’m fine with the two-a-day practice session setup here, since we all need to get in shape. We want to be the best-conditioned team in the league, so this sets us up on that path.”
While Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry is expecting the center to give the squad more of an inside game this upcoming season, assistant coach Bill Cartwright credits having fellow big men like Dwayne Jones and Garret Siler at camp as a positive push for the third-year center in the preseason.
“Those two big kids can wrestle and bang with him,” Cartwright said, “and that’s important because the competition he gets out here will make him better.
“Getting to play and getting into the starting lineup, you’ll be a little more confident. Look at the experience he got last year. He was in the playoffs. You play against the best team in the land, and last season he played against the best centers in the league. He should have that confidence, knowing what he can do and what he can’t do. He’s also shooting the ball better than he ever has. He knows where he is supposed to be and when that happens, you develop a comfort zone.”
Missing the tail end of last year’s training camp with a broken foot and the last 10 games of the regular season with a back injury, Lopez has wasted little time this go-around to remind spectators why he was developing into a force at both ends of the court. A near 59-percent shooter from the field in 2009-10 en route to a career-high 8.4 ppg, No. 15 also posted a personal-best 4.9 rpg.
“Rebounding is definitely an improvement with everybody here,” Lopez said. “We did that last year. Jason Richardson led the team in rebounds some games. So did Grant Hill, and even Steve Nash got his share. It’ll be a good all-around effort. I’ll do my part, but it’ll be a group effort.”
Continuing to improve on his post-up game and looking to cut down on drawing early fouls, Lopez has impressed the Suns coaching staff with his continued willingness to improve as a player – something that’s surprisingly lost on some of the fellow youngsters around the league.
“Robin’s always receptive,” Cartwright added. “When you are a young player, you have to be able to conform to where you are. That’s what has happened. He’s come to us, and he’s doing what we need him to do. He’s got a really great understanding of who we want him to be. We fit each other. The guys have a lot of confidence in him. He still has to keep learning, but he has great defensive instincts. And his offense is coming around, so he just has to keep working. We’re happy with where we are with him, but everybody can always get better.”
Coming off a disappointing one-and-done season in Toronto, Suns newcomer Hedo Turkoglu has certainly taken to his new team’s system – which really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise as the veteran 11th-year forward suits up for his fifth-career NBA squad.
“He knows how to play, and he has a thorough understanding of the game,” Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry said. “They played somewhat like this in Orlando anyway, except for that big guy in the middle. He can create plays, and he’s a long range three-point shooter. It’ll work out.”
A HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Just two days into training camp, the Suns seem to be enjoying the amenities of the University of California at San Diego’s RIMAC Arena, as well as the surrounding Southern California area.
“The weather’s nice, and the facility is incredible,” Gentry said. “If we didn’t have this doggone training camp, it’d be great (laughs). No, they’ve gone beyond the call of duty with the way they’ve treated us.”