Robin Lopez Sees His Role With Magic as Like a 'Relief Pitcher in Baseball'

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - There aren’t many players in the NBA or in any basketball league for that matter better at pivoting in the post than Robin Lopez, signed by the Orlando Magic last month. Defending him is kind of like going on a spinning carnival ride, a fitting analogy considering the 7-foot-1 center is a Disney theme park enthusiast. He’ll sometimes spin one way, then spin the other way, then back again, and around and around they go before Lopez takes one of his signature hook shots.

Impressive, too, is that he’s able to make those shots regularly with either hand. Last season with the Washington Wizards, per Stathead, he connected on 67.5 percent of his shots between three and seven feet from the basket, many of which were hooks. Since the 1996-97 season, which is as far back Stathead’s database goes tracking shots from specific distances, that is the NBA’s single-season best mark from that range.

It’s not just the pivoting he does with his nifty footwork that is striking, though. It’s the pivoting he’s done in general throughout his NBA career that is also extraordinary. Lopez is now on his eighth team and going into his 14th NBA season. He’s had to adapt to not just new environments but also different roles.

He was Washington’s go-to low-post threat last year. The prior season, while playing with his twin brother Brook Lopez on the Milwaukee Bucks, he pretty much hung out in the corner and waited for kickout passes. He took 105 3-pointers that season. He attempted 69 of them in his 13 other seasons combined.

When he played under Terry Stotts in Portland for a couple years, his primary function was to crash the offensive glass. In 2013-14 with the Blazers, for instance, he ranked tied for second in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game.

You might be wondering what role the 33-year-old will have with the Magic this season, especially considering there are three other centers on the roster, all much younger and needing playing time to develop their skills.

Lopez has always thought of himself as a utility guy, willing to do whatever is necessary to help the team he’s on move in the right direction. This season in particular, he describes his role as like a relief pitcher in baseball.

“You know the relief pitcher, they’re always a little rotund. They’re not playing every night necessarily, but they are going in there making an impact when the team needs them,” he said.

Lopez, drafted 15th overall in 2008 by the Phoenix Suns, is currently the oldest player on the Magic. He’s been on six playoff teams and stepped on the court in seven postseason series, one of which was against Orlando when the Magic played the Bucks in the opening round of the 2020 playoffs at Disney.

That experience is going to come in handy. He’s played alongside several elite big men in his career, including Shaquille O’Neal, Amar’e Stoudemire, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kristaps Porzingis, and his brother Brook. Having Lopez as a teammate could really help young Magic centers Wendell Carter Jr., Mo Bamba and Moritz Wagner. Carter and Lopez played together during Carter’s rookie NBA campaign in Chicago, while Wagner and Lopez were teammates for a portion of last season in the nation’s capital.

“I’ve had the fortune of playing with ‘Dell and Moe (Wagner). I’m really, really looking forward to (teaming up with them again),” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be a lot of work. Out when the lights are up in the arena but especially on the practice court.”

“We got a lot of skilled young guys, a lot of potential,” he added. “What I like in them…they put in the work in the gym, and that’s necessary. I think everybody is going to have to hold each other accountable. They’re going to have to be honest and they’re going to have to have each other’s backs.”

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