After an encouraging start to the 2016-2017 NBA season where they won 10 of their first 20 games, the Los Angeles Lakers have fallen into a tailspin, winning just two of their next 17 games. While there are several factors at play here, the injury bug has been a major nuisance, robbing the young team of the chance to find any real consistency in their rotation.
In search of a fresh combination, head coach Luke Walton decided to try playing energy bigs Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson alongside each other in the front court against the Toronto Raptors, and the results were impressive.
The pair played limited minutes (17 for Robinson, 14 for Black) but still hauled in a whopping 18 rebounds, 10 of which came on the offensive end. Black told Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times that the move was successful partly because of the element of surprise:
“People haven’t seen it yet,” Black said. “They haven’t scouted it yet. That’s why last night it was so successful.”
As we near the halfway point of the season, scouting has indeed been a factor in the Lakers’ slide. Opponents are recognizing plays that the Lakers are trying to run and doing what they can to take them out of it, but the young team isn’t yet able to adapt on the fly and find counter-measures.
The Black-Robinson pairing is particularly surprising because they are so similar, with both men excelling at rebounding and providing energy but lacking a consistent jump shot or the ability to create for others. Black, who is just returning from an ankle injury, has spent most of the season playing alongside Larry Nance Jr., but a bone bruise to Nance (again, injury bug) will keep them apart for a bit longer.
Thomas can replicate Nance’s energy somewhat but doesn’t have the same level of agility or defensive instincts as Nance, so it will be interesting to see if opponents will ultimately be able to find ways to exploit the new duo of Black and Robinson. Until then, the pair of Kansas products are certainly fun to watch with their Bash Brothers-style physicality and tireless work ethic.