All season I’ve been using “perennially underrated” as a compound adjective to describe Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez. Stephen Noh and Darnell Mayberry over at The Athletic agree, and in collaboration wrote an article about how Lopez’s extreme unselfishness this season has helped Lauri Markkanen thrive through his first nine games of his rookie campaign.
Another one of the beautiful little things that Lopez does better than anyone else on the Bulls is his screen-setting. Most players will set a half-hearted screen and slip early to have a better chance of getting the ball for a shot. Lopez is the rare player that is single-minded in his efforts to set a solid screen, and he's put up some brick walls for Markkanen to get open.
Here’s what Noh is talking about.
Usually when you see Lopez and Markkanen set up next to each other like this, you can assume Lopez is looking to screen to set Markkanen up for a 3. pic.twitter.com/IMc6Hf73FL— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) November 8, 2017
In another overlooked aspect of Lopez’s on-court influence, there is a reason the team is rebounding very well while Lopez himself only averages 6.1 rebounds per game (tied for 35th among centers this season) .
Markkanen wasn't considered a great rebounder coming into the draft, but his 8.2 rebounds per game have him hovering right outside the top 20 in the league.
A lot of those rebounds have been the result of Lopez clearing out the lane and letting Markkanen swoop in for the leftovers. Lopez doesn't go for the ball on shot attempts, instead electing to find some unsuspecting poor soul to clear out. His teams have almost always rebounded much better with him on the court despite his average rebounding numbers because of his sacrifices.
More intangibly, Lopez’s status as a “been there, done that” veteran has also aided Markkanen’s development as Lopez has been willing to pass down knowledge on what goes into being a pro in the NBA that has benefited the 20-year-old rookie. Noh notes the impact he’s had on guys like Anthony Davis, Kristaps Porzingis, and LaMarcus Aldridge as well.
The article is definitely worth reading, so I’m going to link it here again.
Ironically, this happened while I was writing this article.
“Robin Lopez has a sore knee and Lauri Markkanen has quad tendinitis. Both will sit out of practice today & are day-to-day.” Coach Hoiberg— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) November 8, 2017