Chicago Bulls: The undervalued importance of Robin Lopez

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 30: Robin Lopez #42 of the Chicago Bulls looks on during player introductions for an NBA game against the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena on December 30, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 30: Robin Lopez #42 of the Chicago Bulls looks on during player introductions for an NBA game against the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena on December 30, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /
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Chicago Bulls big man Robin Lopez went from a likely trade piece to one of the most valuable players on the team. What happened?

At the beginning of the 2018-19 NBA season, Chicago Bulls big man Robin Lopez seemed like one of the most obvious candidates in the entire league to be traded at the deadline. He’s a proven veteran that rebounds, plays hard and does all the little things. He’s even on a team-friendly deal that would’ve made him extremely easy to move. Most importantly, though, “RoLo” knows his role.

Lopez isn’t the type of guy that’s going to get upset about playing time or not getting enough shots. He simply wants to do whatever he can to help the team win.

Over the course of his two and a half years in Chicago, Robin’s seen his minutes change drastically as the roster has changed around him. At the beginning of the 2018-19 season, he got quite a few DNP-CDs (did not play-coach’s decision) so unproven rookie Wendell Carter Jr. could learn about the NBA on the fly. Lately, though, Lopez has been asked to play 30+ minutes several times. What’s changed?

For starters, the injury to Carter opened up a large chunk of minutes that needed to be filled at the center position. Had Carter remained healthy all season long, it’s tough to say where Lopez would be right now, but the answer is probably a different city. It wasn’t just the unfortunate injury to Carter that has created this opportunity for RoLo, though. He’s forced the Bulls into giving him minutes by playing some extraordinary basketball.

If the Bulls were set on tanking, it would be easy for them to start Cristiano Felicio at the five spot, give him 32 minutes per night, and then play small-ball while he’s on the bench. Thankfully, the Bulls have opted into playing good basketball and living with the results. It seems like they’ve finally figured out that tanking can only take them so far.

The Bulls are 6-3 over their last nine games and have picked up big wins over playoff-caliber teams like the Boston Celtics and Philadephia 76ers. Lopez hasn’t been the leading scorer in any of those games, but he’s been the Bulls’ most consistent player – a quality that can’t be overlooked on a relatively young team with a history of being devastatingly inconsistent. During that stretch, RoLo is averaging 17.3 points per game on 60.2 percent shooting from the field to go along with 6.4 rebounds (3.1 offensive), 2.0 assists and 2.0 blocks.

Lopez does more than just what shows up on the stat sheet, though. Per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, people in the Bulls’ organization have been raving about Robin’s ability to set good screens.

"Zach LaVine said, “He’s the best screener I’ve ever had.”"

"“It’s just invaluable,” Bulls coach Jim Boylen said. “I’ve been a part of teams where guys are selfless. The message it sends, it uplifts people. It’s an example of what teamwork and togetherness is when you give your body up like that and help other people succeed.”"

Lopez is set to be an unrestricted free agent after this season, meaning he is free to sign with any team. If the Bulls are smart, though, they’ll bring him back.

Chicago is a team that is talented enough to make a playoff push next year in the top-heavy Eastern Conference. I’m assuming Carter will take over the starting center spot next season, but that doesn’t seem like it would bother Lopez. He’s already proven time and time again that he’s happy doing whatever the team needs.

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On a playoff-hopeful 2019-2020 Bulls team, Robin Lopez would be the perfect backup big man.