Jeremiah Robinson-Earl’s play this season has been a surprise to many, including Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault.
When the Thunder moved up in the second round to take the Villanova star, they understood he was undersized and there may be an adjustment period for him to learn how to play center at the NBA level.
And while Robinson-Earl is at a disadvantage due to his height, he’s quickly learned how to overcome it and be a positive for Oklahoma City.
“The thing that’s most impressive to me is I didn’t expect him to play as big as he’s playing right now,” Daigneault said on Wednesday night after the Thunder beat the Houston Rockets. “… I just think back to the Milwaukee game in the preseason, and I was like, ‘man this guy looks small out there.’ He was playing smaller.
“He kind of picked up angles pretty quickly, physicality pretty quickly, his pick-and-roll coverage pretty quickly and he’s on the glass.”
Robinson-Earl’s time at Villanova blossoming under Jay Wright should have meant nobody would be surprised by the rookie’s basketball IQ, or the fact that he is technically sound and willing to do whatever the team needs of him.
Averaging 19.2 minutes per game this year, Robinson-Earl has pulled down 5.2 rebounds per game while scoring 5.9 points per contest.
He’s added the 3-pointer to his game as well, meaning he can step out and space the floor for Oklahoma City, a necessity in the modern game, he said.
“In today’s league, you have to be able to stretch the floor and just be able to do multiple things out there and be versatile,” Robinson-Earl said after OKC’s loss to the Miami Heat on Monday.
Even when he’s not hitting his 3’s at a high clip, Robinson-Earl said he hasn’t lost any confidence, he’s just focused no trying to improve every day.
“Just keep trusting the work that I’m doing and staying confident,” he said.
Robinson-Earl is just scratching the surface of what he can be for Oklahoma City, as he’s still balancing dipping in and out of the starting lineup to make room for veteran Derrick Favors.
But no matter what has been thrown at him, he’s digested it and succeeded so far, a great sign for where he could be for the Thunder in two or three year’s time.
“He’s got a bright future because he can guard the perimeter, he can play some four,” Daigneault said. “He’s skilled enough to play both positions. And if he can kind of hold his own at the five, then he’s a pretty versatile piece.
“He’s done a really nice job in a pretty short period of time proving that he’s on track to do that.”