How Did Duncan Robinson Progress in his Third Year?

The Duncan Robinson discussion this off-season is pretty interesting, since even though it could go in a couple different directions, it’s pretty clear which one will actually end up happening.

As I’ve been talking about in all of these pieces, the Heat lack a ton of assets, meaning even if they didn’t want to retain Robinson at that price, they would do it to reuse as a trade piece.

Now, I believe that Robinson will be retained immediately for a bunch of the same reasons that many have mentioned. For one, Erik Spoelstra re-designed his entire offense around this un-drafted shooter, so if you think that he will just end up walking this off-season, you’re completely wrong.

The interesting part about it is what will occur after he is signed. If the right deal comes along, a sign and trade scenario could occur to bring in a guy to fulfill the roster. The issue with that is I don’t see a player out there right now that Miami would trade Robinson for immediately. It’s all a waiting game, but at this moment, I’d imagine Robinson is back on this Heat roster next season.

But instead of completely projecting forward, let’s take a look back a bit. What areas of Robinson’s game actually took a significant leap?

Yeah, He Can Shoot A Bit

I don’t need to sit here and showcase a bunch of DHO’s from this season between Robinson and Bam Adebayo, since you guys have gotten a good enough look at that over the last two years. And well, so have opposing teams.

Opposing adjustments were made in the bubble which then blended into the beginning of the regular season. Defenders would guard him sideways when he lined up on the three-point line, knowing exactly where he was looking to go on the court.

This forced Spoelstra to scheme some different looks for him in the offense, leading to another Robinson transformation for Miami. As seen in the clip above, this was a base set for Robinson after the DHO expansion. Instead of lining up in a predictable wing or corner, he would start in the mid-range, ready to explode down the baseline and loop around off some stagger screens.

Of course the dribble hand-off is still there at times, but not to the extent it once was. And clearly, off-ball movement from Robinson wasn’t going to be enough to make him a complete player in the offense.

This led to another slight change for Robinson, which I definitely didn’t see coming so quickly: on-ball effectiveness. The high pick and roll basically became the new DHO for Adebayo and Robinson, but the key was that there was some diversity.

It was no longer about waiting to see how the defense decided to guard him each night. It then became: force the defense to make a decision. If the team is playing drop, will the big man double out to the three-point line? If so, Robinson can hit Adebayo, which I’ll discuss down the line.

If the big doesn’t fully commit, then Robinson can rise up with a slight contest every time. We all know Robinson can shoot, so showcasing catch and shoot opportunities from the season is quite pointless. But seeing him able to adjust on the fly the way that he did this season says a lot about him as a player, and it was a perfect time to test him right before his contract decision making.

Swarming the Shooter Leads to Increasing the Dribbles

We saw Robinson run sets a little farther back to put the ball on the floor a bit more, leading up to the three-point line. But what about his attacking inside the arc?

Clearly, we don’t see it much, but there was a definite frequency increase from the year prior. It’s not about Robinson being this attacking threat to score at more than just one level. It’s actually about opening up his primary skill even more.

In the clip above, we get a glimpse of that. Robinson knocks down the triple on the wing, then finds himself at the same spot about a minute later. This time around, he doesn’t have anything close to the same amount of space. The slight pump-fake draws Josh Hart a little closer, then he drives to the basket with a nice fake to the corner to get Steven Adams out of his way, and lays it in with Hart on his back.

It was obvious that this element of his game only occurred when shots were falling, since he began to play much more freely. The good thing about that is that’s the only time they need him driving to the cup. That one drive keeps the defense honest from that point forward after they’re forced to leave some cushion, giving him the needed space to pull with zero hesitance.

Pocket Pass Expert

This ties back into the high pick and roll stuff I discussed earlier, since that’s when most of his passing is on display. Most of the time in that set, both defenders are blitzing him, meaning he must make the pocket pass to give Adebayo a 4 on 3 on the opposite side.

On this play above, the result of this play may have been a Robinson three, but that’s not the most important part. It’s more important that he starts off the game with a great leading pocket pass, which forces the defense to sag off that blitz a bit differently.

The reason it’s so intriguing to discuss his growing game is that most of my points seem to refer back to the same thing: forcing defensive adjustments. Teams continue to bounce off the play-style of Robinson, which is impressive due to the fact he has not yet reached his peak.

Also, it’s another reason the discussion that I continue to have about the addition of a point guard is so crucial. Yes, Spo voluntarily built the offense around Robinson, but he could be so much more creative with it if he had a trusted facilitator to get guys in their spots, instead of forcing Adebayo and Butler into that role.

Anyway, it’s important to note this passing ability from Robinson this season, since it basically opened up his entire offensive game as the year progressed.

Making Slight Defensive Improvements

Robinson has been a huge negative on the defensive end since breaking into the starting lineup, but we finally got to see some flashes late in the season. If there was one area to highlight on that end of the floor mid-season, it was that his team defense actually wasn’t that awful.

The 2-3 zone was basically a route to hide a lot of Miami’s poor defenders, but it actually allowed Robinson to make an impact. He has the length to be effective on close-outs and contests, while the foot speed seemed like a major issue at times.

The early foul calls every single night may not seem to be a great example for the improvements, but he’s shown an ability to be in the right spots, as shown in the clip above.

Now, the individual stuff was still in question, but down the stretch of the season, there were slight improvements. In the two game set against Boston, he gave a glimpse of what he could do on that end of the floor if he continues to work on it.

No, he didn’t shut down Jayson Tatum, but there were possessions where his length forced him into uncomfortable situations, which is exactly what many have been waiting for him to utilize.

When I asked him about his effectiveness on the defensive end after those Boston games, he said, “It’s definitely been a process. There’s been highs and lows throughout the year…Just trying to continue to build and improve.” And if he does continue to improve, it clearly raises his impact levels tremendously.

The Next Step


When I addressed the next stage of Robinson’s game following last season, it was that the addition of a one-dribble pull-up can shift his game even more. And well, here I am again, making that same point.

We didn’t see much of it throughout the year, but it definitely came up at times, while it always seemed to be a capable ability. This game against Philly is the perfect example since he was forced to put the ball on the floor with only eight available players.

He catches it off the curl, dribbles once, and rises at the free throw line. He’s very capable of knocking that down, but I think it’s more of a comfort thing. I said he would need to work on that last off-season, yet there wasn’t much time to actually make any improvements in that small frame of time.

But if that is added to his bag before the start of next season, it makes him incredibly more difficult to guard in the half-court.

The continued sticking point for every Heat player this season will be that first round series, but well, it shouldn’t. Robinson, specifically, made a ton of small leaps in his game that will be so important for the near future, making the roster construction aspect of things so interesting.

As pointed out earlier, I don’t see a way that a contract isn’t done between the Miami Heat and Robinson this off-season, but there’s a clear possibility the sign and trade route could be explored. Either way, that deal will make this Heat team better in some facet, leading to all eyes shifting to the start of free agency.

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