The Miami Heat are one of the best teams in the league at finding unheralded dudes with skill sets that fit into their system and turning them into productive players. Think, for example, of how Josh Richardson went from a nice career at Tennessee, to a second-round draft pick, to a really good basketball player, to the guy they traded to net Jimmy Butler in the span of a few years.
There are a few examples on the 2019-20 squad of players who came out of left field to turn into productive members of the roster. The most obvious one is second leading scorer Kendrick Nunn (who, basketball aside, pled guilty to misdemeanor battery for hitting a woman while in college, which played a major role in his going undrafted), but the more unheralded name is Duncan Robinson, the second-year man out of Michigan who parlayed a cup of coffee with the squad last year into a gig as one of the league’s more lethal shooters.
Robinson’s got a storybook path to the NBA. He attended Division III Williams College for a year out of high school, where he was a total revelation and connected on 45.3 percent of his triples en route to making All-American squads. Once his coach went elsewhere, Robinson looked to Division I, attracting a whole lot of interest and eventually making his way to the University of Michigan.
While in Ann Arbor, Robinson established himself as one of the premier shooters in the nation. He went 233-for-555 (41.9 percent) from behind the three-point line in three years, rarely turned the ball over, and usually found himself among the nation’s most efficient scorers, even if he never put up gaudy points per game numbers — during his time as a Wolverine, Robinson averaged 9.3 points in 24.9 minutes per game.
Still, Robinson didn’t appear to have all that much of an NBA future. He’s hardly the most athletic guy on earth, and on the day of the 2018 NBA Draft, he was 24 years old. But the NBA has a funny way of finding ways to give guys jobs based on what they do well if they’re elite at it, and boy, is Robinson elite at making the most of his shots when he hoists them up. His aforementioned cup of coffee last year led to a non-guaranteed deal this year that becomes fully guaranteed if he’s still on the roster at midseason. Considering he would make a whopping $1.4 million and he’s currently averaging 11.8 points per game on 44.9 percent shooting from deep (the best mark on the team among players who let it fly with aplomb), yes, Miami should absolutely, positively keep him around.
Considering how his basketball career has gone, it should come as no surprise that Robinson is quite good at making the most of his opportunities. Well, that sells him short — according to Cleaning the Glass, Robinson is in the 100th percentile among forwards in points per shot attempt. There are four other players in said percentile at their respective positions, and Robinson’s 598 minutes played are the most of anyone in the group. The closest guy is Dwight Powell of the Dallas Mavericks, who has played 102 fewer minutes.
Robinson is an absolute killer on catch-and-shoot threes. Those make up an astonishing 72.1 percent of his shot profile — an even six per game, per NBA.com — and he’s hitting them at a 46.9 percent clip. The Heat, realizing that making Duncan Robinson dribble might not necessarily be the best use of his skill set, are having him attempt shots without dribbling on 82.1 percent of his attempts. His effective field goal percentage when he does this is 72.1 percent. His ability to free himself for shots while off the ball was on display in his barrage of 10 three-pointers against the Hawks on Tuesday night.
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) December 11, 2019
In a stat that is so remarkable that it gets its own short paragraph: On all field goal attempts, Robinson has an effective field goal percentage of 66.9 percent. That would be — and it is hard to believe — the 10th-best single-season eFG% in NBA history.
Basically, the Heat have gone out and found themselves a damn efficiency monster who, as he showed in college, is very good at taking the orange rubber ball and having it go through the orange metal cylinder. He doesn’t turn the ball over (0.7 per game), he prefers to shoot twos at the rim (16.9 percent of his shots are twos, 10 percent of those are within three feet), and on the off chance he shoots foul shots, he’s hitting those at a 93.8 percent clip (a scintillating 15-for-16 on the year).
His defensive issues have been mitigated by Miami basically realizing that keeping him on the floor with at least one of Bam Adebayo or Jimmy Butler is a pretty good decision. Robinson has played 1,231 possessions this year, per Cleaning the Glass. A mere 268 of those have come with both Adebayo and Butler on the bench — you will be stunned to learn that Miami’s defense is allowing 113.4 points per 100 possessions and an effective field goal percentage of 55.4 percent when that happens. The former is in the 22nd percentile of all lineups, the latter is in the 13th percentile.
The 963 lineups with at least one of them on the floor paint a different picture. Those are allowing 104.2 points per 100 possessions (79th percentile) and an effective field goal percentage of 50.1 percent (77th percentile). Put them all on the floor together, which has happened on 669 possessions this year, and the Heat are nuking opponents. Those are in the 99th percentile for point differential, the 95th percentile for points per 100 possessions (an even 100), and the 91st percentile on eFG% (48.6 percent). Oh, and their offense in that situation is in the 99th percentile for effective field goal percentage, too.
Miami found a gem in Robinson. He won’t win them all that many games on his own, but for what the team needs and what they ask him to do, he is perfectly capable of contributing to winning basketball in a big way. His unconventional path to the league makes this all a surprise, but his collegiate career probably should have indicated that he was a rock solid role player in the right situation.