NBA

Duncan Robinson Is the Most Unlikely NBA Success Story in a Long Time

Before the NBA seasons was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Miami Heat were putting together a surprising season. Through 65 games, the Heat compiled a 41-24 record — good for the four seed in the Eastern Conference. Star Jimmy Butler drove that success, as did the breakout season that center Bam Adebayo was having.

An equally important part of Miami’s surprise success was the strong play of forward Duncan Robinson. Yet unless you are an avid Heat fan, you may not yet know much about the second-year player. Here we take a closer look at Robinson’s college career, his unlikely path to the NBA, and the skills that make him so valuable.

Duncan Robinson’s college career

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Robinson’s college career was one of wild ups and downs. He spent his freshman year playing basketball at Williams College, a Division III team. In 34.7 minutes per game, Williams averaged 17.1 points and 6.5 rebounds. As the lone freshman starter on the team, Robinson lead Williams all the way to the 2014 NCAA Men’s Division III championship game, which they lost by two points.

During the summer, Robinson was courted by numerous Division I college teams. Ultimately, he chose to transfer to the University of Michigan. His three years with the Wolverines were somewhat up and down.

On a recent appearance on the JJ Redick Podcast, Duncan himself admitted that his career at Michigan “wasn’t exactly smooth sailing.”

He started his sophomore year, only to spend most of his junior year on the bench. He started again at the beginning of his senior year, only to get benched again later in the season.

Over those three years, Robinson averaged 9.3 points and 2.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 45.5% from the field, and 41.9% from three-point territory.

Duncan Robinson’s unlikely path to the NBA

Despite his prowess as a three-point shooter, Robinson went undrafted in the 2018 NBA Draft. He did, however, sign a Summer League contract with the Heat. Following a strong performance, the Heat then signed Robinson to a two-way contract. During the 2018-2019 season, Robinson played 33 games with the G-League Sioux Falls Skyforce.

During that G-League stint, Robinson averaged 21.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, while shooting a blistering 48% from long distance. Robinson also suited up 15 times for the Heat that year, though he logged just 3.3 points in 10.7 minutes per game. Few people predicted what a huge leap he would take the following year.  

Robinson moved into a starting role for the Heat in the 2019-2020 season, thanks in large part to injuries to Jimmy Butler and other key players. Robinson quickly proved himself NBA-ready, averaging 13.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. His breakout moment came in a December game against the Atlanta Hawks, when Robinson sank 10 3-pointers en route to a 34 point performance.

One of the most valuable skills in the NBA

Duncan’ Robinson’s humble beginnings and rapid ascent led to the Wall Street Journal dubbing him the “most improbable player in the NBA.” Duncan excels at the one thing that teams value most right now in the league: shooting. And not just shooting, but shooting from beyond the three-point line.

This season, Duncan knocked down 44.8% of his three-pointers — good for fourth in the league. Duncan has also taken far more three-point shots than the three players ahead of him on that list, with 345 total attempts. Meanwhile, Duncan ranks third in terms of effective field goal percentage, behind only centers Mitchell Robinson and Rudy Gobert.

For a player who shoots primarily 3-pointers to rank so high in field goal percentage is nearly unthinkable. Yet Robinson’s whole career so far has been a highly unlikely success. At this point, though, his future looks as bright as any other young player in the league.