An in-depth look at Glenn Robinson III’s breakout game

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“I’ll have a big game one of these days.”

This was what Glenn Robinson III said during a press conference on Friday. On Saturday, he backed up his claim. Robinson was a bright spot in Michigan’s 72-70 loss to Arizona, scoring 20 points on just nine shots. Since August, we’d been hearing about Robinson being a dominant offensive force in practice, but we had yet to see him show that skill in a game against passable competition. He put everything together against Arizona and played his best game of the season against Michigan’s most talented opponent to date.

We took an in-depth look at every field goal Robinson scored: What about this game made it easier for Robinson to create his own shot? What did Michigan do differently? How can Robinson build on this performance? Check out the videos below and the corresponding analysis for possible answers to those questions and more.

Variations of this set have been around in John Beilein’s offense for a long time. Caris LeVert sets an off-ball screen for Robinson as he cuts through the lane. This allows Robinson to receive the ball relatively unmolested and in space on the opposite block. The other piece that stands out is where Robinson is on the court — he’s facing up from about 15 feet out, rather than at the 3-point line, where it seems he’s gotten most of his touches so far this season. Robinson’s placement on the court simplifies everything. It allows him to take one dribble and go to the rim, rather than needing to lose his defender through a crossover move or hesitation. Here Robinson keeps it simple: the up fake gets Ashley off-balance; as Ashley recovers, Robinson executes a textbook jump-stop to get to the rim for an easy layup.

This play is a pretty simple coast-to-coast fast-break drive to the basket. After Jon Horford uses his long arms to get his hand on the ball while hedging a screen, Robinson scoops up the loose ball and takes off. The decision to take the ball to the rim himself was wise — neither Arizona defender committed to stopping the ball. The fast break is where a player with Robinson’s skill set and athleticism is the most dangerous. John Beilein said as much after the game:

One of the reasons Glenn was really successful, and this is key for us, is that we were able to get stops in the first half and run the floor. That’s a big part of what he does so well.

During the podcast last week, former Michigan captain Josh Bartelstein talked about Robinson’s skill set and the outsized offensive expectations for Robinson this season.

“Creating a shot for yourself is what makes you an elite-level scorer,” Bartelstein said. “There are only a few guys in the NBA to whom you can say, ‘there’s five seconds on the shot clock, go score.’ I think guys get caught up in that — I have to prove I can score on my own. The fans thinking Glenn Robinson has to score on his own, that’s not right. Glenn is elite at cutting off the ball — that’s a skill — shooting one-dribble pull-ups, that’s the way he’s going to score a lot of points. And he knows that. But for the fans out there who think, give the ball to Glenn and let him go to work — there are very few guys in college or the NBA who can do that effectively.”

This back-door cut was vintage Glenn Robinson. At 0:06, you can really see just how out of position Arizona really was — the three players who jogged down the court were all watching the ball, and Robinson was as alone as could be in the corner. Spike Albrecht saw him all the way. Ashley actually makes a decent recovery and almost blocks Robinson’s layup, but Robinson remains strong with the ball throughout and uses his athleticism to hang in the air long enough to force it through.

And there’s that pull-up jumper Bartelstein was talking about. This is a shot we’ve seen Robinson take quite a bit this season, with limited success. In Dylan’s study of Michigan’s offensive woes before the Arizona game, he noted Robinson’s percentage on two-point jump shots was sitting at an abysmal 35.3 percent, down from 47.9% as a freshman. During the press conference the day before Michigan played Arizona, even Robinson admitted he might be settling for too many pull-ups, saying, “Sometimes I do settle for the pull-up when I should be driving all the way.”

My take: a wide-open midrange jumper is still a good shot, and his decision to pull up on this play was a good one, even if he had missed it. He makes a great up fake, but if he takes this all the way to the basket he’s really trading one defender for three: Aaron Gordon, Kaleb Tarczewski and Nick Johnson were all ready to converge on the drive. Instead, Robinson “settled” for a wide open free-throw line jumpshot. Taking this shot was a good decision but he needs to hit them consistently.

 

In its way, this corner three was also a vintage Glenn Robinson play. Substitute Nik Stauskas for Trey Burke, and this looks like any number of plays last season with Robinson camped out in the corner ready for a catch-and-shoot. John Beilein has been quick to say the root of Robinson’s problems is that he hasn’t shot well this season compared to last. However, the truth is Robinson’s shooting percentage from long range is exactly the same as it was last year at this point: 32.4%.  The big difference is that, now that he’s expected to do more, his poor shooting from the 3-point line is limiting his other options offensively. John Beilein illuminated this point last Wednesday on WTKA’s Michigan Insider:

It’s really simple: he hasn’t made shots. He’s taken open shots and they haven’t gone down. So as a result, people play off him, take some of his basket drives away, and he’s working through all those things. He’s one of our hardest workers in practice. Stay tuned on that one, too. He’s just going to keep working.

When defenders don’t have to respect the 3-pointer, playing one-on-one offense gets exponentially harder. If Robinson continues to knock down shots like these, it will stretch the floor and open up opportunities for him in space.

When an understandably sullen Robinson was asked about his offensive explosion during the post-game press conference immediately following Michigan’s loss to Arizona, he summed it up thusly: “I just got to the rim. Tried to stay aggressive, be aggressive like how I keep talking about.” He has indeed talked about it, but this season has been a study in how that simple maxim is much easier said than done. On this play, he finally got it done.

This is what a confident, assertive Glenn Robinson III looks like. On this play Michigan fans finally saw Robinson, he of the absurd strength, athleticism and length, use his physical gifts to take his defender one-on-one. There was no rushed close-out by Brandon Ashley, no late rotation by the defense. This was Robinson imposing his will on his defender and winning the battle. His first step was quick, but Ashley was right with him. So Robinson employs a bit of a hook with his left arm to seal the edge around Ashley, then quickly brings it back to secure the ball. Again, we see great use of the jump-stop, allowing him to move laterally toward the basket when Ashley is securely behind him. Finally, he finishes strong through contact. Just a terrific one-on-one play by Robinson, and just the play Michigan fans have been waiting to see.

What can you say about this shot? It was a broken play, with Nik Stauskas making a poor pass to Robinson off the pick-and-roll with the clock winding down to finish the first half. Robinson bobbled it, faked the drive, and hit the deep 3-pointer falling away. One thing’s for sure: Robinson was doing his best Trey Burke. I think most Michigan fans see this season in the context of last year’s season, and my first thought after watching that shot was Burke’s shot near the end of regulation against Kansas. Burke was a master of a step-back jumper and this was one of the first times we have seen it from Robinson.

This play was awfully similar to the back door cut highlighted earlier, but this time Arizona was playing four-on-five. The baseline was wide open after Tarczewski went down with an ankle injury and Michigan pushed the ball. Albrecht again was manning the point and he gets the ball to Caris LeVert across half court. Watching LeVert’s eyes (or at least the back of his head), it seems as though he was just waiting for Aaron Gordon to make that fatal step up after Horford screens LeVert’s man. The back-door cut was as open as they come, and Robinson took advantage. The biggest problem with this basket? It was the only shot that Robinson made in the second half.

Takeaways

1) Much of Robinson’s production was due to getting back to basics

Of Robinson’s 20 points, nine could be safely characterized as coming off looks he saw a lot of last season. Robinson was efficient, savvy and reliable last year in the situations when his number was called. These nine points came off of either the fast break, back-door cuts or corner threes. These were Robinson’s bread and butter last season, and opportunities to finish these plays have been more limited mainly because of the absence of the man who normally created the: Trey Burke. So the fact that these opportunities arose for Robinson in this game is as much a testament to his teammates’ growth as his. That said, Robinson deserves credit for being at the right place at the right time — as he was so often last season.

2) Keep dribbling to a minimum

Robinson was great partly because he didn’t try to do too much — he picked his spots and was efficient in taking advantage of his opportunities. Part of this meant he didn’t need too many dribbles to score, even when he was going one-on-one. This is a trend Michigan will want to continue. Robinson isn’t going to wear down an opponent by crossing him over and dominating the ball like, say, Caris LeVert. Robinson needs to be put in positions where he can take one or two dribbles, make a strong move and get to the cup. On plays that led directly to him scoring on Saturday, Robinson dribbled the ball seven times. Seven dribbles for 20 points. He was able to do this partly because of where he was getting the ball. Especially on the first play listed in this post, it seemed like that was right in Robinson’s wheelhouse — about 15 feet out with room to work. It stands to reason Robinson would create his own shots the same way he scored last season — efficiently. When Robinson gets to dribbling too much, that’s where he runs into trouble. On his two isolation plays against the Wildcats, Robinson took one and two dribbles to get to the rim, respectively.

3) Robinson’s pump fake is crucial

This is something Robinson has been perfecting throughout this season and it is without a doubt his most dangerous isolation move. Not only did he use it to perfection in the play I just mentioned, but he also executed it perfectly on his first basket of the game, when he went one-on-one with Brandon Ashley. Facing up Ashley at midrange, Robinson made a simple up fake and Ashley bit — this was all the space Robinson needed to find the hoop. One obstacle in the development of this move for Robinson has been his poor shooting thus far this season. After all, if a defender doesn’t respect the jumpshot, a shot fake is rendered impotent. If Robinson can continue to knock down shots, his one-on-one game will only get better and better. This also plays into how Josh Bartelstein characterized Robinson in his Q&A last week: “(Robinson) is great in closeout basketball because he has such a great first step and can rise up over everyone for that pull-up.” If Robinson is hitting his shots and that pump fake is at his disposal, it will become nearly impossible to close out on him.

This game was a disappointing loss for Michigan, but there are plenty of positives to take away — for Robinson in particular. Michigan’s most athletic player had his best game of the season, and maybe his career, against what could be the best team the Wolverines play all season. There is every reason to believe Robinson’s production on Saturday can be replicated. Especially if, on a Saturday night after coming this close to beating the No. 1 team in the country, this is what Robinson is doing.

  • Dr_ZC

    Great analysis. I noticed that when Spike runs the offense, GR3 can score “Burke assisted” baskets, while he can also create driving to the basket after a pump fake, or hit the elbow jumper. What I do not understand is why in the second half the offense did not ran through him. JB has said it over and over, that the team is trying to find the hot hand. What happened? Did he come out of the freezer in the second half? He did not miss many shots, so I am wondering why the team did not ride him in the second half.

  • Fab 5 Legends

    that game is what I expected of GR3…hopefully he maintains that level of play…he should be our go-to-guy, and if he plays like that he will be…Michigan will be tht much more dangerous :)

  • sane1

    Nice analysis, Dylan. One thing that I think some fail to appreciate is that we have a number of scoring options. We’re not just going to hand the ball to Glenn and have him try to make something happen. Also, since he’s playing 3 or 4, someone has to pass him the ball when he’s open. Expecting him to “take over” games is unrealistic.

  • wil

    Nice work. I hope you will follow up with an analysis of why GRIII disappeared in the second half.

  • guestavo

    Caris and Nik got hot in the second half. It’s called playing within the offense.

  • Chezaroo

    Total different defensive attention assigned to Glen ( Gordon all the time ) in the second half. Does he have the ability to be the focus of the opposition and still be a productive player? Only he knows.

    • ChathaM

      That’s a very good point. I liked how the UM offence adjusted to the UA defensive adjustment (eg.- Caris attacking his man). But, perhaps finding a way to not be completely shut down by a change in defensive scheme is the next step in Robinson’s development.

    • guestavo

      Thing is most teams will have to choose between GR3, Nik and Caris and who they want to completely cancel out, if they all have it going. Duke did it against Nik. Arizona did it against Glenn. Caris has always showed up in both situation. Imagine if we can get two of these guys going while the the other team makes it a game of 4 vs 4?

      • Chezaroo

        Solid take. Still think this team is going to surprise some people. Advantageous early Big Ten schedule allows for some momentum to be built, if we can come together. Despite the loss to AZ, we should be VERY difficult to beat at home during conference. Only two games in two weeks should benefit team ( more practice time ) in sorting out roles. But nothing can compare to game action.

    • rlcBlue

      Right. In the first half, Glenn abused Brandon Ashley repeatedly in the half court – Ashley has true power forward size and he could not stay in front of GRIII. Putting a wing sized defender on him took away that mismatch, but obviously it created another one – either putting Ashley on Stauskas or forcing one of Tarczewski or Ashley to the bench. That’s OK, as long as someone on the team gets to take advantage of the defense’s adjustment.

  • Dr_ZC

    Perhaps I am over simplifying things, but I noticed that we had several PNR opportunities, but our guards could not see the roll man. In addition, there were a few occasions in the second half, where Mitch would set a screen for Nick, Nick would pass him the ball and pop to the right free, but Mitch will pass left. Some other times, Nick would get a screen from Mitch to find himself in a decent position for a three, but he chose to swing the ball to his right instead.
    Last year we were very effective on the PNR. I think this year we need to get Walton to recognize it, the way Tray did.

  • Mattski

    Would be nice if there were some way to signal appreciation of a great piece of research like this without signing in and posting, but so be it–terrific analysis.

  • MLaw

    Great take. The key for this season is consistency. We have had big performances from a lot of individual pieces, but then they fall back a bit. If everyone on the team cranks it up one notch and stays there during B1G play, then I feel like we can do some damage.

    • Wayman Britt

      I agree consistency for GR3 is the key. He had a nice game. I hope we see more of the same and see more aggressiveness in rebounding and playing defense.

  • BlueBasketeer

    Well, it was a very good game, but whether it was a “breakout” game remains to be seen. In another three or four games, we’ll know whether this was a fluke, or if we can expect a high level of production from Robinson the rest of the season. So far, his underperformance has been one of our biggest problems.

  • gobluemd16

    So Florida State beat Charlotte by about 40 points last night. We are going to be regretting that loss big time later in the season, could look quite bad come selection time.

  • GregGoBlue

    This is your best work, Joe. Well done.