A closer look at Glenn Robinson III’s sophomore season

Dylan Burkhardt
on

Michigan 77, Purdue 76-10
Dustin Johnston

The criticism is everywhere.

“Let’s not sugarcoat it: Robinson has been a big disappointment.

“Several NBA guys I talked to in attendance for Michigan-Duke were obviously disappointed in Glenn Robinson III’s lack of assertiveness.

“Robinson’s season has careened to the realm of disappointing and underwhelming.

“Robinson’s stock was starting to pick up again until back-to-back struggles against Iowa and Michigan State highlighted the fact that he is still a tweener who can’t shoot

Whether your media medium of choice is television, newspapers, Twitter, mock drafts or message boards, you’ve seen it, heard it and read it.

Robinson’s sophomore season might not have wowed NBA scouts to this point, but Michigan just won the Big Ten without Mitch McGary, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Robinson is playing over 31 minutes per game and is Michigan’s No. 3 scorer at 13 points per game. He must be doing something right.

Robinson’s season hasn’t been perfect – he was held to single digits in five of six games in the middle of Big Ten play – but he’s still a critical part of Michigan’s offense. Often described as a two-headed monster of Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert, the Wolverine offense actually takes a three-pronged approach.

“If you look at our number of shots – both in league play and non-conference play,” Beilein explained. “[Robinson], Caris (LeVert) and Nik (Stauskas) are indistinguishable. They’ve all taken almost the exact same number of shots.”

Beilein’s right. LeVert has attempted 287 field goals, Stauskas checks in at 285, with Robinson at 278. They all use between 21 and 24% of Michigan’s offensive possessions, and while Robinson hasn’t been quite as efficient as either of Michigan’s other go-to players, he’s still vital. Here’s a look at his ‘Kirk Goldsberry-style’ shot chart form this season.

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Michigan has its dribble drive threat in Caris LeVert, it has its left wing pick-and-roll threat in Nik Stauskas, it has big men that can roll to the basket, serviceable point guards, and a three-point specialist off the bench. But Glenn Robinson III fills a niche in the Wolverine rotation that no one else can: he scores in the mid-range and finishes above the rim.

Michigan vs Minnesota_28The mid-range

Robinson’s favorite shot is no secret. He loves 17-foot jumpers from the elbows. With Robinson’s frame, elevation and smooth stroke, this is one of the shots that makes him look like a pro. He elevates over defenders with ease and can get his shot off almost whenever he wants to.

“He works on [mid-range jumpers] a lot. I hadn’t even thought about long twos – I’m just trying to get him points,” Beilein said. “I don’t care if they are long twos, short twos, dunks, whatever they are.”

Robinson shoots 44% on mid-range jumpers outside of the paint – third best in the conference among players that have attempted at least 40 such attempts.

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Long two-point jumpers aren’t the most efficient shot around, but they are a shot that Robinson can knock down with more consistency than most.

One-on-one game

When Robinson announced he was returning to Michigan, he promised there was more to his game. He promised that Wolverine fans would see a different, more diverse offensive player.

While it might not feel like it at first glance, Robinson has expanded his games as a sophomore. He’s not just using significantly more offensive possessions – 21.8% of possessions compared to 15.2% of possessions as a freshman – he’s using them more creatively.

Last year, just 12% of Robinson’s offensive possessions involved making something happen in one-on-one situations – isolation drives, ball screens, dribble hand offs and post ups – this year that number has nearly tripled as 31% of Robinson’s offense falls in that category.

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“He is still developing a skill set that can allow him to be a better one-on-one player,” Beilein said. “Those things where you try to isolate and try to do things, just like all our guys. We’re working on a whole bunch of different things to make us all better individually.”

Robinson’s efficiency in one-on-one situations isn’t great. He’s scoring .78 points per possession in one-on-one situations, down from .93 points per possession last year.

“The game still comes down to one-on-one if you can’t create leverage. We try to create leverage, but it’s still going to come down to one-on-one,” Beilein said. “He continues to do well. But right now, if you look at his fouls shots and things like that, he’s not where Caris (LeVert) and Nik (Stauskas) are because he has a tendency to just rise up and shoot over people, which is good too.”

Robinson is overshadowed by Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert, two of the best isolation players in the conference, but he’s made great strides from last season when almost all of his offense came from residual action.

Finishing

It’s easy to discredit Robinson’s effectiveness around the rim. Anyone can make a layup, right?

But Robinson finishes as well as any player in the country – and that’s an impressive trait for a player that stands just 6-foot-6 and plays the power forward spot.

All shots in the paint are not the same and any player that is able to attempt as many shots in the paint as Robinson is doing something right. Shooting 66% on shot attempts in the paint just doesn’t do the statistic justice.

Robinson makes extremely difficult shots around the rim look routine. They aren’t.

In the Big Ten, Robinson is the second most effective scorer in the paint with at least 75 in-paint field goal attempts. He’s also significantly more versatile than Jordan Morgan, Branden Dawson and Aaron White, who don’t shoot from many other places on the floor.

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Those names aren’t surprises, and they are some of the best finishers and athletes in the country. The ability to finish like that is a skill, just like Nik Stauskas’s shooting ability.

Robinson’s efficiency in the paint is impressive because he’s actually getting fewer easy opportunities cutting to the basket than last season.

Last year, 22.3% of Robinson’s offense came cutting to the basket – the easy drop off passes, backdoor cuts and alley oops from Trey Burke. This year, just 11.8% of his offense has come in that fashion. He’s feeling the loss of Burke as much as anyone on the Michigan roster, but has still managed to produce.

In search of a jump shot

Call it a crisis of confidence. Robinson’s three-point jumper usually looks good – it just never goes in.

“I’m confident… certain that one of these days he’s just going to make everything,” Beilein said on Friday afternoon. “And any inconsistencies with his shot can all go away.”

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A consistent three-point jump shot is really the only thing keeping Robinson from being an elite player. Robinson is shooting just 27% from 3-point range and is 30% or worse from four of five three-point zones. The only area where he’s above average is the left corner, where he attempts the fewest shots.

There’s not really any good explanation for Robinson’s struggles.

It’s not the defense. Robinson has a 34% eFG% on unguarded catch and shoot jumpers, per Synergy. With a hand in his face, his shooting effectiveness rises to a 50% eFG%. Last year Robinson had a 46 eFG% on catch and shoot jumpers with little to no guarded-unguarded differential.

Robinson has only made a 3-point shot in five of 16 Big Ten games. He’s made more than one 3-point in just two Big Ten games.

More than anything else, the three-point shot is the one thing holding Robinson back from being a superstar, rather than a complementary piece.

Consistency & motor

Robinson’s athletic talents are so blatantly obvious that it’s easy to expect him to dominate games with his physical ability. For whatever reason, he doesn’t dominate. He’ll show flashes, but is rarely consistent.

“He has such an athletic body that you’d like his motor to run at full speed all the time,” Beilein said. “Sometimes maybe he may be running a play instead of being a player.”

Aggressiveness is another key to Robinson’s development. Whether it’s his unselfishness or lack of confidence, Robinson has the tendency to defer.

“He’s always been a very unselfish player,” Beilein said. “And that can be a fault sometimes when you’re looking for someone else.”

There aren’t many statistics more indicative of ‘motor’ than offensive rebounds. Robinson’s offensive rebounding is down as a sophomore. His offensive rebounding rate is down, and just 6.9% of his offense comes from putbacks, down from 14.4% as a freshman, per Synergy.

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While Robinson’s offensive rebounding has been disappointing this season, he’s been more aggressive in recent games. It’s no coincidence that the new found aggressiveness has correlated with an improved stretch of play from Michigan’s sophomore forward.

Putting it all together

No one is going to argue the fact that Robinson’s best basketball is still ahead of him, but that doesn’t mean he’s not playing a key role for the Wolverines right now.

If he can put it all together for the final month of the season, Michigan could be special. Glenn Robinson III with an effective 3-point jump shot would make the Wolverine offense – already third best in the country – nearly unstoppable.

Slowly but surely, Robinson is showing signs that he’s trending in the right direction. He reached double figures in Michigan’s last four games, bolstered by 67% two-point shooting. His shot chart over the last four games is a blueprint for where he’s successful: right elbow, in the paint and at the rim.

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But it’s also a stern reminder of where he needs to improve. Shoot 35 or 40 percent from three-point range over the next month and all is forgotten. Michigan will have the firepower to make a run in the NCAA tournament, and Robinson’s draft stock will trend upward as quickly as it dropped this winter.

  • guestavo

    Another excellent read, Dylan. I think GR3 fades too much on his 3 point shot…. Another year with a sophomore PG and a summer improving ballhandling and shooting would do wonders but that’s just being plain selfish. Someone on the forums said Dawson was as good an offensive player, HA!

  • UMHoopsFan

    Great write up, thanks. GRIII’s season reminds me a bit of THJR’s soph season. First, there was getting used to new guards – a freshman Trey for Jr and Walton/Nik/Caris (the latter two playing big ballhandling roles for the first time) for III. It’s not that it was Trey’s fault or that it’s Caris’s or Nik’s or Derrick’s fault now, but these guys get better at running the offense and getting the other guys looks in their sweet spots at the right time. Second, the 3 pt shooting dipped precipitously, probably as a combination of more defensive attention overall and more pressure — wanting to be that much better instead of playing. III may never be Jr’s equal in shooting but he can be and will be (and has been) much better. Third, with respect to ballhandling, both improved significantly in their second years but still had room to tighten it up. Even well into his third year Jr’s skills were derided by some. Again, III isn’t going to be Trey or Jamal Crawford, but he’s getting better and it is starting to show.
    Also, GRIII has had some big games earlier this year – 20 and 4 against AZ (on 8-9 shooting), 17 + 6 against Stanford (6-10 shooting), 19 + 4 @Neb (9-12 shooting), 14 @Wiscy (6-8 shooting) — and even during his down games has made some huge free throws and shots. His ability to finish (and get in position to finish) is pretty unmatched. He hasn’t shot well from deep, but even so has had a pretty darn good year.

    • guestavo

      I agree. Guys like Caris/Glenn, heck even Nik, had to acclimate to their new roles and it’s only going to improve with more reps/minutes as far as creating for themselves and figuring out their go to spots/ bread and butter in the offense. You’d have to figure that if GR3 did stay another year, his acclimation period this season would provide for a much higher floor.

  • Mattski

    Please someone tattoo Glenn’s 3-pt percentage from last year on the foreheads of everyone who says he can’t make them from outside. Guestavo may have something re: the way he fades on his shot. If he continues to heat up down the stretch, Michigan can make another deep run.

    • http://www.umhoops.com/ Dylan Burkhardt

      32.4% … Not really that good.

      • Mattski

        Misread the efg% from last year as just 3-pointers. I’d swear he had some long effective spells from outside last year, no? Anybody?

      • UMHoopsFan

        One interesting note: GRIII’s 3 pt % in the nonconference this year was 32.6%. And 5 more makes over the entire year and he’d be at 32.9%, although admittedly he’s only made 22 and taken 82 so 5 is kind of a lot. His overall profile with his abilities would look pretty different with a 33% 3 pt shooting mark vs a 27% mark, and it can be a pretty fine line.

    • AADave

      He can shoot the three and has a nice stroke from long range. The difference between a “good” 3 pt percentage and a “subpar” percentage is only a few shots in his case. So there’s some randomness or luck involved. With time, I easily see him as a 35-40% 3 pt shooter.

      I think the biggest issue for him is “settling” for a three when he can either post up or get by his man for a short two or a shot at the rim. He’s working on this part of his game but he could be more aggressive. But it’s hard to make great strides when you have 2 other go-to guys in Stauskas and Levert who create their own shot and take a lot of shots.

      If NBA scouts are smart, he’ll still be a lottery pick because of his athletic skills, shooting stroke and improvements this season. He’s shown that he can and willl work on developing a more complete game. His skill set and potential translates very well to the NBA.

  • JVS

    This was a great piece, needed to be written, and addresses one of the big question marks/hot topics of the team. Great to see some of it put to bed, or at least rationalized against facts. I’ve consistently been less than concerned about the Mitch shutdown decision b/c I think it gave everyone clearer roles, and less of a balancing act trying to get everyone involved. Glenn has netted out as more of a glue guy, which with Nik/Caris playing well is 100% fine, and not to be questioned. He may or may not improve his 3FG%, but one thing that I have seen a lack of consistency in that he can fix tomorrow is his rebounding. I haven’t looked at the numbers over the last 10, but he needs to be focused on getting the high-arching 50/50 rebounds where he will always have an advantage [i can recall him doing this amazingly well, as well as having games with 1-2 rebs total], cleaning up putbacks, and playing solid D. If he does that consistently through our next 10, it wouldn’t break my heart if he shoots 27% from 3 (although I’d hope he wouldn’t take too many).

  • Tom

    I’m really curious to see if Robinson III declares for the draft this year. For my own selfish interests I hope he stays, but from his perspective, I think it’s a close call.

  • JimmyZ5

    Glenn has only been disappointing relative to ridiculous expectations. He’s had a B+/A- season. If Nik was producing like Glenn, and Glenn like Nik (obviously we’d expect different distributions of points re: 3pt and finishing), we’d be ecstatic about the step forward that Glenn, Nik, and Caris all took.

    Instead, Nik and Caris take a quantum leap foward. Glenn takes a good step forward. He’s been great this year. Don’t let expectations cloud our judgment (OMG HE SHOULD JUMP OVER THEM EVERY TIME!!!)