This WSJ article is relevant given the discussion we've been having. https://www.wsj.com/articles/duncan-robinson-heat-nba-williams-michigan-11576095466
One of the most peculiar moments of the most peculiar NBA player’s basketball life happened in a game after his senior year of high school, when he didn’t know where he’d be playing in college, only that it would be a school that never sends people to the NBA.
What happened in this one unforgettable game was that Duncan Robinson was open and didn’t shoot. His coach immediately called timeout.
“That’s selfish,” Michael Crotty told him.
This was such an odd thing for Robinson to hear that he wasn’t exactly sure how to respond.
“He looked at me like I had nine heads,” Crotty said.
“You’re being selfish if you don’t shoot,” Robinson says now. “It’s so backward-thinking to every kid growing up.”
Not anymore. This counterintuitive notion became a cornerstone of basketball as Duncan Robinson went from a small town in New Hampshire to Phillips Exeter Academy to Williams College to the University of Michigan to the developmental G League after he was undrafted. Then he became one of the most improbable players in NBA history. Now he’s starting for the Miami Heat.
He’s the basketball equivalent of a kid who’s afraid of heights becoming an astronaut. By the time he made his giant leaps from Division III to Division I to the NBA, the sport was in the middle of a revolution that placed a premium on shooting, and Duncan Robinson is the human embodiment of how much the game has changed since the days of Tim Duncan and David Robinson.
His story is a fairy tale. It’s also an economics lesson. NBA teams have new demands—and Duncan Robinson is the supply. He’s a surprisingly valuable player because the talents of someone Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has called “one of the best shooters on this planet” are suddenly worth millions of dollars.
“It took so many things outside of my control to get to this point,” said Robinson, who is shooting 45% on 3-pointers this season, which ranks third in the NBA. “That’s not lost on me.”
Robinson went to a middle school with five kids in his graduating class. When he was a freshman in high school, he was only 5-foot-7. By the time he was a junior, he was coming off the bench for a mediocre team. His wildest dream was to play D-III college basketball.
“I wanted to use basketball to get into a school that normally I wouldn’t be able to get into,” he said. “A lot of people at that point were, like, that would be a reach for you.”
Elisabeth Robinson still remembers the incredulous response of his school’s principal when she inquired about filming basketball games for her son’s college recruitment: “You don’t think he’s going to play basketball in college, do you?”
Duncan Robinson couldn’t be sure himself. But it was around this time when something useful happened: He went from 5-foot-7 to 6-foot-7 so quickly that his wardrobe couldn’t keep up.
“I have an older brother, so I have a lot of hand-me-downs,” Duncan said. “But then I outgrew him.”
“We had to buy a lot of shoes and pants,” Elisabeth said.
She wanted him to get a summer job before his senior year of high school. He had a different idea. Instead of frying eggs as a line cook at the local general store, Robinson asked for permission to spend the summer concentrating on basketball. It paid off. “I had a good senior year by my standards,” he said. “Not by the world-of-basketball standards.”
It was good enough that he took a postgraduate year at Exeter after his four years at The Governor’s Academy, and he caught the attention of Williams, the academically elite liberal-arts college in the Berkshires. Then he had another good year by anybody’s standards: Robinson was the national freshman of the year on a team that played for the national title. It was such a good year that he began to think about transferring.
Robinson visited Davidson College, the alma mater of Stephen Curry, and the University of Michigan. Since he couldn’t have imagined that he’d one day play basketball for a living, he wasn’t going to leave Williams for a lackluster education. “At least my mom wasn’t going to let me,” he said. He only chose Michigan after coach John Beilein convinced him that D-I basketball wasn’t a reach for him.
It would be Robinson’s third consecutive year in a new place at a higher level of basketball that had been implausible the year before.
His redshirt year happened to coincide with a remarkable period of change in his sport. The Golden State Warriors were about to win their first title. Curry was about to win his first MVP. The game of basketball was evolving in Robinson’s favor.
“I had one year to become as good of a player as I could possibly become with all the resources in the world and a staff entirely invested in my development,” he said. “I had never had that. I remember calling my friends and being like, remember when we used to shell out $100 to drive down to Boston at 5 a.m. and work out? Now it’s some guy’s job to work me out.”
Robinson is the first to admit that none of this was planned. He didn’t go to Williams so he could go to Michigan, and he didn’t go to Michigan so he could get to the NBA.
But he thrived at Michigan, where the biggest lecture is nearly the size of the undergraduate population of Williams, and playing in the NBA was no longer so preposterous. He went undrafted but signed with the Heat’s team in summer league and was rewarded with a contract in the G League.
He would soon learn that every level of basketball abides by the same rule.
“I was having a tough time figuring out what was a good shot—and then I quickly realized that everything was a good shot,” Robinson said. “I needed to literally shoot everything. I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around it.”
Only last year in the G League did he finally come around to the unlikely idea that someone who fantasized about D-III basketball could be a contributor in the NBA. The Heat felt the same way. They signed him to a two-year, $3.1 million deal that appears to be a bargain now that he’s the shooting guard in the league’s most efficient lineup and, according to some metrics, among the game’s most useful players.
The Heat have drilled into Robinson’s brain that he simply can’t shoot enough. Spoelstra orders him to take crazy shots, shots that might miss by several feet, shots that make everyone in the arena spit out their tequila. When he doesn’t shoot, they make him run sprints. They even showed him video of how Robinson not shooting hurts the entire team. “It was hard-wired,” he said. “A concerted, deliberate, intentional effort to get me to be more and more aggressive.”
It has reached the point that his past no longer matters to the Heat. They’re too busy thinking about Duncan Robinson’s future.