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Film Study: How Duncan Robinson impacts Miami's offense

The second-year forward has quickly developed into one of the NBA's top 3-point threats

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann

Duncan Robinson shot 28% from 3-point range in the preseason. But it wasn’t the percentage that mattered. It was the attempts.

Robinson, who went undrafted in 2018 and played a total of 161 minutes as a rookie, was suddenly an indiscriminate gunner in the Miami Heat’s starting lineup. His 13.1 3-point attempts per 36 minutes were topped only (among 84 players who played at least 100 preseason minutes) by a pair of Houston Rockets.

Here was Robinson’s first touch of the preseason, where he immediately launched a contested 3-pointer with 15 seconds on the shot clock:

In the regular season, Robinson has averaged just 10.0 3-point attempts per 36, sixth among players that have played at least 750 minutes. But he’s shot them at a 44.8% clip. He ranks fourth in the league in 3-point percentage, having attempted more 3-pointers (543) than anybody else in the top 35.

The addition of Jimmy Butler is one reason why the Heat have had the league’s second most improved offense. When the season went on hiatus, Miami ranked seventh on that end of the floor, having scored 5.5 more points per 100 possessions than it did last season, when it was a bottom-five offensive team.

Butler has fueled the league’s biggest jump in free throw rate (FTA/FGA), from 0.247 (20th) last season to 0.298 (first) this season. He has an individual free throw rate of 67.9 attempts per 100 shots from the field, the second highest rate among 229 players with at least 300 field goal attempts (lower than only that of Rudy Gobert).

But the Heat have also seen the league’s biggest increase in effective field goal percentage, from 51.5% (21st) last season to 54.9% (third) this season. That’s come with the league’s biggest jump in 3-point percentage, from 34.9% (21st) last season to 38.3% (first) this season.

Butler has generated some of those shots, ranking 23rd in the league with 142 assists on 3-pointers. But he’s shot a brutal 24.8% from beyond the arc himself. That’s the third worst mark among 242 players with at least 100 3-point attempts. While he’s given them a playmaker who gets to the line more (per field goal attempt) than James Harden, the Heat’s offensive improvement has been about a lot more than Butler, who has an effective field goal percentage of 33.8% on shots from outside the paint, the worst mark (by a wide margin) among 183 players who have taken at least 200 shots from the outside.

Bam Adebayo seeing one of the league’s biggest jumps in minutes per game (from 23.3 to 34.4) has mattered. Goran Dragic being healthy has mattered. Having two rookies — Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro — who can get buckets has mattered. Getting 43% from 3-point range from both Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard has mattered.

But the biggest revelation from the Heat might be the guy who started his college career at Division III Williams college, played 161 minutes last season, and has suddenly become one of the league’s scariest 3-point shooters.

You could say that Robinson’s offensive game is one-dimensional. He’s taken 89% of his shots from 3-point range, the highest rate among 229 players with at least 300 field goal attempts. And he’s been assisted on 94.1% of his baskets, the highest rate among 164 players with 200 total field goals.

But Robinson gets to those assisted 3-pointers in a lot of creative ways. And while his own offense is limited, the threat of his shooting opens up a lot of other elements of the Heat’s seventh-ranked offense.

Getting Robinson Open

Butler is the star and Adebayo is the hub. But the Heat’s primary offensive actions are often designed for Robinson to get open beyond the arc. Here are a few examples of how he gets his shots:

Play 1. A lot of teams will run this “pistol” action for good shooters (like Joe Harris with Brooklyn). Kyle Lowry prevents Nunn from using Robinson’s screen along the right sideline, but Robinson still gets open via a flare to the top of the floor, with help from Adebayo’s screen on Fred VanVleet.

Number to know: Adebayo ranks third with 5.2 screen assists per game.

Play 2. As Dragic and Olynyk run a pick-and-roll at the top of the floor, Robinson runs along the baseline and eventually curls around an Andre Iguodala screen in the right corner.

Number to know: Robinson’s ratio of 3-point attempts to mid-range attempts is 38.8. That’s the third highest ratio among 183 players who have taken at least 200 shots from outside the paint, trailing only the marks of Ben McLemore (infinity) and James Harden (48.1).

Play 3. Now, things get a little more interesting. Most dribble hand-offs are for a player coming from the wing or the corner. Here, Robinson starts at the right block, as if he’s setting a back-screen for Derrick Jones Jr. The threat of a lob to Jones keeps Markelle Fultz from staying attached to Robinson as he sprints into a hand-off from Olynyk above the left elbow.

Number to know: According to Synergy play-type tracking, Robinson leads the league with 3.2 points per game scored off hand-offs.

Play 4. Robinson again starts at the right block. This time he flashes straight to the ball. De’Anthony Melton anticipates a hand-off back to Butler, but Robinson immediately pivots toward a screen from Leonard and Melton can’t recover quickly enough.

Number to know: The Heat have scored 120.1 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter, the best mark for any team in any quarter.

Play 5. With Robinson on the left side of the floor, Adebayo goes in the other direction with a dribble hand-off to Butler. Future teammate Jae Crowder forces Butler baseline, Leonard ad-libs a back-screen for Robinson back to the left corner, and Butler delivers the “hammer” pass.

Number to know: The Heat’s lineup of Nunn, Robinson, Butler, Adebayo and Leonard has averaged 96.3 possessions per 48 minutes, the slowest pace among the 50 lineups that have played at least 150 minutes together.

The Adebayo-Robinson Connection

Adebayo and the Pacers’ Domantas Sabonis are the closest facsimiles to Nikola Jokic, around whom the Nuggets have built a top-10 (and entertaining) offense. Adebayo will dribble the ball up and initiate the offense himself from the top of the floor.

Among centers, only Jokic (34.3%) has recorded assists on a higher percentage of his possessions than Adebayo (23.2%). Adebayo leads all centers (and ranks eighth overall) with 176 assists on 3-pointers, 70 of which have gone to Robinson. That’s the most assists on 3-pointers from one player to a single teammate.

Here are a few of those connections:

Play 1. This is a pretty common set. Nunn gets the ball to Adebayo at the left elbow and quickly sets a cross-screen for Robinson. Bradley Beal switches that screen, but is still trailing Robinson as he takes the hand-off from Adebayo.

Number to know: According to Second Spectrum tracking, Adebayo ranks third with 7.9 elbow touches per game and leads the league with 54 assists off elbow touches.

Play 2. Robinson hesitates on the initial sideline hand-off from Adebayo, allowing Malik Beasley to get back in the play. He gets the ball back to Adebayo in the mid-post and sets a cross-screen for Butler, who cuts through. The Wolves switch that screen and Robinson comes back for a hand-off from Adebayo, who flattens Josh Okogie with his screen.

Number to know: Adebayo has passed on 54.2% of his post-ups, the highest rate among 29 players who have averaged at least three post-ups per game.

Play 3. Adebayo brings the ball up the floor and Robinson sets a pin-down screen for Jones. But Jones then pivots and sets the same screen for Robinson, who gains separation from Lonzo Ball before taking the hand-off from Adebayo.

Number to know: The Heat lead the league with 9.6 hand-off possessions per game.

Play 4. Collin Sexton is top-locking Robinson on the right wing, so he goes under Olynyk’s screen. He then snakes his way into another hand-off from Adebayo.

Number to know: Robinson has an effective field goal percentage of 78.5% in the first quarter, the best mark, by a wide margin, for any player in any quarter (minimum 100 field goal attempts). The next best mark is that of Hassan Whiteside in the fourth quarter (73.6%).

Play 5. On the first possession of the third quarter of the Heat’s March 2 win over the Bucks, the league’s best defensive team blows up the designed play and Adebayo is left searching for an outlet. Khris Middleton continues to deny Robinson, so he flares to the corner and hits a tough 3-pointer late in the shot clock.

Number to know: Robinson ranks second in the league with 70 corner 3-pointers (10 fewer than Houston’s P.J. Tucker). The 50.4% he’s shot on corner 3-pointers ranks eighth among 108 players with at least 50 attempts.

Serving As A Distraction

We’ve seen 10 distinct ways for Robinson to get to his shot. As a 45% 3-point shooter who is ready to launch whenever he touches the ball who also has a myriad of ways to get open, Robinson is going to grab the defense’s attention.

Watch the Heat enough and you’ll realize how much Robinson affects Miami opponents. Here’s Spencer Dinwiddie with his head turned away from the ball, focused solely on Robinson.

The fear of letting a good shooter get open makes defenders forget other priorities … and that creates opportunities for the shooter’s teammates. Here are a few examples of the Robinson threat opening up great shots for his teammates:

Play 1. Iguodala gets stopped in transition and initially looks to Robinson trailing on the right wing. That gets Wilson Chandler scrambling away from the paint, leaving an open lane for Crowder to follow the play for a dunk.

Number to know: According to Synergy play-type tracking, the Heat have scored a league-best 1.19 points per possession in transition. Per Second Spectrum, the Heat have the league’s second-highest effective field goal percentage in the first six seconds of the shot clock (63.7%).

Play 2. Here’s that same action as Play 1 in the Adebayo-Robinson video above. Dragic enters to Olynyk at the the right elbow and sets a cross-screen for Robinson. But a fake hand-off from Olynyk (master of fake hand-offs) gets Caris LeVert to jump out toward Robinson. Olynyk attacks the paint, draws help from DeAndre Jordan, and drops the ball off for Iguodala.

Number to know: The Heat are the only team that ranks in the top 5 in free throw rate (29.8 attempts per 100 shots from the field, first), but in the bottom 5 in the percentage of their shots that have come in the restricted area (29.5%, 27th).

Play 3. Same action again, with Butler passing to Adebayo and setting the pick. Evan Fournier gets between Robinson and Butler’s screen, but gets caught on the other side when Robinson flares back to the weak side. James Ennis (defending Butler) reacts to the flare and Butler has an open lane to the basket.

Number to know: Robinson has taken only 8% of his shots in the restricted area and 9% of his shots in the paint. Those are both the lowest rates among 229 players with at least 300 field goal attempts. But the Heat have shot much better in the restricted area with Robinson on the floor (68.8%) than with him off the floor (63.1%).

Play 4. After an offensive rebound, Robinson circles from the top of the floor into a hand-off from Adebayo along the left sideline. With Fournier trailing, Nikola Vucevic steps out to prevent the corner 3-pointer. That gets the Magic into a rotation that eventually leaves Nunn open in the opposite corner.

Number to know: 20.3% of the Heat’s points, the league’s third lowest rate, have been either fast break points (10.0, sixth lowest rate) or second chance points (10.2%, fourth lowest). But they’re tied for the league lead with 86 second-chance 3-pointers.

Play 5. With the Heat down two and just 1.9 seconds left in regulation, Adebayo sets a pin-down screen for Robinson. Harrison Barnes switches the screen to prevent Robinson from getting open, but that leaves the 6-foot-3 Cory Joseph alone with Adebayo under the basket. Dragic lofts a perfect lob for Adebayo to tie the game.

Number to know: Adebayo is one of six players who have shot 70% or better on at least 200 attempts in the restricted area and 45% or better on at least 100 attempts elsewhere in the paint.

Shooters Make The Best Screeners

Great shooters can be great screeners because opponents them don’t want to let them get open. Robinson is a very willing screener, both on set plays and in ad-lib situations. Here are a few examples:

Play 1. When Butler gets the ball back from Crowder on the right side of the floor, Robinson is ready with a ball screen. Fultz (defending Robinson) doesn’t stop the ball and Butler gets a step on Aaron Gordon, drawing help from the weak side. That leaves Dragic open in the left corner.

Number to know: The Heat rank second in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage (39.4%).

Play 2. This is the same action (in the same game) as Play 4 in the first video. But after flashing to the ball, Robinson hands it back to Butler, who gets a step on Crowder. Jonas Valanciunas slides over to help and Butler hits Adebayo for a short jump hook.

Number to know: According to Second Spectrum, the Heat are one of five teams that rank in the bottom 10 in both ball movement (319 passes per 24 minutes of possession, 21st) and player movement (10.8 miles traveled per 24 minutes of possession, 22nd).

Play 3. Robinson sets a cross screen for Nunn. Dinwiddie stays attached to Robinson, LeVert trails Nunn into a hand-off from Adebayo and then sinks a comfortable elbow jumper against the Nets’ drop scheme.

Number to know: Nunn leads all rookies with 164 mid-range attempts. The 47.6% he’s shot on those ranks 13th among 79 players who have attempted at least 100.

Play 4. Later in the same game, Robinson sets a pin-down screen for Nunn out of the right corner. Dinwiddie stays with Robinson again, leaving LeVert to get around both Robinson and Dinwiddie. That makes him late in contesting Nunn’s 3-pointer from the top after a hand-off from Jones.

Number to know: Forty-nine players have attempted at least 100 pull-up 3-pointers and at least 100 catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. Of those 49, 43 have shot better on the catch-and-shoot attempts. Dragic and Nunn are two of six that have shot better on the pull-up 3-pointers (38.5% for Dragic, 38.5% for Nunn) than on the catch-and-shoot 3-pointers (36.3%, 35.5%). League averages are 33% on pull-up 3-pointers and 37% on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers.

Play 5. Michael Carter-Williams is top-locking Robinson as Olynyk tries to set a screen. Robinson ad-libs a screen for Olynyk, who flares to a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer.

Number to know: Among the 190 players with at least 100 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts, Robinson (45.8%), Olynyk (44.7%) and Tyler Herro (45.5%) rank eighth, ninth and 10th in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage, while Crowder (28.6%) and Jones (26.8%) rank 184th and 188th.

A Key Ingredient

In the playoffs, Robinson will likely be the target of offenses that look at him as the weak link in Miami’s 14th-ranked defense. But at 6-foot-7, he’s not a major liability on that end of the floor. What he does offensively — both his shooting and the opportunities it creates for others — more than makes up for whatever he gives back on defense. This season, the Heat have been 12.3 points per 100 possessions better with Robinson on the floor (+7.7) than with him off the floor (-4.6). That’s the biggest on-off-court NetRtg differential among 218 players who have played at least 1,000 minutes for a single team.

It’s rare to see a Miami team that doesn’t rank in the top 10 defensively. But the Heat rank seventh offensively and have had the third-best offense (110.6 points scored per 100 possessions in 24 games) against the league’s top 10 defenses. Robinson is one of two Heat players (Adebayo is the other) who have played in all 24 of those games, averaging 12.7 points on an effective field goal percentage of 66.6%.

In his 728 minutes on the floor against the league’s top 10 defenses (seven of which are the other Eastern Conference playoff teams), the Heat have scored 110.6 points per 100 possessions and have outscored their opponents by 96 points. In his 439 minutes off the floor against those 10 teams, the Heat have scored 102.6 points per 100 possessions and have been outscored by 73 points.

Going from Division III to the NBA is an incredible story in itself. That Robinson went from playing 161 minutes last season to being an integral part of one of the league’s best offenses this season makes it even more amazing.

It’s a testament to his work, the Heat’s player development system and the aggressiveness they’ve instilled in him. Undrafted just two years ago, Robinson has quickly become one of the scariest players in the NBA.

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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