Player Review 2018: Glenn Robinson III

Age: 24
Years Pro: 4
Status: Unrestricted free agent.
Key Stats: Missed the season’s first 58 games because of an ankle injury suffered in training camp. Returned after the All-Star break to average 4.1 points in 14.7 minutes per game over 23 games.

This was supposed to be a breakout season for Glenn Robinson III, the fruition of three seasons of hard knocks, hard labor, and steady growth.

It turned out to be another hard-luck season that throws the direction of his NBA career into question.

Robinson was the backup to Bojan Bogdanovic at small forward entering training camp, the first time in his career he would begin a season within the playing rotation. Although he lacked Bogdanovic's playing experience, not to mention accomplishments, it wasn't outlandish to believe he could win the starting job at some point in the season.

"I think my game has really improved and I'm waiting patiently — and impatiently — to show it," he said the day before camp began.

Nate McMillan was ready to give him that opportunity.

"We know he has the potential to be a player in this league," McMillan said. "He's been working extremely hard the last two years. He'll be competing for minutes at the wing spot."

The competition, whether for a starting position or merely for steady playing time, didn't last long. On Sept. 29, during the fourth training camp practice, media members were gathered outside the door to the St. Vincent practice courts to be let in for interviews when Robinson was wheeled around the corner to be put on the elevator and taken for X-rays. He had suffered a severely sprained left ankle during practice, an injury that required surgery.

Although at first optimistic about an early return, he missed the first 58 games. He didn't make his season debut until Feb. 23, following a patient rehab process that ensured he was ready to return. He was immediately thrust into the playing rotation as the backup to Bogdanovic and played double figure minutes in 21 of the remaining games.

His performance was generally solid but didn't reflect improvement from the previous season. He averaged 4.1 points in 14.7 minutes per game, hitting 42 percent of his field goal attempts, including 41 percent of his 3-point attempts. He scored 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting in his second game, a 21-minute appearance in Dallas, and also reached double figures in each of the final three games when his playing time spiked.

McMillan tightened the playing rotation in the playoffs, which squeezed out Robinson. He played in just two of the seven games against Cleveland, for a total of six minutes.

Say this for him, though: he's been outstanding in his limited postseason opportunities. Playing a combined 47 minutes in the Pacers' first-round playoff series over the previous three years, he's hit 10-of-11 field goal attempts, including both 3-point shots, with no turnovers.

He's an unrestricted free agent now, and Kevin Pritchard has offered no hints as to the level of his interest in bringing back Robinson for a fourth season in Indianapolis. That decision will hinge to some degree on what opportunities for wing players present themselves in free agency and trades.

It would be a shame for it not to work out for Robinson with the Pacers, however, given how much both sides have invested in his career. Larry Bird made a savvy move when he signed Robinson in the summer of 2015. At that time Robinson had played 25 games for Minnesota, which drafted him in the second round but released him during his rookie season, and 10 games for Philadelphia at the end of the season. He also had played with Atlanta's Summer League team.

Robinson showed a few splashes of promise through the 2015-16 season, then began to emerge the following season, when he scored in double figures 15 times and produced some
intriguing highlights before having to sit out the last 11 games because of a calf strain.

He scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in his first start of the season at Oklahoma City in November, when Paul George and C.J. Miles were out with injuries. A week later, he scored 20, 17, and 15 points in three consecutive starts against Brooklyn, the Clippers and Portland. In February, he made a national name for himself by winning the NBA's Slam Dunk competition over All-Star Weekend. In March, playing off the bench, he hit a game-winning 3-pointer from the left corner just before the final buzzer for a one-point victory in Atlanta. He finished with impressive performances in three brief playoff appearances.

That all seemed to provide a favorable forecast for this season, which didn't turn out to be nearly as sunny as hoped.

One could argue that a healthy Robinson could have contributed as much as Bogdanovic did. Bogdanovic was signed to provide 3-point shooting, but over the past three seasons, Robinson has the better 3-point percentage of the two. Robinson also is more athletic, and therefore at least the equal of the taller Bogdanovic as a defender and rebounder.

The weaknesses in Robinson's game — court awareness, ballhandling, consistency — need consistent playing time to resolve. And while he's a favorite in and out of the locker room for his polite demeanor and positive, team-first #OverlyDedicated attitude amid all circumstances, he might be better served playing for another team, even a lesser one, that allows him more freedom and opportunity. That happens sometimes in a player's career. Fred Hoiberg, for example, showed early promise but lost his place in the Pacers' playing rotation in the 1999 lockout-shortened season, his fourth, when he averaged just 1.6 points. He revitalized his career in Chicago where he played the next four seasons, and then played two more in Minnesota before a heart ailment ended his career at 32.

Exactly zero people associated with the Pacers would be happy to see Robinson go if his destiny is elsewhere. If the offseason chips fall a certain way, he could be back with renewed opportunity even. If they fall another direction, he might need to move on. Regardless, he's proven he belongs in the league when healthy.

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