Heat

For Heat’s Robinson, It’s About Being Present

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The life of a two-way player is one characterized by uncertainty and anticipation. While these talented young guns spend most of their season grinding away in the NBA’s G-League, they are some of the prime candidates for the elusive call-up to an NBA roster. But unlike the typical G-League-er, who has no restrictions on time in the NBA, these two-way contracts allot a maximum of 45 days with a professional squad.

For players like the Miami Heat‘s Duncan Robinson, an NBA stint could last just a few days or weeks. Suddenly he shifts from the humble fanbase of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to the big-time spotlight of South Beach, and back again. But for Robinson, the changes are part of his responsibilities.

“It’s my job, in the position I’m in this year, to just be ready wherever,” he told me on Tuesday. “I’m just trying to be present, whether I’m with the G-League team or with the Heat, and to learn as much as possible and grow as much as possible.”

Welcome to the Association

Robinson’s journey to the NBA looks nothing like the paths of basketball prodigies like Deandre Ayton and Zion Williamson. He hails from the tiny town of New Castle, New Hampshire, and began his collegiate career at DIII Williams College. But after impressing at Williams, Michigan brought the 6’8″ swingman aboard, where Robinson became an instrumental piece in the Wolverines’ NCAA Finals run last year. His name went uncalled on draft night, but Robinson earned his two-way deal through a Summer League audition with the Heat.

Miami started this season with multiple injuries to key players, so Robinson was named to the Opening Night roster. His first game action occurred in the Heat’s fourth contest, when they routed the New York Knicks 110-87. Robinson scored his first three career points on a trademark long ball that night.

Though he didn’t have one jarring “welcome to the league” moment, Robinson does recall his first few instances facing off against NBA stars. He said Tim Hardaway Jr. — another Michigan alumnus — stood out in particular.

“He was great at always talking to me and being in my ear when I was at Michigan,” Robinson said. “And having that moment of being able to match up and go up against him, it was pretty cool.”

After staying with the Heat for the first month of the season, Robinson was sent to the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Since then, he’s been sporadically called up and reassigned throughout the year. Though the unpredictable nature of these changes is daunting, Robinson noted that his relationship with two-way teammate Yante Maten — his roommate with both the Skyforce and Heat — has helped ease the burden.

“It’s nice to have someone else who’s in the same position as you and is understanding of what you’re going through,” Robinson said. “[Maten]’s been a really good friend and someone who’s definitely pushed me a lot more as well.”

Thriving on the Three-Ball

Now midway through his rookie season, Robinson continues to display a smooth three-point stroke. He leads the G-League by a wide margin with 102 threes converted (next best has 78) at a blistering rate of 48.1%. The sureness of Robinson’s shot is a major slice of his 19.7 points per game. It’s also helped propel the Skyforce to an 18-10 record. This accuracy could be his calling card for the NBA.

“I have to continue to prove that I can make shots at this level,” he said. I have to have understanding and self-awareness for what I do well, and that’s shoot. Fortunately with the way the NBA is shifting, that’s a hot commodity in terms of what teams are looking for.”

When asked what pro players he models his game after, Robinson gave the appropriate shout-outs to flamethrowers like Kyle Korver, Klay Thompson and J.J. Redick. But in particular, the 24 year-old said he enjoys the play style and attitude of Utah’s Joe Ingles. Robinson cited the Australian’s underrated playmaking ability and defensive awareness that complements his well-established shooting.

“He’s such a competitor on the floor,” Robinson added of Ingles. “I love those types of guys with dual personalities, in terms of being super gritty on the court, but then great guys off it.”

Robinson has already put together some impressive performances. In December against the Agua Caliente Clippers, he connected on ten three pointers, leading to a career-high 32 points.

“It feels good to have all that work you put in manifest in a specific game,” he said. “Basketball has been my whole life for a long time now, and I’ve put a lot into it. So to see the results come to fruition like that is pretty fun.”

Two-way contracts only last for one season and don’t guarantee a roster spot past June. But given the history of challenges overcome, the evident work ethic, and the reliable stroke, Robinson appears ready for a future in the NBA.

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com. All quotes were obtained firsthand.

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About Ethan Fuller

Hailing from Portsmouth, NH, Ethan is a journalism student at Boston University and writes about the Celtics for TLSM. His chief basketball teams are the Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves. Ethan is also a still-growing ultimate frisbee player.

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