Too many of these (Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog)
There's no question Glenn Robinson III is off to a rough start in his sophomore season. Tasked with creating more offense in the absence of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., he's struggled to do so, and his efficiency has plunged—he's shooting 44% from the field after hitting 57% of his shots last year. In Michigan's three losses, representing three of the four toughest teams they've played, he's all but disappeared, and only one of those (Charlotte, against which he played nine minutes before exiting the game after falling on his back) can be explained away by mitigating circumstances.
In a highly recommended stat-based look at Michigan's offensive issues so far this year, UMHoops cited a major reason for GRIII's regression—his lack of attempts at the rim [emphasis mine]:
Last year Robinson attempted 43.5% of his field goals at the rim and converted at a 78% rate. You remember those plays: Trey Burke penetrates and finds Robinson creeping along the baseline for an alley-oop or Robinson leaks out for an easy dunk in transition. Robinson was among the best finishers in the country a year and was the 10th most efficient offensive player in the country because of it.
This year, just 21.4% of Robinson’s field goal attempts have come at the rim. He’s finishing at an improved 88.9% rate but the opportunities aren’t nearly as plentiful. That’s a major problem because that’s what Robinson does best.
Above all else, this is the clear issue with Robinson this year; without Burke—and to a lesser extent, Hardaway—commanding the full attention of opposing defenses, the easy looks that were there last year aren't happening this year, and Robinson's attempts to create his own offense haven't been nearly as effective.
In an effort to expand on this, I went back to the Iowa State game film—the only game in which Michigan faced a quality opponent, GRIII played extensively and commanded at least 15% of the team's possessions, and the opposing defense wasn't face-guarding Nik Stauskas—to see how his shots were created. This is every shot attempt and turnover by Robinson before Michigan was down multiple possessions in the final two minutes; you should see a common thread:
Most of Robinson's attempts are happening in transition, obviously. When Michigan was in their halfcourt offense, he was almost entirely a non-factor. A few more observations from the tape above and this season as a whole after THE JUMP.
[JUMP for stat wonkery, what's not working, and reasons for hope.]
DRIVING ISN'T THE ANSWER
Robinson attempted to drive to the basket twice in this game from something resembling the halfcourt offense; on the first (0:11 mark) he couldn't burrow into the paint and traveled, on the second (0:30) he goes straight into the defender's chest and his bank-shot fails to catch iron.
Simply put, GRIII hasn't developed a move—let alone an array of moves—that can consistently get him around a defender. Note that at no point does Iowa State consider sending help when he drives; they know that his man should be able to stay between him and the basket. This means that GRIII's drives aren't opening up shots on the outside for his teammates and opponents aren't scrambling to box out Michigan's bigs when he shoots—with no help necessary, everybody's still on their man. Even in transition, he doesn't get clean looks unless he's already past the defense; his ability to draw fouls in those situations mitigates that issue, however.
To add to Dylan's statistics above, I went to the new premium stats on hoop-math, which paint quite the picture about GRIII's lack of shot creation. He's made 16 shots at the rim this season on 18 attempts, which is an outstanding percentage but on a disappointingly low number of opportunities. 13 of those 16 makes were assisted. One of those non-assisted makes was a putback off an offensive rebound. That leaves just two instances in which GRIII has created his own basket at the rim all season. That's an ugly, ugly number for nine games that include several overmatched opponents.
TOO MANY LONG TWOS
Robinson's drives haven't been getting him to the rim; they've been getting him to the area where shots go to die—inside the arc but outside the paint. 34 of his shots this year are of the two-point jumper variety; he's hit just 12 (35%) and only four were assisted. A full 65% of his two-point attempts are jump shots. Last season that mark was just 43%.
There are a couple reasons for this, in my opinion. First and foremost is the overarching problem—GRIII can't create his own shot at the basket and instead settles for pull-up jumpers. The other is that his lack of confidence in his three-point shot (9/32 this season) leads to him passing up some good shots for worse ones. At the 1:48 mark of the video, Robinson passes up a wide-open look from three after taking a handoff from Mitch McGary, only to step into a contested 18-footer that caroms off the front of the rim. That's not the only time he's stepped into a well-defended long jumper this season instead of taking what the defense is giving him.
REASONS FOR HOPE
This post leads to a pretty grim outlook for GRIII being able to turn things around—players don't normally develop effective go-to moves in the middle of a season, and that's the biggest thing missing from Robinson's offensive repertoire. There are, however, some signs in both the video and the numbers that point to potential improvement in his efficiency.
The first thing is that he's missing a lot of open jump shots, especially from three, that I expect to start falling at a higher rate. While Robinson wasn't a great outside shooter as a freshman at 32%, that's still better than his current 28% mark, and he's displayed an improved instinct this year for when to attack the basket in transition and when to pop outside for an open three—he did that twice against ISU and knocked down a wide-open triple as a result. On the season he's just 1/5 on three-pointers in transition; that should improve since those tend to be open looks—the rest of the team is shooting 44% in that category.
The other positive signal is his free-throw rate and percentage, both of which have improved this season. There's a strong correlation between free-throw shooting and eFG% on jump shots (scroll down to the chart here). Robinson is currently hitting 75% of his freebies, up from 68% last season, while getting to the line more frequently. His jump shot hopefully will start following that trend.