On The Periphery

Submitted by Ace on May 6th, 2014 at 2:36 PM

Even after his meteoric rise from unheralded three-star to coveted five-star, Glenn Robinson III was never the centerpiece. In John Beilein's 2012 recruiting class, Mitch McGary commanded the most attention. In Michigan's offense over the following two seasons, Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas were the focal points. Playing a game in which the object is to put the ball through the hoop, Robinson was notable for how rarely—and briefly—he touched the rock.

He waited on the periphery, and when the opportunity arose, he struck with such suddenness and forcefulness that even if you forgot he was on the court, you were sure to leave the game talking about whatever he just did. One moment, he was a 30% three-point shooter standing harmlessly in the corner. The next, some unsuspecting defender was attempting to discard a 6'6", 220-pound hat with ill intentions.

Robinson's ability to make these lightning strikes look effortless belied the skill required to execute them. Correctly timing a cut requires not only reading the defense, but also your teammates—a foray to the rim is worthless if the cutter and passer aren't on the same page, and a poorly timed one can ruin the offense's spacing.

[Hit THE JUMP because of excessive entirely necessary GIF usage.]

GRIII's knack for knifing along the baseline at just the right moment proved the ideal complement for the on-ball creation of the stars in Michigan's backcourt, and nobody knew this better than the man who recognized his talent back in the under-the-radar three-star days:

Later, Beilein added, “It’s just, getting him comfortable in some action that he’s really comfortable with. One of those things is flying around and being a slasher and a burner. That’s what he’s really good at -- really good at. I think he’s the best off-the-ball cutter anywhere around. So we’re trying to do a lot of that with him.”

Denzel Valentine would probably agree. Ditto Austin Hollins, Okaro White, and the entire state of Pennsylvania. If you set foot in the Crisler Center over the last two years, odds are good that the moment you let your mind drift, a thunderclap at the rim snapped you back to attention, much like the guy who just unwittingly ended up on Sportscenter.

Robinson's offensive arsenal wasn't limited to cutting and dunking, of course. Michigan boasted a lethal transition offense in large part because he traversed the court in a flash, and even if a defender held on for dear life there was no stopping him. Perhaps because so many of his shots were uncontested, Robinson never got the credit he deserved for finishing at the rim through contact, whether on the break or in the halfcourt.

And if he ever got into the open court? Well, things got exquisite.

Really exquisite.

While his classmate and teammate, Nik Stauskas, turned Not Just A Shooter™ into a meme, Robinson could never shake a similar, more limited reputation as Just A Dunker. For a player who came to Michigan with raw athleticism and an otherwise narrow offensive skill set, this wasn't fair. From the same article linked above comes another quote from Beilein, who was looking for a way to get GRIII more involved in the offense early this season:

“Glenn has been a residual player since the day he’s walked in here,” Beilein said. “It’s not a thing that all the sudden he’s going to become this immediate ballscreen player that is just -- the Tim Hardaway jumpshot (inaudible) -- he’s just not there yet and he’s working at it and he won’t stop.

By Big Ten season, the "Tim Hardaway jumpshot" became a reliable option, one of Michigan's best ways to exploit the middle of defenses spread thin to cover the corner gunners.

Robinson worked his tail off to improve that shot, just as he did on those corner threes—much to the approval of Charles Woodson—as well as his defense, strength, and already ridiculous athleticism. By the end of his short collegiate career, the weight room became GRIII's House.

For a player who made regular appearances on the Top Ten Plays, however, Robinson's most important contributions often went overlooked. Ask the average Michigan fan to name his greatest play and you're likely to hear about a spectacular dunk (namely the GR360) or the game-winner against Purdue; the latter, admittedly, deserves serious consideration.

If I had to encapsulate Robinson's Michigan career, however, I'd go back to the 2013 Elite Eight against Kansas. Everybody remembers The Shot, as well they should. Forgotten are two plays that made Trey Burke's shining moment possible.

The first came with Michigan down ten points on defense with 2:30 to play, a near-hopeless situation against any team, let alone a top-seeded defensive juggernaut. Tim Hardaway Jr. had just missed two shots on the other end, sandwiched around a Robinson offensive rebound that went for naught. Then Hardaway and Trey Burke trapped Kansas's Elijah Johnson on the wing, and when Johnson lobbed a pass to seven-footer Jeff Withey at the top of the key, Robinson exploded off the court to tip the ball, chase it down, and dunk it home with a statement: We ain't dead yet.

The second occurred just two possessions before Burke's bomb, when a Hardaway attempt to cut the lead to two missed the mark and led to a furious scramble for the rebound. What went into the box score as an offensive rebound and made layup doesn't exactly do the play justice:

Robinson picked up the ball and, by virtue of his position, was instantly trapped on the baseline by Withey, the fifth-best shot blocker in the entire country that season. Showing a cool beyond his year, Robinson turned, planted, and contorted his body just enough to shield Withey and flip in an improbable reverse layup.

After the two teams traded two-point possessions, Burke pulled up from El Paso. Robinson stood in the corner, just doing his job. Any memory of his critical stretch run, at least for the time being, disappeared into the ether as ball met twine.

Like any player, especially such a youthful one, Robinson had flaws in his game. Those flaws were only magnified when seen through the scope of expectations, especially when contrasted with the finely tuned craftsmanship of Burke and, the next year, Stauskas.

While the critics always pointed out what his game lacked, however, Robinson's integral contributions to a national runner-up as a freshman and the most efficient offense in KenPom history as a sophomore were either overlooked or brushed off as the product of a gifted athlete just using his God-given ability.

Next season, when Michigan is looking for someone to work around the edges, perhaps we'll appreciate more about GRIII than the skills he brought with him to Ann Arbor, because when he left, he took with him a whole lot more.

Comments

Everyone Murders

May 6th, 2014 at 3:06 PM ^

What's that?  You've got one?  Thanks, Fiona!

(Picking and choosing amongst the lyrics):

If you really want to

 Go to the periphery

 Have them celebrate your name

 Have them forge you a pedigree.

 

 

lynnloomesinv

May 7th, 2014 at 10:31 AM ^

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FreddieMercuryHayes

May 6th, 2014 at 3:03 PM ^

Of all the amazing athletic things GRIII did, I think the one that still sticks in my mind was the first Illinois game I believe when he has a breakaway, soars through the air, but a defender makes a decent play, and you're thinking "well, at least he'll get the lay-up", and then NO, he still has enough air to actually dunk it.  That one still stands out strong in my mind.

Snow Sucks

May 6th, 2014 at 3:51 PM ^

Really good player, but also inconsistent. He clearly needs another year in college, but oh well. This reminds me of Ernest Shazor. He thought he was ready for the NFL and left early, but didn't even get drafted. I know Glenn will get drafted, but not where he wants to be.

Gulogulo37

May 7th, 2014 at 10:47 AM ^

Someone else made the point before that if you want to improve your game, you can do that much better in the nba or d league than in college. You should only stay in college because you like the college experience and/or you want to improve your draft stock. GRIII will be gone in the 1st round anyway, and it's not likely he was going to completely blow up and be a lottery pick if he stayed IMO.

jmblue

May 7th, 2014 at 11:04 AM ^

For the NBA, that's true IF you can stick on a roster in the meantime.  If you're too raw to contribute right now, and don't have a guaranteed deal, you'll be cut loose.

The NBDL is a whole other story.   There's a definite stigma attached to being sent there, which is hard to shake.  Witness Manny Harris being unable to find many NBA suitors despite absolutely destroying his NBDL competition.  It's better to be in college than languish in the NBDL.

ijohnb

May 6th, 2014 at 4:12 PM ^

all of his athleticism, it was amazing how many times his contested offerings near the basket were returned to sender, often in posterizing "oooooh" type fashion.  He really struggled with pump/head faking to better his positioning and timing with his shots (something his dad was always very good at).   He was clearly a freakish athlete but it never seemed to gain an advantage for him against defenders in the half court set.

Ace

May 6th, 2014 at 4:19 PM ^

In halfcourt sets this season, Robinson shot 49/63 (78%) at the rim, easily the best mark among non-centers and better than anyone on the team save Jon Horford (33/38), who did so on far fewer shots and with the benefit of more wide open looks and putbacks. GRIII was assisted on just 57% of those makes.

I don't know what games you were watching, but we didn't see the same thing.

Tater

May 6th, 2014 at 5:35 PM ^

I have always appreciated what GRIII brought to Michigan.  I just thought he should have stayed another year.  I hope he gets into the first round and one of those nice, guaranteed contracts.

ColoradoBlue

May 6th, 2014 at 6:26 PM ^

makes me love college hoops and hate it at the same time.  The very thought of what next year's team could accomplish had all three returned... yet a team like Wisconsin suffers no early attrition.

UMaD

May 6th, 2014 at 7:50 PM ^

GR3 is one of the most under-appreciated athletes in recent Michigan history, IMO. It truely amazed me that people seriously talked about benching him.  Expectations can be a burden...I think he had a lot to do with the success of the last two seasons and he'll be sorely missed.

 

aiglick

May 6th, 2014 at 7:59 PM ^

Very good point about the Kansas game. Without GRIII's timely contributions we lose. I completely forgot. Thanks for everything GRIII. I wish you had stayed but it's absolutely your choice and you've got to do what's best for you.

StellaBlue

May 6th, 2014 at 8:23 PM ^

He was always the X factor to me, the difference between the team being very good and great. 

Those inconsistent flashes of brilliance were/are coachable to more consistency.  Sorry to see him go, but I'm ever more likely to start watching the NBA again.  

Chris S

May 6th, 2014 at 10:44 PM ^

Nice post Ace. I was really interested to see what he would do next year as the main focal point of the offense. I could see him making a similar jump that Stauskas did this year (less effective on a 3 ball, more effective in the post). Plus, he seemed to have a naturally good mid-range touch.

I'll miss him for sure. Maybe Adrian Arrington in basketball form?

alum96

May 6th, 2014 at 11:39 PM ^

Guy also walked in as a freshman and played 30+ minutes out of position with essentially no viable backup that was not a massive "square peg in round hole".   Now a lot expect Chatman to do nearly the same (me included) but it is no sure thing.

modabomb

May 7th, 2014 at 7:46 AM ^

Great work, Ace. I have a feeling that most fans won't fully realize what they had in Glenn until he's gone, much like another athletically brilliant, underappreciated Robinson who graduated a few years ago. That Kansas reverse layup was my favorite play of his, up until the 2014 postseason when he suddenly turned into a corner 3 marksman when the team needed him most. GRIII may not have been as dominant as he could have been, but he was instrumental to both tourney runs.