Season Review: Duncan Robinson Comment Count

Alex Cook April 26th, 2016 at 1:45 PM



Previously: Zak Irvin, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman

Each of these statistical profiles are some of John Beilein’s best #shooters at Michigan:

michigan wing comps

You’d probably agree that player “A” has the best numbers – though, all things considered, the profiles are very, very close. They don’t take everything into account and it’s hard to quantify many things that help basketball teams win. But based on these blind profiles (all of which are very similar), player “A” is arguably the best of the four.

The players?

A: Duncan Robinson (So., 2016)

B: Zack Novak (Sr., 2012)

C: Nik Stauskas (Fr., 2013)

D: Aubrey Dawkins (Fr., 2015)

As a senior, Novak was a far better defender than Robinson (despite his size) and a key role player on a Big Ten championship team. Stauskas blew up as a sophomore after playing a complementary role as a freshman. Dawkins had a pretty strict shooter’s profile but was a good one after becoming a freshman starter in Big Ten play. Those three player-seasons are some of Robinson’s very closest statistical comparables.

For a player in his first season at the high-major level, Duncan played well as a starter – even though his three-point percentage dropped off considerably from early-season highs, he was a tremendous floor-spacing asset. He was Michigan’s most efficient player. He finished the season with 95 made threes, third-best in Michigan history (and the best for a player under Beilein). A knockdown shooter in a well-spaced offense is invaluable, and Robinson is slotted into that role for the next two seasons.

[Hit the JUMP for the rest of the review]

It soon became evident that Robinson would fill the long-range marksman role for Michigan’s offense, and he did it well. Preseason hype deemed him Stauskasesque, and, if anything, Duncan exceeded those expectations early. He quickly gained a starting spot and key rotation minutes, and – with a 6’8" frame, a quick release, and a great high-volume three-point shooting percentage – he was an important asset, complementing Michigan’s creators. If it seems like he was rather one dimensional, it’s because he was:

beilein shooters

While Robinson did show an ability to attack closeouts, he rarely did so and took almost three-quarters of his shots from behind the three-point line. Similarly, though he did have a modest assist rate (mostly from setting up big men with wide-open looks after the defense focused too much on him), he mostly took shots set up by others instead. It’s easy to quantify shooting, and Duncan was about as good as they come. 45% – which finished 26th nationally among qualifying players – on over 200 attempts is production that the coaches would have gladly taken, if offered before the season.

Of course, there are other, less well-developed parts of Robinson’s game that merit attention. Despite his size and length on the wing, he was a poor defender – although it’s worth noting that he was evidently better enough than Aubrey Dawkins to warrant getting about four times as many minutes as Dawkins did during postseason play, even though Aubrey had actually been shooting far better from three over the last couple months.

Still, Robinson was often a culprit in Michigan’s many defensive breakdowns. Eventually, he became better at contesting shots and battling on the defensive glass, but his defensive rotations and general awareness on that end – like everyone else – was lacking. After the season, Beilein emphasized the (obvious) need for defensive improvement, especially in one-on-one situations, and after a season of seeing many players – including Robinson – get routinely blown by on dribble drives, it’s clear that he needs to put in work on that end of the floor.

* * *

5-game running avg DR 3P%5-game running avg DR 3PA

As Michigan’s season wore on, Duncan became less effective as a shooter. While the loss of Caris LeVert surely played a role in that (as he was one of the top distributors in college basketball, and drew far more attention from the defense than either Zak Irvin or Derrick Walton), the increased scouting rigor of Big Ten play and the cumulative fatigue of playing his first season at this level also played a part. His three-point percentage flagged down the stretch for a variety of factors, but the drop-off in his attempts per game is also a concern.

Once LeVert went down, Robinson became the primary focus for several opposing defenses. For example, Purdue was often content to lock Rapheal Davis – a former Big Ten Defensive POY – onto Robinson and avoid having him give help, letting Michigan effectively play four-on-four offense with those two out of the picture. With a player like Robinson, getting him to a certain number of quality attempts is critical. The other Wolverines often did well to look for him, first and foremost, in situations where the defense might be scrambled – for example, Walton built up some chemistry with Robinson on little pitches behind him to Duncan on the wing when he was trailing in transition. Once defenses made him their primary focus in the half court though, he was frequently unable to free himself for quality looks. As the graph above indicates, his attempts per game saw as precipitous a decline as his percentage did. When those two graphs are combined…

5-game running avg DR 3PM

…the impact of both become pretty clear. Because Michigan didn’t have an adequate replacement for Robinson, he usually played around at least thirty minutes per game, no matter what, but there’s no way that his presence on the court was a net positive if he was only making about one three-pointer per game. Inserting Dawkins (which will no longer be an option, obviously) to hit a few threes wasn’t ever the solution, because he was sure to give back as many or more open looks on the other end. Instead, Michigan was often forced to ride it out with Robinson, even if he wasn’t in a groove offensively. It’s hard to overstate the role that this dynamic played in Michigan’s late-season struggles to generate offense. Though the reductive “live or die by the three” axiom didn’t fit the Wolverines, Duncan’s ability to chip in a quick scoring burst was huge in games when Michigan was successful.

* * *

After taking a mandatory redshirt season, Robinson was an integral part of the rotation this past season – and his role was very clear. While his torrid shooting from early on couldn’t be sustained over the course of the whole campaign, he was still one of the deadliest shooters in the Big Ten – certainly Michigan’s best. Duncan could score the ball more efficiently than anyone else, and a possession that resulted in him taking a three-pointer was a good one, regardless of the outcome. Hopefully, the late-season struggles to get his shot and convert when he did will be a learning experience for him moving forward.

The following players have two seasons of eligibility left: Robinson, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and Kam Chatman. Unfortunately, Michigan looks to be shallow at the three and four yet again as Dawkins transferred out without a replacement, but at least Duncan projects to hold down a starting spot for another two seasons. While his upside is clearly much lower than Stauskas’s was, he had the same type of impact in his first year in the program and has become a known quantity – at the very least, he’s a terrific shooter. Improvement to an All-Big Ten level of play is contingent on the development of other parts of his game, but with the way Michigan’s roster is currently composed, he’s a sorely-needed sniper in the corner. That certainly won’t change.



April 26th, 2016 at 3:05 PM ^

It should be noted that Robinson is a red-shirt sophmore and is actually a full year OLDER than Derrick Walton.*  Comparing him to people 2 or 3 years younger is instructive from the perspective of how well he fits the role, but not for his development. 

I'm not sure Novak really belongs in that same group of just-a-shooters. Zak Irvin's freshman year would have been more interesting IMO.

*technically 19 days short


April 26th, 2016 at 3:36 PM ^

especially in the peripherals, but Novak played the 4 and was nearly 50/50 in 2PA vs 3PA.  Nobody was looking to create shots for him the way they were for Robinson or Stauskas (or even Irvin and Dawkins when playing with bench units as freshman). Novak was exploiting mismatches when guarded by Big Ten power forwards, while Robinson was a get-him-the-ball type of shooter for Michigan. 

In my mind, Novak wasn't just-a-shooter, whereas the first-year wings mostly have been.


May 8th, 2016 at 2:43 PM ^

pretty similar and that's what most of these stats track.  As Alex pointed out, Novak was a FAR better defender, which isn't measured here, and hance was a plus player on the floor, whereas Robinson became a negative player as defenses we able to limit him to 1-2 3 pt makes in the second half of the season.


April 26th, 2016 at 3:25 PM ^

"one of the deadliest shooters in the Big Ten – certainly Michigan’s best."

Walton, Dawkins and Irvin all shot a higher percentage on 3s in Big Ten play this year.

  • Dawkins hit 50% of 52 attempts
  • Irvin 38% on 85 attempts
  • Walton 37% on 103 attempts
  • Robinson 35% on 105 attempts

Dawkins was at 51% on 49 attempts the year before too, so the sample sizes here are all reasonable. The fact is that Robinson was on par with Donnal when it came to 3 percentage in conference play.

Even when he did hit 3s in Big Ten play, it tended to be against the lower-talent teams.  Sixof the 7 conference games where he hit 3 or more threes came against: PSU, Minnesota (twice), Nebraska, Rutgers, Northwestern.  Only the first Maryland game (in January) was a good shooting game against real competition.


We all know Robinson feasted on lesser competition. Hitting 35% with the defensive attention he got wasn't bad, but calling him a deadly shooter when he didn't deliver when teams started paying attention to him seems like glossing over a major issue. Can he do it consistently against real competition?  To be a deadly shooter you have to.

Respect the skillset - there's not a guy in college basketball I'd rather have with a wide open look on a 3 - but I would say that Robinson has a long way to go to be considered the best shooter in the Big Ten.



April 26th, 2016 at 3:46 PM ^

To be fair, Robinson contributed more than I expected from him, especially without Caris.

I thought Robinson would be a helluva third or fourth option after a defense had stopped Caris.  I thought he might even get close to 10 ppg in this role.

Without Caris, he couldn't be the "Oops, the defense forgot about him luxury" I thought he would be.  

Yet any meaningful analysis would breakout his performance against B1G-level and creampuff competition.  




April 26th, 2016 at 4:26 PM ^

Top 100 teams or top 100 defenses? Notre Dame was a top 100 team but awful defensively. Ditto NC State

The top 100 D teams michigan faced were Wisc, UConn, Purdue, Xavier, Maryland, Iowa, OSU, SMU, Texas, MSU, Indiana, Northwestern, Tulsa.

SMU, UConn, Texas, and Xavier all happened early in the year.  The Maryland game (where Robinson shot 5/9 from 3) was the last straw - after that teams figured out he had to be guarded.  Results after 1/12 (Maryland):

  • Iowa 2/8, 1/6
  • Indiana 2/5, 1/6
  • MSU 0/3
  • Purdue 0/1, 1/5
  • OSU 1/5
  • Maryland 2/4
  • NWU 1/4, 4/6
  • Tulsa 2/5
  • Wisc 2/4


That's 30% from 3 against top 100 defenses after mid January (on 62 attempts).  That ain't deadly.


April 26th, 2016 at 6:26 PM ^

Lank is 100% right on this one.

I also don't buy fatigue as a rationale for Robinson's B1G performance. Michigan played 3 more games this season than Williams did in his year there. The drop-off in his shooting occurred long before those extra 3 games.

It was a better than expected season, given that there were concerns at the beginning whether he could play at this level. But it's hard to call him one of the B1G's deadliest shooters when in fact he was around league average in conference games.

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April 26th, 2016 at 4:26 PM ^

I think you can slice the numbers any way you want, everyone will agree on the following:

  • Robinson is a great shooter
  • We will be happy to have him for two more years
  • He's not a good defender at all right now
  • His shooting fell off drastically as the season went on

What we should think about it potential and expectations.  Before the season a lot of people felt like he'd be another Matt Vogrich - someone who was a good shooter when unguarded but never found more than a small role.  Instead, Robinson played a ton of minutes and overall had a great season.  

The question we need to answer is what we should expect from him in the future.  Everyone hoped that Irvin could turn his very limited sample size of "just a shooter" data from his freshman year into a big role.  In some ways he did improve a ton, in others he hasn't.  So what can Robinson do as he ages?

I'm of the opinion that a great shooter is always going to have a role and should thrive under Beilein.  I'm not worried about Robinson's late season struggles or his potential.  What will make or break this team is the ability to find an offensive leader that facilitates what Beilein wants to do.  Teams like Purdue or others can put their best wing on Robinson because he was the guy that could potentially get hot and go for 25+.  My fear is that Irvin and Walton are who they are and that the offense will too often get bogged down.  The hope has to be that some combination of Simpson, Rahk, and Wagner can balance the offense and create match-up issues that open up things for guys like Robinson.  I suspect Robinson will add more to his game, but probably not a ton.  


April 26th, 2016 at 4:41 PM ^

Important distinction. It's still not clear if the better comp is Vogrich or Stuaskas.

Remember that Vogrich was playing on far better/deeper teams and that his minutes shrank as the team gained more players. Would Robinson have played so many minutes if Douglass, Novak, and Hardaway were around?


April 26th, 2016 at 4:45 PM ^

He graduated from the same high school class. Robinson's been on campus 2 years to Irvin's 3. I don't know why we'd expect Robinson to improve and not Irvin.

There's no question Robinson's shooting is a major asset - even if he just takes Rafael Davis off of other players, that's a win for Michigan.  But he's just a role player. The offense bogs down because Robinson is who he is too.


April 26th, 2016 at 4:46 PM ^

how good a shooter he is on the move - ie, coming off a pick.  If he can hit a good percentage of his shots off of a screen, I'd love to see the offense incorporate that a little bit (Bob Knight would have him coming off of screen after screen after screen).  


May 8th, 2016 at 3:00 PM ^

that Robinson, Walton and Irvin are essentially who they are on offense at this point, which is to say that Robinson won't have a top-notch creator like Levert of Darius Morris, unless MAAR dials it up.  And if that's the case, Robinson is a major negative to have on the floor because of your third bullet point and the best case scenario for team improvement is for Wilson to become a plus defender, which would be a HUGE upgrade over Robinson.  If Donlon can't do that, hopes of improvement will ride entirely on MAAR and/or Wagner improving dramatically.


April 26th, 2016 at 6:24 PM ^

Robison out performed expectations early and late, but in the early period he seemed great for all the reasons stated.  He coudn't live up to these expectations in Big 10 play for all the reasons stated, but he kept in the lineup because he was better than Dawkins.  The question is how much will he improve over the summer?  If he does a lot, and the offense is better designed for the talent there (it's hard to redesign an offense on the fly after so many injuries and lingering injuries), then he could be a solid Big Ten starter his last two years.  More than that will be a suprise given his physical limitations (long and thin and not athletic at the moment), a welcome one, a hoped-for one, but still a surprise.


April 26th, 2016 at 7:47 PM ^

bit over the summer and I think that he will. He seems like the kind of kid who will live in the gym and work hard every day. Also, I think he learned this year that he can play at this level, and with some improvement, he could be really good.


April 26th, 2016 at 8:11 PM ^

That was some people's expectation.  After he shot 50% from 3 in non-conference and helped upset Maryland those kind of expectations kicked into overdrive and people were crafting narratives around this being HIS team (

Some of it still lingers, helped by Robinson's sophomore eligibility and transfer status. Stauskas blew up after his first year at Michigan and Robinson could too, the logic goes.  Nevermind that both Stauskas and Robinson are 22 years old right now but Stauskas is 2 years into his NBA career. 

Objectively, Robinson's season was a very positive development and he's clearly a knock-down 3 point shooter. Those are very valuable. But Robinson quickly became overrated and many haven't fully recalibrated from the early season production mirage.

Robinson should improve, as players do, but he's highly unlikely to make a leap or expand his game the way that Stauskas, Levert, or Irvin have. He's already made his leap from where he was in high school 4 years ago to where he is now.  Robinson's been at Michigan for 2 years,practicing against Michigan's players (including LeVert and Irvin), and he didn't get better as the season went on -- so that idea that he had a massive transition to face (that others do not) is not very realistic. He is what he is - a dangerous shooter when open, but one that can be taken out of the game with attentive defense.




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