Michigan basketball over the last two years has been blessed with a veritable cornucopia of highlight reel plays from some of the best players in college basketball. It is likely that by the end of this year's NBA draft, Michigan will have put five players into the NBA over the last two years, and it isn't outside the realm of possibility that all five are first round draft picks.
Of those five Michigan players, there isn't another that was involved in a more spectacular series of highlights than Glenn Robinson III, progeny of an NBA player and holder of athletic gifts rivaled by very few athletes. Glenn Robinson III made a big mark on Michigan's last two basketball seasons. However, one of the biggest marks he made was the inability to live up to the expectations that many had for him. Glenn Robinson III was such a spectacular athlete from such an illustrious bloodline that even as a 6'6 kid who could jump out of the gym, he never could jump out of the shadow of expectation. Now he is jumping into the NBA amid uncertainty surrounding just what kind of player he was at Michigan and what kind of player he can be at the next level.
Glenn Robinson III comes from St. John, Indiana, a town southwest of the one his father grew up in. That town, Gary, Indiana, is considerably rougher around the edges, and is where Glenn Robinson II met GRIII's mother. Their high school romance led to two children before the elder Glenn left for the NBA and the relationship ended. The younger Robinson lived with his mother, younger brother Gelen (a Purdue football recruit), and step-father. Glenn Robinson II wasn't around much. First it was pro ball, then it was distance (he calls Atlanta home).
Glenn was always an impressive athlete as a kid and that led to a very good high school basketball career in the state of Indiana. He was also an early target of John Beilein, and committed to play for the Wolverines in September 2010, while still a three star prospect. UMHoops had this to say after his commitment:
Robinson is a kid that's coming into his own and probably hasn't come close to maxing out his potential. He's long (6-foot-6 and by most accounts still growing), athletic, and continuing to round out his offense game. He's only about to start his junior year of high school so he has plenty of time left on the development spectrum.
How true those words were. Over the next two years Robinson used an impressive series of AAU performances to push his recruiting stock from a meager three stars to an exemplary five. He did this thanks to the aforementioned athleticism. His game still lacked a certain amount of polish, but the potential was there for GRIII to do very big things in his time at Michigan, and he was only outpaced by Mitch McGary as the most hyped recruit of MIchigan's 2012 class. A starting role beckoned from day one, and the sky was the limit.
Midway through the year it was revealed that Michigan players and coaches had a nickname for GRIII. They called him "Light Rob", a moniker that came from his ability to effect the game in a big way with limited offensive focus surrounding him. Michigan had Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to dominate possessions, and the little things were left to GRIII.
It was these little things that he did best. His statistical profile from year one on campus is a testament to how good he was playing in unison with those other players and picking his spots to make plays. Robinson III had the 10th best offensive rating in the country that year, clocking in at an absurd 128.4. He hit 65% of his two-point shots, 67% of his free throws, and 32% from outside. He did all of it with a 15.2% usage rate — only Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht had lower rates.
If you need further proof of his role in the offense and efficiency at it, consider this: two-thirds of his shots at the rim were assisted (he hit 78% of those shots) and 100% of his three point shots were assisted. He was the recipient of a number of impressive feeds. The perks of playing with Trey Burke. This goes doubly for the transition game, where Robinson was especially dangerous because of his leaping ability and straight line speed.
Of course, Robinson also came in second on the team in offensive rebounds (83) and third in steals (39). He came to campus as a hyper-athletic wing with a solid three point shot off an assist and the ability to finish just about anything in the same area code as the rim. Paired with the teammates he had, this was a recipe for wild success.
However, it also helped mask some of Robinson's deficiencies as a player. He was not a stellar ball handler and could be easily stymied when forced left. Despite his above average athleticism, he lacked a particularly quick first step which made it tough for Robinson to generate much offense on his own. Instead he was dependent on screens and cuts to get the ball in his hands where he was already moving toward the basket before being met by a defender.
When the season ended and Michigan lost both Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the draft, a lot of the offensive burden looked to fall to Robinson. He was given the offseason to improve his game, become comfortable as a first or second option on offense, and finally put all his gifts and genetics together to be the dominant college player Michigan fans wanted.
"You can't teach an old dog new tricks." What about a young Big Dog?
Michigan fans quickly found out that that wouldn't work either. Year two Glenn Robinson III was a lot like year one. The first step still wasn't quick enough to break down a defender in isolation, and while Robinson had improved as a ball handler, he hadn't improved enough to become a reliable ball-handler on the perimeter.
With Michigan's offense running in fits and starts early in the year, things looked to be greatly down from the previous year. That was even more true when Mitch McGary was sidelined for the year with a flare up of the back injury that limited over the summer and during fall practice.
Of course, as December turned to January, Michigan refocused its offense around the Stauskas/LeVert perimeter combo employing heavy pick and roll action to get others involved in the offense. This worked well and got Michigan on track to win the Big Ten, but it left Robinson III in a precarious position. He was still commanding a good deal of the team's possessions, but his shooting numbers from both outside and inside the arc dropped precipitously. His assist rate made only a marginal uptick, and all of this added up to an increased offensive load with diminishing returns as his offensive rating dropped from 128 the year before to the 110-115 range.
But while Robinson's sophomore year didn't make the leap that many had hoped for, it wasn't a complete loss. For one, GRIII developed what was probably the best pull up jump shot on the team. He took more 2pt jump shots than anyone on the team and made them at an impressive 40% clip. He also did it without the benefit of a lot of assists (just 26% of his 2pt jump shots were assisted).
He also continued to do a lot of the jaw dropping things that he had done in his first year. There were few players scarier in transition than GRIII, and he once again made teams pay when Michigan ran. This was especially important because Michigan wasn't a fast team. It played at one of the slower paces nationally, but when the Wolverines picked their spot to run, having players like GRIII there to finish made it lethal. Michigan ran on just one quarter of its possessions, but had an eFG% of 60.1%.
Robinson had his struggles at times, but eventually he settled into a workable role in Michigan's offense. With Stauskas and LeVert tasked with initiatiing the offense and finding other players, Robinson was free to work off screens to get his pull up jumper and find lanes to attack the basket and open up passes from his teammates. If you read one other thing on GRIII, it should be Ace Anbender's really excellent recap of Robinson's career. Here, is the relevant part for this discussion:
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.
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.""
And even despite all of this, he still had days when he took over the offense. He scored 17 on 10 shots against Purdue, including the overtime winner. He also dropped 20 on Minnesota late in the year on 10 shots. Even his three point percentage improved late and he hit a couple important triples late in games.
Again, no comparisons here.
- Athleticism. So you have questions about GRIII's athletic abilities?
Welcome to earth. We hope you find our planet comfortable.
There are no questions about GRIII's ability to get up. He delivered countless highlight reel dunks and showed off the ability to play above the rim. His straight line speed in transition was exceptional, as well as his ability to get past defenders and finish. There is the question of his first step, which I have already talked about above. It isn't particularly quick and GRIII never showed an ability to break down a defender one on one from a standstill. Fortunately, he shouldn't need to be able to do that to find success at the next level.
- Mid-range game. A 16-18 foot 2pt jump shot is anathema in the college game, but at the next level it will be something that he will be required to shoot and shoot well. Fortunately for Robinson, he has this in his arsenal. UMHoops provides a pretty great shot chart to show this:
That is a lot of red right in that mid-range sweet spot. It is a shot that will serve him well at the next level.
- First Step/Ball Handling. I am hammering home this point because I think it is important. GRIII doesn't have the game to be an isolation scorer. He isn't someone a team can run its offense through. His best work will come off the ball and off screens — even though he isn't a really great pick and roll option. GRIII will do best if he makes it to a team that can use him in the right ways. Pair him with shot generators and deft passers. Put him on a team that likes to get up and down the court.
- Consistent Three Point Shooting. GRIII made some pretty big three point buckets during his career at Michigan, but the overall numbers are not stellar. As a freshman he shot 32% despite every single one of those makes being assisted. That is not ideal. His shooting numbers from outside actually went down in his second year. GRIII has a nice looking shot (and his dad was certainly a good outside shooter), but he has yet to really develop that part of his game. Can he pull a Tim Hardaway Jr. and push his consistency up a notch while making the leap to the NBA? I wouldn't bet on it, but he has the tools to be a better shooter from outside.
Where Will He End Up?
Despite the questions that surround GRIII's game, he still has enough size and athletic ability to be enticing to NBA front offices. Draft Express currently ranks him 17th on its Big Board. The mock draft has him going 21st to OKC. This is the optimistic view. All three of CBS's experts peg Robinson as an early second rounder. There is some interest in the end of the first round from the Clippers, who have recently worked Robinson out and hold the 28th pick.
One thing that is clear is that GRIII has improved his draft stock over the past couple months. The key for him as the draft approaches is to show more of his pure ability and potential in individual and group workouts to counterbalance the questions scouts and front office execs have about his secondary role in Michigan's offense last year. Once again it is Robinson's seemingly limitless potential that could be both a blessing and his undoing.