Miami Heat sophomore wing Duncan Robinson was never expected to be a starter in the NBA when he played Division III basketball in college.
But he was the DIII Rookie of the Year in 2014 and then transferred to the University of Michigan, where he eventually played in the NCAA national title in 2018.
“This guy, along with several other players in that locker room, put a ridiculous amount of time into this team and into their improvement when no one is watching,” explained Miami heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.
Robinson is averaging 1.24 points per possession so far this season, per Synergy, which ranks in the 99th percentile among all players in the NBA. Meanwhile, no one in the league has scored more points than Robinson has (7.9 PPG) off the catch in a set offense.
Those numbers have helped him appear as a starter in 34 of his 39 games for Miami so far this season.
“That shot does not happen by accident,” continued Spoelstra. “A lot of that happened before he even got here. He learned how to become a pro shooter in our system but he’s got a tremendous work ethic and he is persistent. This league is tough. The competition is tough. You’re not going to have great nights every single night. He’s had some tough ones but he’s been persistent. That’s one of the words I think about with Duncan when I think of him. He’s just going to keep on going.”
We spoke to Robinson before his game against Brooklyn Nets about how he has been able to have the success he has had for Miami so far this season.
What are some of the things that you did during the offseason to help prepare for the new role you’ve had with the Heat?
Duncan Robinson: Probably the biggest adjustment was my body and just trying to prepare physically to play an 82-game season on both ends of the floor. I put on about 10-15 pounds. I am always continuing to work on my ability to shoot on the move. Shoot my away shots, shoot in transition, that sort of thing, because I knew I wasn’t just going to be able to catch and shoot.
You have done a lot of shooting in transition and off the dribble. What are some of the things that you work on to do that?
DR: Just a lot of repetitions. Getting comfortable shooting, sprinting and shooting. It’s an adjustment, just because all my life I was just a floor spacer, standing still in the corner, on the wing, spaced out. So now I’m working on just having an understanding of the different actions that I’d be put in and then putting in repetitions with those.
What are some of the things that you picked in the G League on the Sioux Falls Skyforce that helped you get to where you are today? You were dominant out there but it was a different offense.
DR: I learned how to get my shots off, like you said, as a key point in that offense. A lot of times, teams were trying to scheme to take away my catch-and-shoots. So I was learning how to still get shots off and be creative while screening off the ball, setting picks, stuff like that. Just finding ways to get an opportunity.
What are some of the things that have surprised you most about Miami’s conditioning and the way Miami practices? It’s known around the league as being one of the more intense ones.
DR: Just the consistency of every single day. They preach it every single day and they hold you accountable to it every single day. We’re always having weigh-ins and that sort of thing. There’s a big emphasis on it and they take a lot of pride in it.
I spoke to Coach Spoelstra a bit before the game and he said that the word he thinks of with you is persistence. What does that mean to you in terms of your game?
DR: It means a lot because I feel like Coach Spoelstra exemplifies persistence as well. Honestly, he shows up every single day. He preaches it to us but that’s because he practices it. My mantra is to stack as many good days as possible. You’re not going to become a different player overnight but if you continue to stack good days on top of each other, you’re going to have something to show for it.
How did playing at the University of Michigan help prepare you for this kind of a role that you’re in now?
DR: They prepared me a lot. Obviously, being on a winning team and a part of a winning program, learning how to buy into a role, I developed a lot as a player at Michigan. A lot of credit to Coach Beilein at his staff, from the head coach all the way to the assistants. I made a lot of strides at Michigan and I’m just trying to continue that trajectory.
How did you and Caris LeVert push each other while you were there? I’m sure you had a chance to catch up with him a little bit before the game against the Nets.
DR: Yeah. Caris is my guy, man. We’re still really close. We stay in touch all the time. When you talk about two competitive people and two people that love being in the gym, that’s us. So we had a lot of one-on-one games, a lot of shooting competitions. Sometimes, also just the competitive nature of him getting a workout inspired me wanting to get one in too. I never wanted to feel like he was outworking me and he never wanted to feel like I was ever outworking him. It’s definitely contagious and I respect it. Just everything that he’s dealt with in his career, in terms of his injuries, he just keeps showing up. He keeps getting better and better. He’s still just beginning to scratch the surface of what he could be as a player.
Is there anything people don’t really know about your game that you think people should know or should be discussed more?
DR: I just try to do my job to the best of my ability, do what my teammates and coaches ask of me, be aggressive, just try to be a pest defensively. I feel like I’ve made some improvements there, and I feel like I haven’t reached the potential of where I could be as a player and I’m excited to continue to learn and grow. I’m just going to continue to put the work in and see where the chips fall.