Duncan Robinson Reflects on Breakout Year With Heat


Never arrived — always becoming.

It’s a mantra Duncan Robinson took from fellow sharpshooter J.J. Redick, and a slogan that keeps the Miami Heat sophomore motivated. In the eyes of many, Robinson has arrived; the former Division III student-athlete, Michigan sixth man and undrafted rookie now starts on the contending Miami Heat. But to Robinson, “there’s always something else.”

“I definitely don’t feel like I’ve made it or anything like that,” the 6-7 wing said last week. “I feel like I’m far, far from a finished product and I feel like there’s still a lot more that I can accomplish.”

A breakout 2019-20 season propelled Robinson from a feel-good NBA story to a certified asset on a playoff team. The 25-year-old has shattered shooting records, with his 243 made triples ranking as the highest single-season total in Heat history — and that’s with the rest of the year up in the air. Per Basketball Reference, Robinson’s 44.8 percent clip from long range places him a cool fourth in the NBA. He dropped a franchise record-tying ten threes in a 34-point explosion against the Atlanta Hawks.

Still, Robinson has been challenged, and his margin for error is trimming down as opposing teams learn to contain him.

“Early on in the year it wasn’t really that difficult to get open just because I wasn’t on many scouting reports,” he said. “As I started to gain respect from behind the line it started to become more and more difficult. So you just gotta find more ways to be creative.”

Robinson is part of a Miami roster loaded with hidden gems. Kendrick Nunn, an All-Rookie contender, is another undrafted talent, as is 2020 Slam Dunk Contest winner Derrick Jones Jr. Goran Dragic and Jae Crowder are rotation players and former second-round picks. Jimmy Butler, known for his competitive edge, went 30th overall. And according to Robinson, the team relishes the collective chip on their shoulder.

“It’s really been fun. A lot of people league-wide didn’t expect us to have the success we had this year, so just to be on a journey like that, [we] enjoy it, embrace it and make the most of it,” he said.

Robinson Gaining Reps

Duncan Robinson played in just 15 games for the Heat last season while shuffling between Miami and the Sioux Falls Skyforce as a two-way player. With a guaranteed contract, and now a starting spot, Robinson has taken on the best the NBA has to offer. He finally went up against Joe Ingles, a player Robinson has admired for years and still respects today, guarding the Utah Jazz swingman in both matchups against Miami.

“We went back and forth quite a bit,” Robinson said. “He’s kinda known as someone who talks a lot — talks a lot of sh*t, honestly — but we kinda just had regular conversation.”

Meanwhile, Robinson said he struggled against Boston Celtics point guard Kemba Walker, and labeled the 2020 All-Star as the player who most surprised him.

“He was a tough matchup for me. I didn’t necessarily have to guard him but occasionally, on switches [and] in transition … his speed, his quickness, are really second to none in the NBA. I obviously have a ton of respect for him as a player,” he said.

As Robinson has become an NBA staple, Miami has supplemented their roster with two new two-way players: Kyle Alexander and Gabe Vincent. As a graduate of the Heat’s two-way system, Robinson recognizes his role as a mentor for both young guns. He takes them out to dinner when they’re in Miami and makes an effort to help them “feel comfortable.”

“I lived it last year, being back and forth, and it can be tough, not really feeling like you’re ever settled,” Robinson said. “I just try to be in their ear and encourage, and understand what it’s like to go through that.”

Old Faces, New Places

Though he’s proud of his career night against Atlanta, Robinson’s “statement” game came in a November win over Cleveland. The sharpshooter canned nine threes in a 29-point outburst against the Cavaliers and John Beilein — his former coach at Michigan. It was the first highlight-reel NBA game of Robinson’s career, and he’ll always “hold that one in a bit of a special place.”

Robinson remains close with Beilein; he and a couple of Wolverine alumni met with the now-former Cleveland coach over the summer in a reunion of sorts.

“He obviously has a wealth of experience coaching, so I didn’t necessarily have the answers on what it would be like to make a transition,” Robinson said. “It was more about just enjoying each other’s company.”

A second reunion transpired in early December when the New Hampshire native faced his hometown Celtics at TD Garden. Swarms of supporters came to Boston in recognition of Robinson’s journey from humble beginnings.

“It was a surreal moment for sure,” he said. “It was cool just having so many family and friends in the arena, just getting that support. Growing up a Celtics fan, going to games in the Garden … it was cool to be on the other side of it.”

In February, Robinson participated in the NBA’s All-Star festivities for the first time, competing in the three-point contest. He was not alone — Nunn, Butler, Jones, Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo all represented South Beach for the weekend.

“It was cool just to have the Heat so well-represented,” Robinson said.

With the sports world in limbo, the next steps are unclear for Miami, who was set to make noise in the postseason. Regardless of this year’s conclusion, Robinson is looking forward to what he can become next.

“I didn’t even finish my first real season in the NBA yet,” he said. “I’m excited for what the future holds.”

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About Ethan Fuller

Hailing from Portsmouth, NH, Ethan is a journalism student at Boston University and writes about the Celtics for TLSM. His chief basketball teams are the Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves. Ethan is also a still-growing ultimate frisbee player.

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