If you are a casual NBA fan or someone like me who mostly watches your own team, you are probably asking yourself the same question that I did about a player for the Miami Heat: What happened to Duncan Robinson?
He became a great story and a burgeoning star in the bubble playoffs of 2020. He signed a huge contract leading up to the 2022-2023 season and seemed to be headed for stardom. Then he seemed to fall off the proverbial cliff.
As someone who watched him crush my Celtics in the bubble playoffs, I too thought he’d be a star. Then last year when the Celtics slipped past the Heat in 7 games in the Eastern Conference Finals, he played almost no role.
So I looked into it and now I know what happened to Duncan Robinson.
His shooting regressed from great to just good. The rest of his game is limited and without great shooting the Heat have chosen to give his minutes to other players.
Instead of taking the next step after signing a $90 million contract, Robinson regressed and has become a backup.
Read on if you are interested in the details of how it all happened.
Duncan Robinson’s Path to the NBAEmbed from Getty Images
Duncan Robinson took a unique path to the NBA by modern standards. He grew up in New Hampshire and attended high school at a prep school in Massachusetts.
Unlike some basketball stars, like Isaiah Thomas, who went to prep school to refine their game or get their grades up, Robinson went because that is the high school he and his family chose for him.
He really didn’t play much on the basketball team until his junior year at The Governor’s Academy in Massachusetts. He did enough in his senior year at the school, however, to get accepted for a postgraduate year at another New England prep school with a strong basketball program: Phillips Exeter.
By the time he enrolled at Exeter, Robinson had grown to 6’8” tall – a good height for someone who was a really good shooter. In the early fall of that year, he visited Williams College in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Williams was ranked the best liberal arts college in the country for academics and had a dominant Division 3 basketball program as well. When they offered Robinson a chance to enroll, he accepted the offer immediately.
Robinson went on to have a good enough year at Exeter to earn some Division 2 scholarship offers and even interest from some Division 1 Ivy League schools, but he stuck with his choice to enroll at Williams.
CollegeEmbed from Getty Images
Duncan Robinson’s lone year at Williams College was a dominant one: he led the Ephs (that is their nickname!) to the national championship game where they lost in the last seconds. Robinson led the team in minutes, led the conference in 3 point shooting, and made at least one Division 3 All -American team.
At that point, the offers flooded in. Robinson could have gone to many different schools but chose the University of Michigan for two reasons.
First, UM coach John Beilein played a style similar to the one he was used to from Exeter and Williams. Also, Michigan was an elite academic school in addition to offering big time basketball.
At Michigan, Robinson was good but not dominant by any means. His best statistical year at UM was his sophomore year – his first at the school. That year he averaged 11 points per game, started most games and shot 45% from three.
The next year he mostly came off the bench and regressed in scoring, minutes and three point shooting.
His senior season at Michigan was the team’s best. They made it all the way to the NCAA championship game, ultimately losing to Villanova.
Robinson has a nice season winning the Big Ten 6th Man of the Year award and averaging nearly 10 points per game. But no one was predicting NBA stardom for him at that point.
Duncan Robinson’s Surprising NBA Success and Big ContractEmbed from Getty Images
Unsurprisingly, Duncan Robinson went undrafted in the 2018 NBA Draft. He signed a summer league deal with the Heat and caught fire from 3-point range. His summer league shooting earned him a two-way contract from Miami.
In his first professional season, Robinson played in 15 games and averaged 3 points for the Heat. But he lit it up in the G League. He averaged an incredible 48% from three, made third team All G-League and had his contract converted to a standard two-year deal in April of the 2018-2019 season.
Robinson caught my attention, like he did most basketball fans, the following season in 2019-2020. He started 68 of 73 games for the Heat, averaged 13.5 points per game and shot nearly 45% from three-point range.
In the bubble playoffs that year in Disney World, he started all 21 games the Heat played. Robinson averaged 11 points per game, shot nearly 40% from three and played a big part in the Heat making the NBA Finals, where they lost to LeBron James’ Lakers.
I know I was impressed with Robinson when the Heat defeated my Celtics in the bubble Conference Finals. As much as I hated my team losing, I thought he was a good player and a great story. I figured he’d become a star.
The following season Robinson kept rolling: he started all 72 Heat games he was healthy for, averaged more than 13 points per game and shot better than 40% from three on more than 8 attempts per game.
In that 2020-2021 season Robinson became the player to hit 300, 400 and 500 threes in fewer games than any player in NBA history. Giannis’ Bucks beat the Heat in the first round of the playoffs, but that did little to hurt Robinson’s prospects during his pending free agency.
The Miami Heat signed him to a 5 year $90 million deal prior to the 2021-2022 season. The deal was the richest ever for an undrafted player in NBA history.
What Happened to Duncan Robinson?Embed from Getty Images
The first season after signing his megadeal was a decent one for Duncan Robinson but did not put him on the path to superstardom. He started most, but not all, the Heat games.
He averaged 11 points per game and shot 37% from three on nearly 8 attempts per game. But all three of those stats were slight regressions from his prior two seasons. When you sign a player to such a rich deal, you are hoping they step forward not slightly back.
The playoffs that season is where the regression really started to show for Robinson. Teams tend to hunt weaker defenders when facing a team repeatedly in a series.
A player like Duncan Robinson, who was never a great defensive player, needs to bring something special on offense to offset that. It did not happen. Robinson started zero of the Heat’s 13 playoff games.
He scored only 5.5 points per game and got up only 3.5 threes per contest. He became mostly a non-factor for the team. Max Strus, a young player whose time on the Heat has mostly overlapped with Robinson, got his minutes.
Strus is not quite the shooter Robinson is, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra likes what he brings a bit more. Strus is generally considered a better defender and more versatile player than Robinson.
And with the two players’ 3-point percentage becoming closer every year, it makes sense to play Strus more.
What mostly seems to have happened to Duncan Robinson is that his shooting has regressed from amazing to good. The rest of his game is not good enough to justify playing him big minutes when he is just a good, and not great, three-point shooter.
The reason for the shooting regression is hard to say. Some people think it is a chicken and egg situation: that if Robinson got big minutes, his shooting would improve. He, like most shooters, is a feel player who shoots better with more minutes.
Others have reported that Robinson has faced some confidence issues and may be suffering from imposter syndrome. His story, rising from Division 3 to a huge NBA contract, makes that believable. But no one really knows.
The shooting slump could still be variance – he might catch fire soon and return to his earlier form.
But, up to this point, nothing has changed this season for Robinson. He became a non-starter who played only 16 minutes per game in the regular season. He averaged a paltry 6 points per game on 37% shooting from three.
Not much has changed in the playoffs so far either, but his shooting has shot up to 43% from three. If that continues, he may earn more time going forward.
The good news for Robinson is he has three full years remaining on his huge deal. His educational background suggests he’ll invest the money well and be set for life!
It is possible his shooting woes will end and he’ll return to being a Heat regular. It is also possible they find a taker for him in a trade and that sets him free to return to his earlier form. If not, he’ll always have that one huge contract.
Summary: What Happened to Duncan Robinson
Duncan Robinson had an amazing run from division 3 player to signing a huge 5-year $90 million deal with the MIami Heat. Since signing the deal, Robinson has regressed from a burgeoning star who was setting historic marks for three point shooting to a role player who is struggling to find minutes for the Heat.
The causes for the regression are uncertain but mostly focus on the step down in his shooting from elite to just good. The reasons for the regression in his shooting are unknown as well but his lack of rhythm from short minutes to a lack of confidence are generally seen as the two biggest causes.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Adapted from “Heat Duncan Robinson” by All-Pro Reels is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.