The Washington Wizards were once again active at the NBA trade deadline earlier this month – a recurring theme for a franchise which has made a habit of in-season trades ahead of the February NBA trade deadline. However, unlike trades made by the prior regime, trades geared as a reaction towards a glaring roster hole ahead of the playoffs or a reactionary sell off to a disappointing season, Tommy Sheppard stayed in his lane.
Continuing on the path set forward in his initial moves as the interim general manager this summer, he worked the margins. In two separate transactions, Sheppard elected to trade Isaiah Thomas, Jordan McRae, and the rights to Issuf Sanon in exchange for Jerome Robinson and Shabazz Napier.
Napier has made a solid early impression on the team but don’t be confused about it, this trade was made for Jerome Robinson, the 13th overall pick of the 2018 NBA draft. The addition of Robinson gives the Wizards their third player drafted in the first round of that draft along with Troy Brown Jr. and Moritz Wagner.
Wizards were able to get themselves into the Clippers-Knicks trade, and get the guy they really wanted to draft in 2018, combo G Jerome Robinson, as part of (now) 3-team deal w/LAC, NYK that sends Marcus Morris & Isaiah Thomas to Clips, Harkless/picks to NYK.— David Aldridge (@davidaldridgedc) February 6, 2020
This trade was consistent with earlier trades made by Sheppard which included the acquisition of Wagner and Isaac Bonga from the Lakers, as well as the team’s acquisition of Davis Bertans from the San Antonio Spurs – margin moves that carry upside for a team looking for cost effective rotation help as they retool around their Supermax/Max contract back-court.
Low risk/high reward is the best way to describe the Wizards acquisition of Robinson but it would be a mistake for anyone to assume that there will be a payoff. There’s a reason that less than two years removed from being a lottery pick, Robinson was dealt away by the Los Angeles Clippers. A player who was ballyhooed for his scoring prowess has struggled at his perceived strength, putting the ball in the basket as evidenced by his 45% true shooting percentage to-date.
I reached out to Robert Flom who covers the Clippers for 213Hoops (you can also find his work at Clips Nation and Blazer’s Edge) to get his insight on Robinson’s career to-date, where things may have gone wrong for him, and what he might be able to bring to the table.
Our Q&A is below.
Osman: Jerome Robinson is a player that I have had a genuine curiosity about given he was apparently at the top of their draft board (along with Troy Brown Jr.) heading into the 2018 NBA Draft. He was drafted two spots after Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a player who instantly made an impact as a rookie and has had a fantastic start to his career (now with the Thunder).
Meanwhile Robinson, a prospect who came into the NBA with three years of college basketball under his belt has struggled to put it lightly. What happened in his time with the Clippers and what type of player are the Wizards getting?
Robert: Jerome was placed in less than ideal circumstances on the Clippers. As you mentioned, he was drafted just a couple spots below Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who swiftly (like, in Summer League rookie season) proved himself a far superior prospect.
At every stage throughout their rookie seasons, Jerome was compared to Shai by fans, and that certainly painted an unattractive picture of Jerome as a prospect. Most fans were skeptical about Jerome from draft night on, as he was seemingly taken above numerous better prospects, and he never really won most of those people over.
The Clippers were a very good playoff team last year with a ton of depth, and Jerome never really got much of a chance in the rotation (though he also never looked ready, either). There were a couple games where showed flashes, but it was nothing special, and in very limited minutes.
He got a much bigger role this year as a fairly regular rotation player (albeit again with limited minutes), and while he showed improvement, he never really seemed to earn the Clippers trust. There was a stretch where he was passed in the rotation by Summer League pickup and original training camp invite Derrick Walton Jr., and Walton frequently looked more competent and helpful than Robinson.
Jerome definitely made strides - after looking shaky and nervous most of his rookie season, he was far more confident and fluid on the court this past year. His defense, in particular, stepped up in a big way. However, there has been one massive issue that has lasted throughout Jerome’s NBA career so far - he has not been able to score or shoot the ball. Considering he was drafted as a scoring guard a la CJ McCollum or Lou Williams (always optimistic comps), that has been a huge disappointment.
In short, Jerome is a scoring guard who can’t score, but has demonstrated surprising capabilities as a defender (and playmaker, to a lesser extent). What have you gleaned from Robinson between his short time with the Wiz and during his Clips tenure, and what are you expecting from him as a player in the near future?
Osman: I kind of wrote off Jerome’s rookie season because of how limited his minutes were. I watched most of the Clippers games in the playoffs last spring and he had his moments on a few occasions in the limited minutes he received against the Warriors. He seemed comfortable and decisive getting his shot off. Then I watched him in Summer League and while he displayed a quick first step and got to his spots, shots weren’t dropping once again and beyond scoring, his impact offensive was marginal.
It’s just interesting to me to see a player whose calling card coming out of college was offense, struggle on that end of the floor as a pro. However, it’s also interesting that his defense, a supposed weakness of his at the college level has been more of a strength (if you could say he offers one right now).
He’s played in three games for the Wizards and in those games, he seems more comfortable with the ball in his hands than not. I thought it was interesting that Sheppard mentioned that Robinson would get work at both guard positions.
Considering where he was on their draft board in ’19, I don’t think that was a throwaway line and in their scouting they likely view him as someone who needs to ball in his hands to be successful, similar to his heavy role in the Boston College offense – and also a role that likely was never going to be there with the Clippers.
Based on everything you’ve seen of Robinson from Summer League, preseason, G League, and his NBA minutes, it he were to pan out, how do you see it playing out? What would his ideal role and fit in an offense be?
Robert: It’s interesting that the Wizards are playing him on the ball as well. When he was drafted, his comps were to players like McCollum, Lou, and Devin Booker, all of whom have the ball in their hands. However, it was quickly apparent that he had a ways to go as a ball-handler and passer. Therefore, fans wanted to see him used off-ball as a shooter. The Clippers never really used him that way (perhaps because his shooting has been so bad thus far), and as soon as Landry Shamet arrived, most fans saw how much differently the two operated on the ball.
Really, it just seems like Robinson himself is most comfortable on the ball. Because of that, I do think his ideal role offensively would be as a combo guard. He’s definitely not a true play-maker or lead ball-handler, but he can take on some of those duties, and can certainly create his own shot. Unless his shot ever comes around he’s not going to be a starting level player, but if he can hit at least an average percentage of his threes, he should be a fairly capable bench scorer.
I could certainly see him being the third guard in a lineup with Wall and Beal (or Beal and say Troy Brown) who can attack hard close outs off the dribble and provide ball-handling support without controlling too much of the offense.
As this first part of the Q&A comes to a close, I have a couple of questions that are worth discussing. Do you think Robinson could become a true lead ball handler type? Or is a sixth man combo-guard ceiling more what you see from him?
We will answer these questions and more in Part 2 of my conversation with Rob tomorrow!