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Is there any reason to think Jerome Robinson will ever be a rotation level NBA player for the Wizards?

Atlanta Hawks v Washington Wizards
Is there any reason to think Jerome Robinson will ever be a rotation level NBA player?
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

When the Wizards traded Isaiah Thomas to the Los Angeles Clippers for Jerome Robinson, fans (and team personnel) took the view the team had gotten something for nothing. But as is the case with nearly anything — when the price is too good to be true there may be a problem.

In this case, the problem is simple: Robinson isn’t any good. I’ve been a Robinson skeptic basically since I heard of him. When I conducted my stat-based draft analysis, I had him with a “don’t draft” grade. Meaning: not even in the second round.

That the Clippers and Wizards and some others had him rated as a first round pick didn’t mean a lot to me — collegiate players like Robinson have a poor record in the NBA. There was little evidence from his college career to think he’d be much good other than he kinda looks competent when he’s on the floor.

His time in the NBA has done nothing to alter the analysis. He was terrible as a rookie, and somehow even worse in his second season. In 476 minutes with the Clippers, he had a PPA of zero. In PPA, my overall production metric, 100 is average and higher is better.

When the Wizards helped the Clippers save money by sending them Thomas’ non-guaranteed contract, I tried to be a little more optimistic, writing:

Robinson is someone the Wizards liked before the 2018 draft, and while he’s done next to nothing in scant playing time with the Clippers, he’s young and could improve. ... While I don’t see him beating out Garrison Mathews for a backup SG role, the Wizards got a young player with potential for free. It’s a good move even if Robinson doesn’t work out.

With the benefit of hindsight, I can see I was wrong — it wasn’t a good move, and not just because Robinson isn’t going to work out.

Since coming to Washington, Robinson has played better than he did in Los Angeles. His PPA with the Wizards is 41. Replacement level is 45. For the season his PPA is a downright awful 17.

What does Robinson do well? Hmm...he’s not terrible defensively and he avoids turnovers. This is not the same as saying he’s actually good on defense. He could one day become a good defender, but his overall impact was below average in my analysis.

And the low turnovers aren’t really a function of being a good ball handler — he doesn’t really do anything except shoot or make safe passes. Even just that could be useful if he was a good shooter, but he’s not.

What the Wizards have in Robinson is a guy who’s low usage and inefficient, who might be a decent defender one day.

So what’s the big deal? Maybe this is just a case of a crappy player on a crappy team. He’ll depart in a year or two when the team gets better. No harm, no foul.

And that’s true enough except that the Wizards don’t agree. They think he’s pretty good or might be if they could just get him to play with more confidence.

Since acquiring him, they’ve given him just as many minutes as Troy Brown Jr., who’s better in every way and younger. I get the idea of giving Robinson developmental minutes, but he’s not close to being an NBA caliber performer. Players who start like Robinson typically are on their way out of the league — not being given 21 minutes per game, even on a bad team.

Here’s a look at Robinson’s performance EKG this season.

Jerome Robinson 2019-20 performance EKG.
Kevin Broom

At this point, I usually try to identify a player’s best and worst stretches of the season because it’s interesting and informative to see the effect in the numbers of extreme performances. For Robinson, there really isn’t a “best.” He managed consecutive average or better games just once this season — January 14 in a blowout win against the Cleveland Cavaliers and January 16 in a blowout win against the Orlando Magic.

Robinson took the floor in 13 games for the Wizards and managed an average or better performance three times. His best game was a 123 PPA March 6 against the Atlanta Hawks.

For the season, Robinson appeared in 54 games. Here’s the breakdown of his performance by PPA:

  • 200+ (elite) — 4%
  • Negative — 48%
  • 100+ (average or better) — 19%
  • Replacement level or worse — 70%

Note: the above doesn’t add to 100% because the performance categories overlap.

Also note: he didn’t have a single 10-game stretch this season that rated better than replacement level.

If you want to argue about small sample size, just stop. He’s over a thousand career minutes and his performance has been consistently bad. Sure, it’s conceivable that Robinson could work hard and become...well, maybe something? But, the team would be wise to have him show that “something” in practice or the G League and invest those NBA minutes in other young players who are closer to being NBA contributors.