An impressive junior season at Boston College saw Jerome Robinson rocket up draft boards. In most preseason mock drafts, Robinson wasn’t expected to be taken in the first round let alone in the lottery.
As a junior, Robinson was second in the ACC in scoring with 20.7 points per game, averaged 3.3 assists and shot 41% from three. His standout year earned him a selection to the ACC All-Conference First team and he was the most dominant player in the conference — behind Duke’s Marvin Bagley III.
Having improved his scoring and shooting in three consecutive seasons at Boston College, Robinson garnered attention and praise from scouts, coaches and fellow players. The report on Robinson highlighted his natural scoring abilities, his nose for the basket, ability to change speeds, good shooting and a knack for finding open teammates.
When June 21 arrived, the Los Angeles Clippers took Robinson with the 13th overall pick. While there were concerns about his size and serious doubts about his productivity, his strong year at Boston College led to the consensus grade of a B with regards to his selection.
Robinson had a difficult time adjusting to a new secondary role with the Clippers. Buried on the depth chart behind more proven scorers, critics quickly labeled Robinson as a “bust.”
In his rookie season, Robinson averaged 9.7 minutes per game, putting up 3.4 points, 0.3 assists, shot 40% from the field and a worrisome 32% from three. It is normal for rookies to see limited minutes in their first season, but what was troubling with Robinson was the drop in his three-point percentage. After hitting over 40% in college, Robinson’s shot wasn’t falling.
While there are many explanations to a lower three-point percentage at the NBA level, possibly the most significant reason for Robinson’s dip in production was a matter of confidence.
In talking with anyone — coach, teammate, trainer, scout — who had seen him play, the first word that came to people’s mind when talking about Robinson was confidence. If he was on, he was electric. If he was off, his production dipped.
The question became, can he consistently produce at an NBA-level in front of 20,000-plus fans? As the season wore on and Robinson continued to see limited minutes, it became clear that Los Angeles felt the answer to that question was a resounding no.
Robinson’s already minimal role decreased when the Clipper signed Kawhi Leonard and traded for Paul George. The team was in win-now mode, and a struggling second-year player didn’t fit. After a season and a half, the team gave up on its most recent lottery selection.
Enter Tommy Sheppard. At the 2020 trade deadline, the Wizards’ general manager sent Isaiah Thomas to the Clippers in a three-team trade that saw Robinson swap coasts. With an injured and expensive John Wall, the Wizards were simply looking to stockpile young and cheap talent.
Before the NBA season was halted by the novel coronavirus pandemic, Robinson played in 13 games for the Wizards, logging 20 minutes per game. During that stretch, he averaged 6.1 points, 1.4 assists, shot 31% from three on 2.8 attempts per game. Despite seeing more minutes, Robinson was still struggling to see his three-ball drop.
When the NBA return-to-play format was announced, many were confused by the Wizards inclusion. Washington sat five and a half games behind Orlando for the eighth seed and it seemed unlikely they’d qualify for the playoffs.
Those playoff chances further dwindled when both Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans — the team’s two leading scorers — were unavailable for the bubble. While some saw the trip as futile, it was an excellent opportunity for management and the coaching staff to evaluate young players — Robinson included.
In the bubble, Robinson was a different player, kind of. With new room with which to work in the offense, he logged 29 minutes per game, averaged 14.8 points, 2.8 assists and shot 38% from three on 6.4 attempts per game.
While this may seem like an improvement, if we take away the first game of the bubble, in which Robinson was 4-6 from three and had 20 points, his performance becomes less exciting.
Over the last seven games, Robinson’s offensive rating (points produced per 100 possessions) was 100 — approximately 12 points worse than average — and his three-point percentage was just .326.
His bubble Player Production Average (PPA) was 55 (in PPA, average is 100, higher is better, and replacement level is 45). Couple that with the fact that his ortg in Orlando was almost seven points per 100 possessions worse than average for the bubble (even including that first game against the Phoenix Suns) and any development Robinson made can is probably best characterized as minimal.
While his performance in the bubble was the best basketball of his young career, Robinson’s bubble performance only generated more questions. To what can Robinson’s relative success in the bubble be attributed? Was it the lack of fans, which in turn boosted his confidence? Was it a larger role in the offense? Was this a classic case of empty numbers on a bad team? Was it the player working on his shot during the hiatus? What is there for him to build on? What will Robinson’s role in the offense be when the team is fully fit, and he won’t be asked to shoulder the scoring load?
For many young players, it takes several years to adjust to the NBA. Lottery picks are often strapped with unreasonable expectations in their early years and there’s tremendous pressure to perform in a finite amount of time.
In his first season and a half with the Clippers, Robinson struggled to make an impact on the court. His career had been defined by inefficient scoring and poor defense. That said, Robinson showed flashes of the scoring threat he can be, but once again was inconsistent and inefficient, according to the metrics.
Does Jerome Robinson deserve to be on an NBA roster? Yes. Will it be with the Wizards? We’ll see.
Robinson found a partial stride in Florida, and I’m hopeful he’ll be able to continue the development of his three-point shooting and continue to be aggressive trying to get to the rim.
Even with the uncertainty surrounding the former Eagle, Robinson is on a team-friendly deal. He has a cap hit of $3.7 million next season with a team option for 2021-22 that comes in around $5.3 million.
While Robinson may never live-up to the lofty expectations placed upon him as a lottery pick, he has the potential to develop into a core piece of the Wizards’ second unit moving forward. If he hopes to carve out a role with an NBA team, he needs to develop his game from behind the arc. Whether he can be effective, even in a more limited role, is still to be determined. Best case scenario for Robinson will be contributing in a supporting role or leading off the bench.