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Q&A with custom trainer Joey Burton: On Glenn Robinson III’s big summer

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A behind-the-scenes look at how GRIII prepared himself to be the next man up the Pacers need.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Last January, with George Hill out due to personal reasons and Rodney Stuckey sidelined as a result of an ankle sprain, Glenn Robinson III’s number was called to bridge the gap in the starting lineup for four games. Over that span of time, he averaged 5.5 points on 28.6 percent shooting, and the Pacers were outscored by 15.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.

"You're a starter, you have a green light, you have to take advantage of those opportunities," Robinson III told Pacers.com’s Mark Montieth of what he would do differently if ever given another chance as a starter. "I wouldn't necessarily get up more shots, but I would look to be more aggressive, look to make more plays.”

"I was just trying to fit in, trying not to make mistakes, but you can't play like that. I play my best basketball when I'm not thinking, just being in attack mode and going."

Beside Paul George, he was tentative. But, stepping in as the two-way star’s understudy, he has slowly begun to blossom: sprinting ahead of the break, confidently knocking down open shots, and more decisively picking his spots. Over the last six games, Indiana’s offense has been 15 points per 100 possessions better when he’s been on the floor as opposed to off.

Granted, there is still room for him to grow (most noticeably on the defensive end), but it is beginning to be a lot easier to see what exactly it was that Larry Bird saw in him that Minnesota and Philadelphia didn’t.

Among the top ten performers at the Orlando Summer League in terms of estimated wins added, it was the work he put in during the offseason that provided the first glimpse. Glenn Robinson III’s Indianapolis-area trainer, Joey Burton, agreed to do a Q&A with Indy Cornrows to discuss training strategy and the role it plays in building regular season confidence.

Before becoming the Director and Lead Skills Development Coach for Champions Basketball Academy in Indianapolis, you coached at the high school level, worked as the Director of Women’s Basketball Operations at Mississippi State, and were mentored by Ed Schilling, Jr (UCLA Men’s Basketball Assistant Coach). How did each of these experiences impact your ability to train and develop NBA-caliber athletes like Yogi Ferrell and Glenn Robinson III? Can you elaborate a little bit about your STATS training program?

JB: All my experiences have taught me the value of hard work and truly caring about those you help. When it comes to NBA players its all about relationships and trust is the foundation to it all. Then you must have a detailed knowledge of the game, specifically for me skill development, and you must be able to communicate it to the player in a way that creates buy in from them. As far as STATS, coming off a successful off-season doing individual skill development and draft prep at a high level, I wanted to dedicate more time to it, so we came up with STATS (Skill Training Athletic Training and Shooting). It was created as a service line to provide the most holistic basketball training options in the Midwest, addressing the individual needs of the athlete, personalized to account for each player's strengths and weaknesses.

Without a guarantee of game minutes, Robinson III mentioned at Media Day that he knew he “needed to have a big summer” so he “dedicated himself to the gym”. Without divulging any trade secrets, can you provide some insight on exactly how grueling training twice a day, every day is for a professional athlete? How integral is film study to this process?

JB: No matter what career you have if you want to take the next step in your development it requires sacrifice. Many people think that NBA players don't have anything else to do but to workout. That's partially true, but they are always in demand for so many other things that can cause their priorities to get mixed up. Glenn had one priority this summer and that was to do whatever it took to take the next step in his growth. So working out twice a day wasn't even a question, it was a given. With the advancement of sports science there are many different ways an athlete can advance their recovery and keep working at a high level. Film study is a huge part of the process. I feel it’s one of the most productive ways a player can get better because film doesn't take a toll on your body. I would get clips from synergy on players Glenn could really learn from. We spent a lot of time studying Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and Jimmy Butler. Glenn really wanted to study guys that get it done on both ends of the floor.

Did the coaching change and prioritization of speed and reads over more deliberate play-calling alter how you approached the offseason with Robinson III (i.e. greater emphasis on conditioning)? His athleticism and ability to move without the basketball seems like a natural fit for fast-paced, free flowing offense, right?

JB: Glenn was extremely excited about the priority of speed and reads because he felt it suited his game the best. That's a big reason he stayed in Indy this summer. He wanted to be around the coaches and really learn what they expected from him. The Pacers coaching staff does a tremendous job of working with their players in the off season. The new system really didn't alter our off season plan. When I work with players I am teaching them reads so they will gain knowledge of how to play the game. One of the big things I wanted to help Glenn with was to be more comfortable with the ball in his hands. Through film I am able to study defensive coverages of the most common actions in the NBA so we can implement drills that will help him become better at attacking those coverages.

He specifically mentioned shooting as something he worked on during the offseason. He knocked down better than 35 percent of his three-point attempts last season, but he had a come-and-go tendency to tilt his lower body at an angle as he released the ball. Since his breakout performance against the Thunder, he’s shot 11-of-23 from three. Clearly, his shot didn’t require a complete overhaul, so is finding greater consistency as simple as repetition or did minor tweaks have to be made?

JB: We had to make minor tweaks that would provide him the opportunity to shoot the same shot every single time. The two major adjustments we made was with his balance throughout his entire shot and making sure he had more arc on his shot by finishing with a higher follow through by pushing up with his elbow. This was simply done with a lot of spot shooting until he started to consistently shoot it the same way. Once that was achieved we started working shooting off of specific actions that are common in the NBA and working on shooting off of the dribble as well.

Over the last six games, Robinson III is averaging 12.7 points and 5.8 rebounds on 47 percent shooting and appears more comfortable picking his spots in the half-court than he did last season when he was struggling to find his fit. What do you do to address non-tangible factors like confidence?

JB: One of the ways we addressed confidence was by working extremely hard preparing for the season. We had a plan to get him ready to play at a high level for summer league which I believe he did and that was key in giving him confidence for the regular season. Confidence comes from your dedication to prepare yourself for opportunities that you know you will have and for some you only can dream of. With each workout I could tell Glenn knew he was improving which gave him more confidence. Going into this season he knew he was prepared to play the best basketball of his career.

Back in September, he posted a video of a new move he’d been practicing. Albeit, it was an empty gym, but he drained a step back jumper, which is something that he was rarely seen doing last season when only two of his 37 total three-point attempts came off the dribble as opposed to the catch. As a starter, the Pacers are mostly utilizing him off curl screens or as a spacer for Jeff Teague and Monta Ellis. Is there, perhaps, another dimension of his offseason labor that we haven’t even seen, yet?

JB: The thing I love about Glenn is his willingness to do whatever is needed to help the team win. So he will work to be his best for what the team is requiring of him to do the most now. We spent the majority of the off season working on exactly what he is doing for them now. But as far as development goes he always is striving to work on what he envisions he can do in the future. He wants to be a player that has the ball in his hands more and creates more opportunities for his teammates and himself off the dribble. He is working on those things consistently because if that's what the team will need he wants to be ready.