Think back to January of 2016: George Hill was out for personal reasons and Rodney Stuckey was sidelined with an ankle sprain, leaving Glenn Robinson III to sink or swim 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. Put simply, he wasn’t ready.
"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 prior to the start of the 2016-17 season. "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."
Now, fast forward to November. When in the five games he was called upon to fill in for Paul George (sore left ankle) in the starting lineup, he along with Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, Thaddeus Young, and Myles Turner outscored opponents by 21.0 points per 100 possessions. Overall, he averaged 7.9 points on 43.6 percent shooting while chipping in 5.0 rebounds in his 27 games as a starter.
Sure, he spent the summer refining his shooting mechanics, studying defensive coverages, and watching film of Paul George, Jimmy Butler, and Kawhi Leonard, but it was his improved confidence which arguably made the biggest difference.
How did Glenn Robinson III impress?
Of course, the two typically do go hand-in-hand, as Robinson III’s trainer Joey Burton explained in this Q&A with Indy Cornrows:
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.
He shot above 40 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers (including a game-winner) and completed several highlight-worthy dunks (including those that earned him the title of Slam Dunk Champion), but it’s the plays where he got where he wanted to go where this was most evident.
Take this possession from the fourth-quarter of Indiana’s final meeting with the Charlotte Hornets, for instance. First, he used a shot fake to get his defender off-balance. Then, he hit Jeremy Lamb with a calm, cool, and collected spin move before draining the turnaround jump shot.
This should not be taken lightly, considering that he connected on 34.9 percent of his pull-up field goal attempts this season as opposed to only 27.3 percent last season.
He also routinely displayed promising instincts as a cutter. Here, he waits for his man to turn his head before cutting hard toward the rim.
The Pacers could’ve used more of this sort of action when the Cavaliers were doubling Paul George in the playoffs. Per Synergy, Glenn Robinson III’s average speed on offense was the fastest on Indiana’s roster (minimum 60 games played).
How did Glenn Robinson III disappoint?
Unlike when he replaced Paul George, his productivity was up and down when he started beside Paul George. Excluding a 12-point, 12-rebound double-double against the Detroit Pistons, The Third shot 22.5 percent on only 1.2 field goal attempts per game while Monta Ellis was out with a groin injury in December.
This, along with his usage splits, seems to suggest that either he is more comfortable at the small forward position or he is still a little too shy with Indiana’s four-time All-Star on the floor.
Given his athleticism and superb leaping ability, it’s also somewhat surprising that he didn’t attack the glass with more physicality and consistency. In fact, he only grabbed eight or more rebounds four times the entire season. Granted, he’s at his best leaking out in transition; however, for a team that ranked 25th in defensive rebounding rate, he might have been more valuable boxing out and pursuing the ball.
Glenn Robinson III’s future hinges somewhat upon the futures of Paul George and C.J. Miles. His role could change dramatically if the former is traded or if the latter declines his player option and pursues more lucrative offers elsewhere. Either way, if he can continue to develop his skills off the bounce to go along with his shooting, he’s a steal at $1.09 million. Once again, he needs to prepare himself for the opportunity he might have.