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How Glenn Robinson III is quietly staking his claim to the starting lineup

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In preparing for uncertain opportunity, the athletic wing is doing what he always does — only better.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Even from the other side of the world, amid touring China with Li-Ning alongside Dwyane Wade, Terrence Ross, and Udonis Haslem, playing pickup with locals in Wuhan, and performing his high-flying act for dazzled onlookers in Tianjin, something on Glenn Robinson III’s Twitter timeline still seemingly managed to grab his attention.

“He (Bojan Bogdanovic) will be the guy that I put out there at the small forward position to start the first day of training camp,” Nate McMillan abruptly revealed. “...and we’ll go from there.”

In response, the reigning slam dunk champion took to social media and implicitly registered his reaction by liking and retweeting posts that made mention of him not starting.

It doesn’t exactly require much reading between the lines to infer that the athletic wing perceived his coach’s blunt declaration as slightly premature, especially when considering how long he has been biding his time.

He never logged more than 12 minutes in any of the 25 contests he made appearance in for Minnesota before the team that drafted him opted to let him go in favor of creating a roster spot for Justin Hamilton. His next team, the Sixers, only needed 10 games to decide they were ready to move on. Once Larry Bird took a shine to him, he sparingly competed for scraps of playing time with Chase Budinger and Solomon Hill. The following summer, he finished as one of the Orlando Pro Summer League’s Top Ten performers, but that wasn’t enough to firmly guarantee him a spot in the rotation ahead of last season. Rather, he had to prove he deserved it.

And so it has been at every twist and turn of the 23-year-old’s still young career, wherein nothing has been given, only earned.

Nevertheless, with Paul George essentially forcing himself off the team and C.J. Miles being signed-and-traded to the Toronto Raptors, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable if Robinson III allowed himself to assume, even for a brief moment, that it would finally be his turn to prove what he could do with a consistently larger role.

“Going into this off season Glenn believed he had the opportunity to continue to increase his role on the team in whatever ways the staff felt was best for the team,” Robinson III’s trainer Joey Burton told Indy Cornrows. “But when the news broke about PG he knew he had the opportunity for an even greater role which would include starting.”

After all, the Pacers posted an impressive plus-7.8 net rating in the 376 minutes that he played with Jeff Teague, Paul George, Thaddeus Young, and Myles Turner, a mark that ranked fifth in the league last season among lineups that played at least 300 minutes. Comparably, the Wizards surrendered 123.4 points per 100 possessions when Bogdanovic replaced Markieff Morris alongside Washington’s starters.

Though it is a considerably smaller sample size, more informative is that the Pacers outscored opponents by 16.0 points per 100 possessions in the 98 minutes that he shouldered the starting small forward burden next to Teague, Young, Turner, and Monta Ellis when George was hampered by a sore left ankle last November.

Still, despite what the numbers say, Robinson III appears well-aware that it’s his game that is going to have to do the talking when training camp opens. So much so, in fact, that his approach to this summer, remarkably, has remained unchanged.

“Many may assume that Glenn would become more motivated after PG was dealt,” Burton explained, “...but quite honestly his approach to his development was already at full force because he wants to be his best no matter what.”

Along with prioritizing film study of some of the league’s top defenders, continuing to hone his three-point shot, attacking more out of ball screens, making plays off the dribble, and finishing through contact sit atop the athletic wing’s summer to-do list.

The subtle tweaks he made to his release a year ago at this time resulted in him shooting above 40 percent on spot up three-point attempts in his more periphery role as a stop-release. This go-around, with the possibility looming that the ball could find its way into his hands with more regularity, his focus has shifted toward becoming more comfortable hitting shots that are tightly contested.

In the event that opponents respond by crowding him out beyond the arc, he’s preparing himself to be ready to put the ball on the floor. Connecting on 34.9 percent of his pull-up field goals in his third season was a considerable improvement over his 27.3 percent conversion rate the year prior, but there’s still room for added growth.

Becoming better adept at creating separation, whether by changing speed or direction, will make those types of shots easier.

As will improving his read of various types of screens. Notice, below, how he snakes the screen before attacking the dropped big and finishing with his same hand, same foot.

Compare that, now, to how he manages to use a Euro-step to finesse his way down the lane with long strides off this high middle ball screen.

Pairing multiple go-to ball-skills like these with his existing ability to space the floor will make him less dependent upon staying hot from three, especially if he can up his number of free throws per game (1.1). As a whole, Indiana’s free throw rate (0.261) ranked in the bottom half of the league last season (19th).

Here, then, the focus is finishing at the rim through contact with the ability to finish off one foot.

Of course, with Myles Turner looking to expand his offensive repertoire and jokes already being made about the potential for Victor Oladipo’s usage percentage to balloon, moving without the ball will continue to be a skill of need.

Per Synergy, Robinson III’s average speed on offense was the fastest on Indiana’s roster during the 2016-17 season (min. 20 minutes per game). This figure speaks both to his value leaking out in transition as well as his off-ball maturation.

Being equipped to set his man up for pin down screens will not only create scoring opportunities, it will prevent the offense from stagnating.

Granted, none of this is against actual NBA-caliber competition and there aren’t any wins to be had or losses to suffer. But, that’s still him, actively putting in the work to stake his claim to that for which he’s waited.

If Nate McMillan’s purpose in declaring Paul George’s spot as Bogdanovic’s to lose was to ignite the flames of competition rather than to cement some sort of free agent pitch, then mission accomplished.

It seems that Glenn Robinson III is done being patient.