The Heat largely limped through the first quarter of their Christmas Day win over the Pelicans on Friday. Bam Adebayo had as many points (two) as turnovers in the opening 12 minutes, and Jimmy Butler went just 1-4 from the field. After a dispiriting opening-night loss to the Magic, the Heat appeared in danger of another early-season upset. Duncan Robinson provided the necessary spark as the Heat’s stars struggled.
Miami’s third-year forward buried six threes in the first half, finishing the night with 23 points in a 111-98 victory. He punished New Orleans off both designed sets and collapsing defenders, canning triples from all areas of the floor. Robinson doesn’t carry the playmaking load like Butler. He isn’t a dominant two-way force like Adebayo. But Robinson is still an indispensable piece of Miami’s offensive attack. One of the game’s best shooters proved his value early and often to kick off the Christmas Day slate.
Robinson is somewhat of a one-trick pony, though that designation obscures his immense value to Miami. The former Division III player is arguably the game’s best three-point shooter, and as a catch-and-shoot threat, he’s among the greatest in league history. Robinson’s 6’ 8” frame paired with a lightning quick release creates a problem for defenses. Sag an inch toward Butler or Adebayo in the paint, and Robinson will make you pay.
A small collection of players in the league can challenge Robinson as a stationary shooter. What separates Robinson is his ability on the move. Robinson’s ability to fire quickly off the catch opens a world of possibilities for Erik Spoelstra. Robinson can run through any combination of screens imaginable. He’s an effective pick-and-pop piece, and he punished New Orleans in transition on Friday. Robinson has become an indispensable weapon for the reigning Eastern Conference champion.
Miami could win the East again this year, and there’s certainly a world where they hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 2020-21. Butler and Adebayo are a pair of All-NBA contenders. Spoelstra is arguably the game’s best head coach. Both Tyler Herro and Goran Dragic have their moments as leading playmakers, though neither are a guarantee on a given night. In a crowded East, Robinson could be relied on to provide the necessary firepower. He’s come a long way in only a year of consistent minutes.
The Heat were a clear competitor in the potential Giannis sweepstakes, and a recent slate of extensions has dried what was previously considered a loaded free-agent class. The Heat have already extended Adebayo. Robinson is their next major decision. Miami can match any offer. Just how high that price tag will be is another story. Robinson will likely earn more than Joe Harris’ $75 million. It’s possible Robinson earns upwards of $90 million. Miami has chased impact pieces in free agency and trades for much of the last decade. Perhaps its next championship is delivered through its home-grown core. Looking at the league’s current landscape, extending Adebayo and paying Robinson may be the best route.
Robinson was electric early on Friday, leading the way as Miami earned its first win of the season. He’ll need to replicate that form throughout 2020-21 to keep pace in a competitive Eastern Conference.