Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This evaluation breaks down Virginia Tech guard Justin Robinson.
Justin Robinson was a solid college basketball player. As a senior, he was an indispensable leader and floor general for a Virginia Tech team that won 26 games and reached the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament, only to suffer a heart-breaking, two-point loss to Duke. In his final season, the Hokies were 20-4 when he played but managed just a 6-5 record while he missed extended time dealing with a foot injury.
In spite of Robinson’s solid career, he is viewed, at least in some circles, as a one-dimensional defensive player who perhaps lacks the versatility to fit as a rotational player in today’s NBA game. As the game has evolved to a heavy pick and roll style of play, NBA teams place a premium on players who can guard multiple positions and not become an immediate liability as soon as they are switched on to a player who may be bigger or faster. This development creates a significant challenge for smaller players like Robinson.
It is rare for teams to expend a lottery pick on a player under 6’3 unless he provides elite offensive elements that more than compensate for the potential defensive liabilities that are likely to result from a lack of size. Further, solid college players who fit this mold can be valued as bubble second round picks who may go undrafted. This is precisely where Robinson stands heading towards draft night which is is just a little more than a month away.
Robinson clearly has NBA skills on the offensive end of the floor. He is a clean and solid ball handler who makes good decisions with the ball. Additionally, he is a terrific and enthusiastic passer who thrives on creating high percentage shots for his teammates. He did not post eye-popping assist numbers in college (5.0 per game as a senior), but such numbers are uncommon in the college game where floor balance and ball movement are commonly used to attack offensively, especially working against zone defenses.
As a collegiate athlete, Robinson put up terrific shooting numbers and improved as a shooter in each of his four seasons. As a senior, he shot 52.4% on two point shots and 41.8% on three point shots with 4.1 attempts per game from behind the arc. Robinson’s shooting should translate well to the NBA game although his shooting contributions may be isolated to floor spacing spot up shooting. He can shoot off the dribble but may have trouble getting separation that is needed to create space for his shot at the next level.
Robinson does have solid footwork and a reasonable array of necessary moves to create shots. However, he is not a particularly explosive athlete and he does not possess tremendous length that is helpful in getting shots off against NBA defenders.
Still, NBA talent evaluators may want to be hesitant to label Robinson as a non-athlete. It can be easy to divide small guards into simple groups of explosive athletes and non-explosive athletes. Robinson may not make the grade as an explosive athlete but actually does not all that far from the boundary. He is closer to explosive than he is to not explosive.
On the defensive end of the floor, Robinson is a committed and willing defender with excellent footwork. He sees plays unfold before they happen and anticipates and reads screen actions very well. He works hard to keep the ball out of the middle of the floor and to deny an opponent’s first action on offense, These traits translate well to today’s NBA game,
Nevertheless, if Robinson works his way to a rotational role on an NBA team, there will simply be many situations where he is matched up with a bigger, stronger and faster players on the floor, even when he is guarding the opponent’s smallest player. This is the dilemma for players who fit Robinson’s profile and for NBA teams evaluating them.
While the forecasts may not be positive for Robinson’s name being called on draft night, the door is still open for a player like him. It is not unusual for this type of player to go undrafted but eventually work his way to an NBA career. Fred VanVleet went undrafted in 2016 but still made the Toronto Raptors roster as a rookie and in three seasons since has become a solid bench contributor playing behind All-Star Kyle Lowry.
The tendency to undervalue small guards is not isolated to one team. Still, the fact is that even when the draft concludes, all thirty teams will be looking for players to complete summer league rosters and training camp rosters as well. Quality point gaurds who have experience and play with maturity are actually a premium during summer league. For this reason, Robinson should have good opportunities to play this summer even if he is not drafted.
Robinson was the standout point guard at the Portsmouth Invitational in April , a showcase for college seniors and he received an invite to the G League combine. Though he did not receive an invite to the NBA combine, there is still the potential of working out for NBA teams as he did for the Celtics earlier this month.
There is certainly an opportunity for the Hawks to add a point guard either in the draft or by extending summer league and training camp invites to undrafted players. Trae Young is the only true point guard with a guaranteed contract on the Hawks’ roster for the upcoming season. Jaylen Adams has a non-guaranteed contract, but the former St. Bonaventure guard is anything but entrenched in the back-up point guard role.
The next few weeks will be very interesting for Robinson and so many other players just looking for the best opportunity they can find to work their way on to an NBA roster. Though he may be a bit of a long shot to hear his name called, particularly in the top 50, on draft night, there is no doubt NBA teams will come calling to give him an opportunity to work his way into a camp invite. For many NBA players, the camp invite is all they need. Two or three years from now, we may all look back and see the same story for Justin Robinson.