The Good Guys: All Hail Duncan Robinson, the 2020 Hand-Off King
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Duncan Robinson #55 of the Miami Heat.
Since we’ve got nothing but time on our hands, I wanted to use some to talk about the NBA players who are truly great in concentrated areas. Not the superstars who are great at so many things, but guys who are awesome at very specific things.
Let’s start with Duncan Robinson, the hand-off champion of 2020.
Robinson was an undrafted free agent in 2018 coming out of Michigan. He played mostly in the G-League last season. He signed a one-year, non-guaranteed deal for $1.6 million this season. And he’s one of the absolute best shooters in the league.
But specifically, Robinson fits into a key mechanism the Heat have integrated more and more since LeBron James left for Cleveland. Since 2016-17, the Heat have had a top-five place in points produced from hand-offs in the league. This year, they’re No. 1 for the second time in three seasons.
Despite being first this season in hand-off possessions (resulting in a shot attempt, foul, or turnover per Synergy Sports), they’re also second in points per possession — the rare combination of doing something with the highest frequency and doing it at an elite version.
And the biggest reason for that is Robinson.
Robinson is shooting 47.9% on hand-off shots this season, almost all of them 3s, at an absolutely absurd 71.1% eFG on those shots. To put this in context, of the 80 players to have at least 50 hand-off possessions this season, Robinson ranks first in eFG%. The next closest is Khris Middleton who is shooting eight percentage points worse in eFG.
(Side note: Not to be that guy, but this is another case where the whole “basketball is partly about math” thing butts its head into the situation. Middleton is shooting 54% from the field on those shots, but a lot of them are drives or mid-range shots. So Robinson is scoring more per possession. For every 10 shots from hand-offs they’ve taken this season, Middleton is scoring just over 12 points. Robinson is scoring 13.)
The secret to this killer combination that unlocks Robinson is not just his insane shooting ability and skill to navigate the hand-off, but Bam Adebayo.
Adebayo has emerged this season as not only a great big man, but one of the most skilled as well. He’s like a more athletic B-grade version of Nikola Jokic in terms of his versatility. It also means in these sets, when he provides the hand-off and screens Robinson’s trailing defender, there’s zero chance of the player catching.
Adebayo takes an extra step here, but the more important thing is how big and physical the screen is:
Robinson and Adebayo also have awesome chemistry, being able to read the spacing and move in concert:
That looks simple and rehearsed but oftentimes that synchronicity isn’t something that just comes naturally.
Robinson this season is shooting 49% on 3-pointers off Adebayo passes, and Adebayo is averaging 12 points off screen assists per game, with most of those coming from dribble hand off (DHO) sets. That combination absolutely roasts defenses.
It’s not just Adebayo, though, it’s the combination, and Robinson’s size and ability to shoot over defenders is huge. The best way to counter this set is by switching. Boston is absolutely the best team in the league at switching off-ball; their communication is without a doubt the best in the league.
Marcus Smart trails Robinson around here and calls for the switch as Robinson goes into the DHO. Hayward reads, and gets right up in Robinson’s face. Cash money anyway.
The Heat have also built so many ways to disrupt the chase into their sets to give Robinson separation. Here, the Heat run Robinson off three screens including the DHO to get the shot.
The Knicks have zero shot here even after calling for the switch because the switchman has to then call for another one:
Robinson fakes a back screen here before popping for the DHO.
Watch the simultaneous cutters and the sync that the offense has to create confusion:
The Heat’s G-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, gets a huge assist here as well.
Robinson was sixth last season in both points per game off hand-offs and eFG% for Sioux Falls. Having that G-League team allowed the Heat to identify a low-risk, high-upside player who they signed for a very small amount and has had such a big impact for them this season.
Now, though, they’ll have to decide whether to retain him in free agency because any shooter this good is going to get offers on the market.