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How Duncan Robinson found success with Miami Heat because of John Beilein

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Overlooked contributor Robinson has impacted the game in a subtle way for the Heat.

Miami Heat v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Before joining the Miami Heat, Duncan Robinson had an unusual nickname with the Michigan Wolverines playing under John Beilein as related by this article.

“I want to ask you about Duncan Robinson’s defense,” I said.

[Muhammad-Ali] Abdur-Rahkman started laughing and bent over at the waist. He looked down at the floor.

“We used to mess with him,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “We used to call him Uncan. Because there was no ‘D’ in D-uncan.”

He started laughing.

“But it’s made him buy into it a little more,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “Maybe focus on it a little more. He takes pride in it now.”

As his collegiate career progressed Robinson refined his game on both ends of the court and in the process became a student on the art of basketball and life.

“You have to start with a want to,” Michigan assistant coach Luke Yaklich. “Early on when we started, Duncan knew he had deficiencies. He knew he had to improve, off the ball and guarding the first two or three dribbles. To his credit, he had moments this year, when he didn’t play well defensively. He would come back and watch film and he’d come back to me with ideas. In daily drills, he was really cognizant of all the finer points that have allowed him to become a better rebounder, or have allowed him to become a better post defender or on the ball defender.”

“Robinson has also become a mentor to [Isaiah] Livers.”

“He has taught me all the little things, like back cuts and smart routes in Coach Beilein’s offense,” Livers said. “He has been a mentor to me. When I first got here, he told me where the cafeteria is. He has given me rides, stuff like that. I just can’t thank him enough.”

The mention of back cuts reveals why Robinson has become unexpectedly important to the Heat’s early success on offense.

John Beilein, who was succeeded by Juwan Howard at Michigan, taught Robinson the two-guard variation of the Princeton Offense as illustrated by the video below. Robinson (#22) can be seen in constant motion throughout the segments which feature Michigan.

Interestingly the Heat seem to run more cuts and such than last season, perhaps because the Princeton Offense features those plays.

“The Princeton offense is an offensive basketball strategy which emphasizes constant motion, back-door cuts, picks on and off the ball, and disciplined teamwork.”

“The offense is designed for a unit of five players who can each pass, shoot, and dribble at an above-average level. It attempts to isolate and exploit a mismatch using these skills. Positions become less important and on offense there is no point guard, shooting guard, small forward or power forward. However, there are certain rules that players running this offense are expected to follow.”

“The hallmark of the offense is the backdoor pass, where a player on the wing suddenly moves in towards the basket, receives a bounce pass from a guard on the perimeter, and (if done correctly) finds himself with no defenders between him and a layup. Alternatively, when the defensive team attempts to pack the paint to prevent backdoor cuts, the offense utilizes three point shots from the perimeter. All five players in the offense—including the center—should be competent at making a three-point attempt, further spreading the floor.”

Four of Miami’s starting five, Kendrick Nunn, Jimmy Butler, Meyers Leonard, and Robinson can both pass and space the floor. Bam Adebayo is an assist wizard par excellence with developing floor-spacing capabilities.

The ability to identify and capitalize on mismatches defines the offense with this group of players, which includes the bench mob. Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro, Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson (to some extent) can both space the floor and hit from deep when needed.

A player trained in Jim Boeheim’s famed zone system may not buy into the “constant motion” of the Princeton Offense. The disconnect between how a player and coach view the team’s strategy and tactics on the court could lead to drama and showdown about the player’s role for the team. If a player doesn’t believe in “constant motion,” then he could negatively affect the entire team’s vision of how to play the game.

At first Robinson seems like an odd choice to start, but his familiarity with the Princeton concepts of passing, cutting, 3-point shooting, etc. helps make Miami’s offense flow. Since “Uncan Robinson has found his missing D,” this edition of the Heat has won the hearts of many fans.

Incidentally the Heat face the Cleveland Cavaliers in two of their next three games, so expect to see the Cavs run some Princeton plays against the Miami team.

For those diehards interested in the seeing the Princeton Offense in action, the low-resolution video clip titled “NBA: Princeton Offense Series” illustrates some terms.