The Miami Heat don't win Game 5 of the 2020 NBA Finals if it weren't for 26 points and five boards from undrafted second-year forward Duncan Robinson.
It's the second straight year that an undrafted player has been a catalyst in the Finals, as Fred VanVleet became a household name during the Toronto Raptors' historic Finals run of 2019. And while the story of undrafted players being heroes on the NBA's biggest stage is nothing new (Ben Wallace, Udonis Haslem, Avery Johnson and J.J Barea also send their regards), there has never been an undrafted player with a story quite like Robinson's.
For those unaware of the 26-year-old's rapid rise, here is how Robinson blazed his own trail to becoming one of the league's best 3-point shooters in just his second season.
Robinson was born on April 22, 1994 in New Castle, NH.
As documented by Michigan Live , Robinson began his high school career as a 5-foot-7 point guard at The Governor's Academy in nearby Byfield, MA. After undergoing a growth spurt as a sophomore, he finally became an impactful player during his junior year.
In his senior season, Robinson earned a selection on the All-New England team after averaging 18.5 points per game but received very little interest from colleges, prompting him to spend a postgraduate year at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.
At Exeter, Robinson continued to evolve as a player, leading his team to a 28-1 record and a New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) championship but still, no interest from Division I schools. With one Division II offer from Merrimack College on the table, Robinson instead elected to attend Division III Williams College in Williamstown, MA.
Robinson, listed at 6-foot-7 and 185 lbs. , made his Williams debut on Nov. 15, 2013 , scoring 13 points (on 5-for-6 shooting) in 22 minutes of action in a one-point loss to Southern Vermont.
The Ephs (rhymes with Chiefs) finished the 2013-14 season with a 28-5 record, losing in the Division III National Championship Game by one point to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. With a title on the line, a 19-year-old Robinson finished with 17 points (on 6-for-12 shooting) in 37 minutes.
Robinson finished his freshman year having appeared in 32 games (31 starts) and posted averages of 17.1 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 55.7% from the field and 45.3% from beyond the arc.
For his performance, Robinson earned Fourth Team D3Hoops.com All-American honours and was named D3Hoops.com Rookie of the Year .
From there, he decided to take on another challenge.
University of Michigan
After his standout freshman season, Robinson saw his head coach move on to a Division I job and took the opportunity to explore his options of making a similar move.
Robinson, who drew interest from a number of schools, cut his list down to the University of Michigan and Davidson College for the balance of high-level academics and high-level competition. On Aug. 6, 2014, Robinson announced his commitment to Michigan.
I am proud to announce that I'll be transferring to the University of Michigan. Proud to be a Wolverine! #GoBlue 〽️- Duncan Robinson (@D_Bo20) August 6, 2014
After sitting out his first year at Michigan per NCAA transfer rules, Robinson failed to register a point in his first game donning the maize and blue. In his second game, however, Robinson burst onto the scene with 19 points on 6-for-6 shooting from the field (5-for-5 from deep) in a win over Elon. Playing alongside future NBA talent in Caris LeVert, Moritz Wagner, Derrick Walton and DJ Wilson, Robinson's redshirt sophomore year was his best scoring season at Michigan, as he averaged 11.2 points over 36 games while shooting 45% from deep.
As a redshirt junior, Robinson saw his production dip to 7.7 points over 38 games as the Wolverines saw their season come to an end in the Sweet Sixteen.
In his senior year, Robinson averaged 9.2 points over 41 games (19 starts) and was named Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year for his efforts. It was a successful year for Michigan, as it advanced to the National title game, where it lost to Villanova University.
Even still, Robinson entered that senior year with aspirations to enter the world of sports media as a journalist, not an athlete.
Got this text out of the blue 3 years ago. Hopped on the phone a couple days later and talked for an hour about getting into sports media because he thought his basketball career was winding down.- Mark Titus (@clubtrillion) September 28, 2020
Three years later he's about to start in the NBA Finals. What a world. pic.twitter.com/egSweR0DWk
Robinson didn't hear his name called in the 2018 NBA Draft but received an invite to join the Miami Heat's Summer League team. There, he earned a two-way contract with the Heat and their G League affiliate, Sioux Falls Skyforce, with averages of 12.4 points and 2.4 rebounds and shooting 17-for-27 (63.0%) from deep in five Summer League games.
In 33 games with Sioux Falls, the 6-foot-8 Robinson averaged 21.4 points while shooting 51.4% from the field and 48.3% from deep. He appeared in 15 games with Miami (one start), averaging 3.3 points per contest but ended his rookie year by scoring a season-high 15 points in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
Right before the end of the season, Robinson signed a three-year contract worth $3.1 million .
After his rookie season, it wasn't a certainty that Robinson would have a guaranteed spot on the Heat roster. That is, until he displayed improvements during Summer League that gave Heat brass confidence to keep him on the roster, causing his contract guarantee to jump from $250,000 to $1 million.
That decision was made worthwhile by the third game of the year, where he exploded for a then-career-best 21 points (on 8-for-12 shooting) in just 23 minutes of action. Three games later, Robinson knocked down seven triples and finished with 23 points in a blowout win over the Houston Rockets.
Then, on Nov. 20, Robinson knocked down eight triples in the first half of a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, who at the time were led by his college coach in John Beilein.
☔️ @D_Bo20 brought the rain on Wednesday night with 9 3-pointers & a career high 29 points! 👌- Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) November 21, 2019
🔥🎥 #HEATHighlights pic.twitter.com/FadVVLazIi
If there was any doubt on whether or not Robinson's contract would become fully guaranteed by midseason, that performance would have done away with it. In just his second NBA season, Robinson established himself as one of the league's best sharpshooters, knocking down 3.7 triples per game at an insane 44.6% clip.
Despite teams scouting to limit his shooting ability, Robinson has managed to hit 3.0 threes per game at a 39.6% clip through his first 20 postseason games, with his game-changing performance coming in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
After playing for an NCAA title in his freshman and senior seasons, Robinson now finds himself playing for an NBA title in just his second year as a pro.
Based on his improbable path up to this point, who knows what he has in store next.
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