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Dorktown: Duncan Robinson has no time for 2-pointers

Duncan Robinson

Duncan Robinson, who is somehow not a center for the Spurs, has had a wild basketball journey — from Division III Williams College to University of Michigan reserve to undrafted free agent to blossoming starter and key rotation wing on the NBA’s Miami Heat, one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. It’s been a stunning rise.

But even though Robinson’s defied the odds to become a very good and valuable NBA player, this has nothing to do with that. No one cares how good a player is, all that matters is how extreme he is. And they do not come more extreme than Duncan Robinson, who has taken a particular player archetype to unprecedented and seemingly impossible lengths.

See, plenty of basketball players operate offensively as sharp-shooting floor-spacers who take 3-pointers for the bulk of their shots, mostly eschewing shots from inside the arc. But in the abbreviated 2019-20 season, we saw Robinson take that to a mind-boggling level. Despite the season being cut short by 11%, Robinson had 11 different games in which he took double-digit shots with every last one of them coming from downtown. That nearly tripled the all-time runners-up:

All the NBA games in which a player took double-digit shots, with every one coming from 3-point land

On March 6th in New Orleans, he took 14 shots, all from distance. It was his 3rd such game of the season, which:

NBA games in which a player has taken at least 14 shots, with every one from 3-point land

For the season, Robinson launched 606 triples against just 81 twos. Here’s how that stacked up against the rest of the NBA:

The shot selection of each of the 529 guys that played in the NBA in 2019-20

Davis Bertans and Ben McLemore were by far the two closest facsimiles, and they were still about as close as a 50 cent first pitch, with that duo averaging nearly 150 fewer threes (462) and over 34 more twos (115.5) than did Robinson.

In NBA history, there have been 4,682 instances of a player attempting at least 100 threes in a season. Look how impressive Robinson’s 3-point stubbornness from 2019-20 is:

Shot selection of the 4,682 all-time individual seasons in NBA history in which a player has taken at least 100 threes

I suppose 2017-18 Wayne Ellington, the closest competitor lurking to his northwest, deserves a slight nod — but with 4.5% fewer threes and 49.4% more twos, it still doesn’t really approach the same degree of inside-the-arc allergy. And he’s the closest facsimile. No one else is really even in the same galaxy.

Another way to think about it: for every 2-pointer attempted by Robinson in ’19-’20, he launched an astronomical 7.48 shots from 3-point land. A ratio he sustained across 687 total shots. Of the 6,340 all-time instances in which a player took even 50 threes in a season, the only other one to take that many threes per two was 2018-19 Gary Clark — and he had barely any volume, having attempted a mere 138 treys. James Posey in his final season was pretty impressive too, albeit also in a small sample with just 212 shots from downtown (against 29 twos, still coming up short of ’19-’20 Robinson’s rate). But let’s see what things look like if we raise the volume bar just a bit:

Shot selection of the 1,743 all-time individual seasons in NBA history in which a player has taken at least 250 threes

Only two others there produced a 3PA total that reached even five times their 2PA total. One was 2011-12 Steve Novak, who just barely did so with 282 attempted threes against 55 cowardly twos.

The other was 2012-13 Shane Battier, who feasted on all the open looks from distance created by one LeBron Raymone James. That’s the runner-up, and his ratio was still south of 7-to-1. To say nothing of the difference in volume. Actually, let’s say something about the difference in volume. Here’s every game from that Battier season:

Shane Battier’s shot selection in every game of the 2012-13 NBA season

There’s a reason the y-axis there goes all the way up to 16 — to keep it as an apples-to-apples comparison with every game from the Robinson season:

Duncan Robinson’s shot selection in every game of the 2019-20 NBA season

As you can see, Battier never even once had a game with a 3PA total exceeding eight amid a season with just 362 total shots. Robinson averaged more than eight 3PA per game in sustaining what was still a far superior 3PA/2PA ratio across nearly twice the total shots.

By the way, quick aside: the top-6 in this department are constituted not only by those Robinson and Battier seasons, but also ’17-’18 Ellington and ’10-’11 James Jones (along with ’11-’12 Novak and ’19-’20 McLemore). In other words four of the six were done under the watchful eye of Erik Spoelstra in South Beach.

And finally, there have been 410 all-time player-seasons in which at least 400 threes were attempted. Just 18 others entailed even twice as many threes as twos (and they all trailed in 3-point volume):

Of the 410 instances of an NBA player taking at least 400 threes in a season, these are the 19 to take even twice as many threes as twos

Pretty astonishing stuff. On only three occasions did someone shoot even half as many threes per two as ’19-’20 Robinson.

This Dorktown hero was simply playing 3-D chess in a league of checkers players.