July is right around the corner. Baseball season ended just short of Omaha. The NBA draft is now behind us, and we covered that about as thoroughly as possible. Football season is approximately two months away, so we’ll all soon be inundated with that. With a completely new offense and defense being implemented, we’re not going to waste (much) time trying to tell you the X’s and O’s of a non-existent product so far. There’s still time for all of that.
Naturally, all of this means that it’s time to start our summer previews of next year’s basketball team. Each Monday* we’ll cover one (or more) members of next year’s team with a quick recap of how they performed last season, with an eye on what they *may* bring to the court next season. The lineup will be seniors, juniors, sophomores, walk-ons, transfers, and then freshmen.
*That’s our plan. Life sometimes may get in the way.
We reserve the right to tout our accurate predictions when they come to fruition. We also reserve the right to acquire amnesia when our takes become freezing cold. Those are the rules. As the only returning senior to play meaningful minutes last season, Brandon Robinson gets the starting nod.
2018-19 Stats: 11.9 mpg, 3.4 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 1.4 apg
This cannot be overstated. Brandon Robinson is one of the two most important players to UNC’s success next season. Period. Full stop. End of story. This isn’t negotiable.
Last season, Robinson spent time between both wing positions (shooting guard and small forward), sometimes acting as a defensive match-up off the bench and eventually leading the team with a 46% success rate from behind the arc. Our staff believes his shooting prowess actually led our own Tanya Bondurant to be the first to nickname him “3-Rob” in November against Michigan, a nickname he’s approved himself. (If anyone has proof of seeing it earlier, please, let us know).
3-ROB!— Tar Heel Blog (@tarheelblog) November 29, 2018
that’s kinda tough.— Brandon Robinson (@BRob_4) February 24, 2019
(the parent tweet is unavailable, but trust me when I say it was UNC Barstool quoting Tanya and telling Robinson his nickname was 3-Rob now)
Simply put, he was a utility man. Nothing wrong with that, and with five players from last year’s team either drafted or signed to summer league contracts in the NBA, minutes were hard to come by. Averaging just under 12 minutes per game between two positions makes consistent production difficult. Coaches want players in that role to just “not be a negative”, as the old coaching axiom goes.
That’s a challenging mindset to acclimate too. Many players press in their limited action trying to make something happen, but Robinson adjusted as the year went on. More times than not, Robinson would contribute something positive to the final result. This mid-season piece from Tar Heel Illustrated highlights that growth.
Check out these two clips of his defensive capabilities.
This block was part of the decisive run in UNC’s revenge game against Louisville.
This block gave UNC some momentum late in the first half against UVA.
An obligatory quick look at his shot, this from the game against Syracuse from the corner. He’s not exactly a shot-creator, but Robinson is lethal with a half-second to let it fly.
So, what does all of this mean for next season? Robinson is in a position unlike any UNC wing player in recent memory. Most productive or successful wings at UNC have a greater body of work before their senior season or they’ve declared for the NBA draft before reaching it. Few have rarely been staring at a realistic opportunity to almost double their minutes. 3-Rob will still have to split time between two positions, but very well could see his playing time exceed 20 minutes per game.
And yet, he hasn’t shown the all-around scoring ability that incoming transfer Christian Keeling has at the shooting guard position, nor does he truly have the size for significant minutes at the small forward. It’s too simplistic to say the wings in UNC’s offense are interchangeable and truthfully, that’s not completely accurate. In fact, when Cameron Johnson and Nassir Little were hurt against UVA last year, it was Robinson who was called upon in the deciding minutes. De’Andre Hunter, all 6-7, 225 pounds of him, attacked Robinson relentlessly.
Do you realize how thin 170 pounds really is on a 6-4 frame? Hunter essentially did this twice to seal the game. Nothing Robinson could do about it, and that was all she wrote.
Here’s the deal. If Robinson can replicate Kenny Williams next season, then the season is a success. If that sounds insane, consider this:
Kenny’s per-40 projections last season were 11.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.3 steals. Robinson’s per-40 projections? 11.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.3 steals. Yeah, those projections can be messy, but it’s fair to say the Spider-Man meme applies here.
While Robinson may or may not develop into the consistent perimeter defender that Williams was, Williams wasn’t the consistent shooter that Robinson has been for two seasons. Kenny developed into a facilitator due to his knowledge of the offense, whereas Robinson is a more natural playmaker and creator. (Think Theo-lite). There are trade-offs.
However, Robinson isn’t about to develop killer handles or become a three-level scorer. Entering his senior year, his skills are a known quantity. What is unknown is whether or not he can consistently increase his production with increased minutes. Those same questions followed Kenny. If you’re looking for a comparison, K-Will offers a path for realistic expectations. (At least, on a per-minute basis).
So, why do I consider him one of the two most important pieces to next season’s success? Because depth, utility, and glue guys are required to compete for conference and national titles. Always have been. Always will be. Robinson has all the tools to be that guy in the way that Nate Britt, Ed Davis, and David Noel have been in the past. Not to mention, I’m not sure anyone plays harder or throws their body into other humans at a faster speed than Brandon Robinson when he’s chasing a loose ball or rebound.
With the knowledge of UNC’s system, an above-average basketball IQ, propensity for big defensive plays, and consistent shooting, Robinson is the smart (but underrated) pick to exceed his performance of the past three seasons. His presence will be vital to the leadership, stability, and integration necessary for so many newcomers. That leadership has already been on display when he actually was the player host for Christian Keeling – the very player who will steal some of Robinson’s minutes.
That team-first attitude is what made Kenny Williams so successful. The same should be true of Robinson. Shooting 46% from three won’t hurt either.