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The Heat Are Peaking Now That Duncan Robinson Can Shoot Again

Duncan Robinson #55 of the Miami Heat shots against Quentin Grimes #6 of the New York Knicks at FTX Arena on January 26, 2022 in Miami, Florida.
Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

When the Miami Heat signed Duncan Robinson to a five-year, $90 million extension during the off-season, I had my doubts. Robinson is one of the best shooters in the NBA, but also enough of a negative on the defensive end that it seemed risky to commit such a huge chunk of cash to locking him up for the next half-decade. (Lord knows the Lakers exploited him in the Bubble Finals.) If there was one thing that made me think the deal would turn out fine, it’s that shooting is one of those basketball skills that doesn’t really deteriorate. As such, it’s one of those basketball skills that will always be in high demand in the NBA.

What no one who analyzed the extension probably saw coming was that Robinson would crash devastatingly back to earth from behind the arc. October saw Miami’s supposed sharpshooter convert just 32.1 percent of his threes, and though November was better, it wasn’t by much. Robinson shot 33.1 percent from deep that month, thanks in large part to some gnarly shooting lines: 2-for-11, 3-for-13, and 5-for-17, among others. If Miami had paid all this money for a one-dimensional shooter who suddenly couldn’t shoot, the team would find it very challenging to climb atop the Eastern Conference this season.

But after that rough start to the season, I think it’s safe to say that Robinson’s shot has returned from the war. The latest point of evidence came on Wednesday night, as Miami hosted the Knicks in South Beach. (If it feels like I am picking on the Knicks this week, well, maybe they should stop losing to the best teams in the East!) Robinson got hot early against New York, thanks to a pair of nifty two-man moves with Bam Adebayo that led to back-to-back game-opening three-pointers.

The Knicks never stood a chance after that quick one-two punch; in fact, they never got closer than that 6-0 deficit for the rest of the game. Miami’s offense just obliterated New York, shooting 16-of-37 from three and 20-of-22 from the free throw line, both figures helping to offset an unsightly 17 turnovers by the home team. Robinson was just one of a handful of Heat players to get hot on Wednesday: Jimmy Butler had the quietest 22-point game of his career; Tyler Herro came back from COVID protocols to score 21; P.J. Tucker went 4-of-6 from deep en route to 20 points; Adebayo finished with a wonky statline of six points, eight rebounds, and 11 assists. It was Robinson who led the way, though, breaking the Knicks’ spirits with seven three-pointers and even adding a blocked shot. (He also scored two buckets in the paint, including the lay-up pictured above. I find it amusing and honestly implausible that there were no photos of Robinson shooting a three in our Getty subscription, but somehow three of him laying the ball up.)

Robinson now has two straight games with 25 points, after a similarly stellar showing against a ragged Lakers team on Sunday. Though he had a bit of a slip in the middle of the month, including an 0-for-8 debacle in a loss against the Sixers, Robinson has been more good than bad in January. Miami is much more dangerous team when Robinson gets going, and in 10 January games, he is averaging 14 points per game and shooting a more recognizably Robinsonian 43.7 percent from behind the arc.

That figure nearly matches his career-high 44.6 percent from the 2019-20 bubble season, and though it’s hard to imagine that he will ever put up that number across a whole season again, this month has been an encouraging reminder of why the Heat were willing to lock a bunch of cap space up on a player with just one elite skill. The Heat are 8-2 this month and now sit atop the Eastern Conference, despite the team’s stars all missing chunks of games for a variety of reasons.

A lot of the credit for that has to go to Erik Spoelstra, who has plugged and played a plethora of unheralded names into the lineup with great success: Omer Yurtseven! Caleb Martin! Gabe Vincent! With that in mind, though, Robinson’s return to something like otherworldly shooting could not have been better timed. He’ll probably slump again, and he is never going to be the best player on the Heat for an entire season, or even a month, due to his lack of dynamic playmaking and defensive potential. Robinson can, however, be the hottest weapon in Erik Spoelstra’s arsenal for a game or two and absolutely ruin an opponent’s night with a barrage of daggers. Whether that’s worth $90 million or not is a question for another day.