Usually when a player finishes a game with a stat line that reads two points on 1-of-8 shooting, two assists and two rebounds, he is not going to be a hot topic of discussion during a postgame press conference.
But that wasn’t the case with Pitt freshman guard James Robinson.
If you look at Robinson’s line during Pitt’s 78-53 win over Lehigh on Tuesday night in Preseason NIT action, you would think that Robinson didn’t have a very good game. But just the opposite was true as the freshman was all that everyone could talk about after the Panthers improved to 3-0 on the season. That tells you what kind of game Robinson had on the defensive end of the floor, where he drew the assignment of guarding potential NBA lottery pick C.J. McCollum.
McCollum finished the game with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, but it was as meaningless of a 17 point game that McCollum as ever had as a majority of his points came after the game was already out of hand.
“He is a freshman who gets it,” said Pitt guard Tray Woodall. “He is playing already like he has been here for a couple of years. It’s his third game and we challenged him with stopping one of the most prolific scorers in the country and he stepped up and answered the challenge.”
When Woodall says he gets it, Robinson does.
With all the acclaim that fellow freshman Steven Adams has received, people tend to forget that Robinson was also a Top 50 recruit and he is showing why.
His stats aren’t overly impressive. Through three games, Robinson has averaged only 4.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game, but he has been so much more valuable to Pitt’s good start out of the gates than the numbers would suggest.
Robinson has a tremendously high basketball IQ for a freshman and Dixon has already trusted him to make calls at both ends of the floor. With Woodall and Robinson in the same backcourt, Pitt can be flexible as either guy can play on the ball and either guy can play off of it. Robinson especially understands the pace of the game and knows when to push the tempo and when to slow things up.
But what he has done is add another outstanding ball handler and great decision maker in the backcourt and the results have been outstanding. With Lamar Patterson also in the starting lineup, who could serve as a point forward if needed, the Panthers have cut down on turnovers in a big way. They turned it over only seven times against Lehigh and have coughed it up only 21 times on the season.
In addition to that, the Panthers have preached turning the opposing teams over and turning them into easy baskets. On the season, Pitt has scored 61 points off opposing turnovers and has allowed only 12. Much of that is a result to having a player such as Robinson on the floor.
“He is bigger, stronger and more athletic than he was as even a senior in high school,” said Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon, who calls Robinson his best defender. “We have asked him to do a lot so far and the results have been great. He is an outstanding defender and we trust him to do a lot in the offense. He gets what we are trying to do and is extremely unselfish. Having said that, he can score the ball and get to the rim with success when he has to.”
Robinson used a lot of energy against McCollum on the defensive end of the floor Tuesday night, but against both Mount St. Mary’s and Fordham he was a very efficient 3-of-4 from the floor.
Having an athletic guard such as Robinson is even a bigger benefit that the Panthers now have legitimate size in the paint with Adams, Talib Zanna and even Dante Taylor, who has been very good so far on the defensive end of the floor. Because of that, the opposition is shooting a combined 37.5 percent from the floor so far.
“The coaches want me to be aggressive,” said Robinson. “We talk a lot about pressuring guards and forcing turnovers and just making the other team take tough shots. Knowing we have some good size behind me it allows me to be even more aggressive defensively. I do know that if someone gets by me, they have my back and it won’t result in an easy basket”
But his biggest value has come on the defensive end of the floor. At a little over 6’3″ Robinson reminds you of a bigger version of former Panthers’ guard Brandin Knight, who serves as a Pitt assistant coach. Saying that is quite the compliment.
If Robinson becomes half the player that Knight was, then he will have quite the career in a Pitt uniform.
He is well on his way.
Photo Credit: Associated Press