Offense Starting to Click for Robinson
By: Ryan Bertonaschi
When James Robinson arrived at Pitt as a freshman in 2012, many Panthers fans were stunned when he cracked head coach Jamie Dixon’s starting lineup to open the season as Pitt’s point guard.
The move pushed then-senior leader Tray Woodall from point guard to the wing, where the Brooklyn-native Woodall was given an opportunity to take more shots. Woodall would do just that, attempting a team-leading 288 field goals on the year.
Dixon made the decision not only because of Robinson’s already-established ability to distribute the ball, but Robinson was, according to Dixon, Pitt’s best perimeter defender.
Robinson – now a junior – is coming off a season in which he was heavily criticized for being too passive on offense. In games when former Panthers Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna pieced together dismal offensive performances, Robinson was expected to step up in their absences. But, last season, Robinson scored a mere 7.6 points per game, barely more than he did as a freshman (6.1).
Through Pitt’s first eight games in the 2014-15 season, Robinson appears to have overcome that hump.
The 6-foot-4 point guard’s improved scoring was on full display Friday night in Pitt’s 76-62 win over Duquesne (3-2) in the annual City Game. Robinson scored a career-high 23 points for the Panthers (5-3) and chipped in with positive numbers in all other facets.
“Usually he is a pass-first point guard. Today he looked to score,” Duquesne point guard Derrick Colter said of Robinson after the Dukes’ loss. “He was hitting the 3s, and he changed the whole script on us.”
He canned three 3-pointers, had five assists and held Duquesne point guard Micah Mason to just six points. Coming into the game, Mason was one of the nation’s best scorers. He was first in Division I in 3-point shooting percentage (46.5 percent), second in KenPom.com’s effective field goal percentage (86 percent) and second in KenPom.com’s true field goal percentage (86 percent).
Duquesne head coach Jim Ferry, who is as straightforward as coaches come, had nothing but praise for Robinson, who has attracted at least one NBA scout to watch him play this season.
“The kid is a fantastic player,” Ferry said. “He’s won gold medals. He’s one of the best players in the ACC. He needed to play well tonight, and he did.”
Robinson struggled mightily in Indiana’s 81-69 romping of Pitt last week. In 26 minutes of floor time, he recorded just two points and had three turnovers.
Dixon said that the coaching staff has been telling Robinson to become more of a scorer, and that Robinson’s scoring execution is “becoming a bit of a challenge.”
“It’s amazing how it works,” Dixon said. “[Against] Kansas State [in Maui last month], he has a great game, almost a perfect game is how he played. We win by 23 against a very good team. At Indiana, he doesn’t knock down any shots. And tonight, here, he goes for 23, his career high.”
“What he did was get back in the gym and shot. He shot last night, he shot in the gym this morning,” Dixon continued. “He had a tough game the last game and it didn’t go his way, but rather than mope, he went to work.”
Whether he stuffs the stat sheet or leaves it empty, Robinson will need to continue to “work” if Pitt has a chance to improve as the season progresses.
His leadership skills, combined with those of a revived Cameron Wright, have the potential to turn a team from bad to mediocre.