Sports is pure competition, and as such, it has and will always be surrounded with a ‘Next Man Up’ mentality. That means even if you’re the last one on the depth chart, you should know to always be on your toes, primed to come in and contribute.

The current situation with the Miami Heat has a good example. They are a resilient bunch made up of scrappy players, each fitting the mold of the famed ‘Heat Culture’ system. Guard Duncan Robinson is a homegrown talent of that system as he began as an undrafted player on a two-way contract, who then steadily climbed several steps on his way to becoming a starter worthy of a huge money.

After riding the bench in the 2018-19 season, playing in just 15 games on 10.7 minutes per game (3.3 PPG), he catapulted himself through a strong showing in the 2019 Summer League, so much so that he placed himself in the rotation for the upcoming campaign. He went on to be a revelation in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, particularly during their finals run in the 2020 Bubble. 

Robinson averaged 13.3 points and 3.6 threes per game in that two-year span, including an elite-level 42.7% shooting from beyond the arc. Within that timeframe, he 47 combined games (playoffs and regular season) where he splashed five or more threes in a game, thus earning a badge as one of the deadliest shooters in the entire NBA. That gifted him quite the leverage when negotiating a new contract.

While the price was steep, it was a no-brainer for the Heat at that time considering what has happened prior – shooters were also getting paid around the league, most notably Davis Bertans and Joe Harris. Miami can’t be too cute on the offer too since Robinson was sure to get plenty of offers from other teams. In the end, the two parties agreed on a five-year, $90 million contract. Unfortunately, though, things went south after that.

The regression

Robinson regressed in the 2021-22 season. Through the first 22 games, his scoring dipped to 10.4 PPG while his shooting went down to 34.9% (31.8% from three), which is on top of his unintimidating defense. He couldn’t get out of the funk as the opposition began to figure him out and give him a variety of tough looks. Eventually, he surpassed by Max Strus, who was not only capable of raining threes, but also able to play better defense.

Minutes dwindled for Robinson, and by the 2022 playoffs, he basically became a bench warmer, getting DNPs left and right. It continued towards in the 2022-23 regular season and was coupled by a hand injury. He finished the season with just 42 games on 16.5 minutes per contest, averaging 6.4 points and shooting 37.1% from the field (32.8% from three).

The comeback

The injury bug bit the Heat the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, as third scorer Tyler Herro (hand) and key guard Victor Oladipo (hand) both got sidelined for a significant time – the latter will be out for months. It was, however, good news for the other guys because as we’ve said, the next man up will immediately be called upon. It was Robinson’s calling to redeem himself, and he did.

Coincidentally, Robinson started things off on his 29th birthday, which happens to be Game 3 of their first-round matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks, who they eliminated in five games. He unloaded 20 points off the bench, dropping five of his six attempts from three.

He then followed it up with a handful of solid performances, like the 22-point night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics. He went 5-of-7 from downtown and helped maintain the game’s one-sided flow in favour of Miami.

Then, in the do-or-die Game 7, he topped it all off with a classic ‘Hulk Hogan’ taunt towards the quiet Boston crowd – his hometown, no less.

The finals series with the Denver Nuggets had more of the same up-and-down ride thus far. He was 1-of-6 for three points during their 104-93 Game 1 loss and came alive in the crucial, homecourt advantage-stealing, 111-108 Game 2 win. 

Robinson tallied all of his 10 points in the fourth quarter, and it started when the Heat were trailing. He had two threes, one of which was a nice pull-up after a subtle look-off, and two good drives to the basket, which seems to showcase an improvement in his game on off-the-dribble situations.

Can he keep it going once Tyler Herro returns?

Herro may at some point in the series. As the Heat’s no. 3 scorer (behind Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo), he would certainly get his share, and thus, take opportunities away from various guards. However, with how much offense one team needs to keep up with the Nuggets, Miami will find a way to keep giving Robinson touches. Threes alter momentum, and their $90 million-shooter will be there ready to provide his share of trifectas.