Michigan Basketball: How Effective Can Glenn Robinson III Be at Small Forward?

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Michigan Basketball: How Effective Can Glenn Robinson III Be at Small Forward?
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Glenn Robinson III attempts to finish an alley-oop against Syracuse at the Final Four. Robinson was one of the best finishers at the rim in college basketball as a freshman.

Glenn Robinson III took a risk in April when he decided to return to school.

Robinson proved himself as an intriguing prospect with potential as a freshman—he averaged 11 points—but he did so out of position and with the help of Trey Burke.

Robinson made it clear as soon as he announced his decision to return to Michigan that he wanted to do so as a small forward, where he could show off what he's capable of instead of leaving that to the imagination.

"I think that's something that the coaching staff is talking about, and that's been my goal coming in," Robinson said of playing small forward in April (via MLive.com). "We couldn't really do that last year, because we were playing four guards. But I see myself at that position."

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
The loss of Trey Burke opens the door for a Wolverine to take a much larger role in the offense.

Robinson's desire is to obviously become a larger part of the offense and become more of a creator instead of simply a finisher.

Dylan Burkhardt over at MUHoops.com did a thorough report card on Robinson's freshman season, re-watching all 122 field goals Robinson made in the half court. What he found was only 18 percent of Robinson's buckets were created by himself. The other 82 percent were assisted or on putbacks.

That shouldn't be viewed as a red flag. Robinson's role was as a finisher, and he did that quite well. He took 56 percent of his shots at the rim and made 73 of those attempts (per Hoop-Math.com). That made him one of the most efficient forwards in the country.

The fact that Robinson averaged double figures using only 15.2 percent of Michigan's possessions (per KenPom.com's numbers, subscription required) is remarkable. For the sake of comparison, he had similar usage rates as Wisconsin starting forward Mike Bruesewitz, and Bruesewitz averaged 6.4 points per game. 

How will Robinson's stellar efficiency numbers be affected by changing roles?

You would expect they would go down while his scoring average goes up, but John Beilein is only going to give him that role if he can prove himself.

Robinson will have to improve his ball-handling. He'll have to improve his outside shot—he made 32.4 percent of his threes—and he'll need to show the ability to break his man down off the dribble.

The trap that many players fall in is thinking to do those things they need to play a certain position.

Robinson gives the impression that he's been told he'll have a chance to play at the 3, but does it really make sense? I'm not buying it. 

The reason Robinson was moved to power forward last season is it allowed the Wolverines to get their best lineup on the floor, which included Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas and one true big man—at the end of the year, that was Mitch McGary.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Mitch McGary, left, and Glenn Robinson III, right, are expected to be the go-to scorers for Michigan in 2013-14.

Michigan was so dangerous in March because that lineup had five guys who can score. If Robinson does move to the 3 next season, that would force Beilein to go with a more traditional lineup that included either Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford or freshman Mark Donnal.

We don't know yet if Donnal will be an offensive threat as a freshman, but we've seen enough from Morgan and Horford to know they are not scorers.

The best offensive lineup, on paper, for Michigan would be Derrick Walton at point guard, Zak Irvin at shooting guard, Stauskas at small forward, Robinson back at power forward and McGary at center. Irvin is the No. 24th-ranked recruit by Rivals.com, and it could be tough for Beilein to keep him out of the starting lineup.

Beilein offered up an explanation last month as to how he'll make that decision. He told MLive.com:

You don't go into a season saying we’re going to play big, we're going to play small. You have to wait and see what people can do. We have freshmen. What can they handle? How can the coaches tweak it to their strength?

It seems to be a lot of concern for everybody, it's not really a concern for us. How can we develop our players so that number one we can win, and number two for professional play. Because that's obviously a huge recruiting draw for us.

What this says to me is if Michigan's best lineup next season has Robinson at the 4, then he's going to need to accept that. It also doesn't mean that his use on the offensive end will be relegated to what you expect from a power forward. Beilein has an innovative offensive mind, and he doesn't need Robinson at small forward to put Robinson in a position to do small forwardish things.

Robinson had the chance to leave school early because he had a good NCAA tournament on a team that made it to the championship game. He should know that his best chance to improve his stock is to continue to produce on a successful team and not let his position define him.

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