Despite being a lottery pick of the Clippers in the stacked 2018 NBA Draft, Jerome Robinson hasn’t received much publicity. From the start, he was overshadowed by fellow lottery pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, selected just two spots ahead of Robinson, but displaying much more immediate NBA skills and abilities. SGA went on to dazzle during his rookie season, demonstrating the potential for stardom while assisting the Clippers in their hunt for the playoffs. Robinson, meanwhile, languished on the bench, playing a mere 320 minutes throughout the season and rarely getting a chance to play outside of garbage time. When Robinson did play, he looked unready for action, hesitating on offense and appearing outmatched defensively. It was too early to call Jerome a bust, but skepticism continued to mount.
After an offseason of increased hype, Jerome came into season two with higher expectations. While the depth of the Clippers roster meant he wasn’t guaranteed minutes, with Shai gone, there was a much higher possibility he would enter the rotation at some point. He’d reportedly spent the summer bulking up and preparing for the season to come, and Clippers staffers talked him up quite a bit. Has he lived up to the hype?
There’s no question that Jerome looks more comfortable in his second season. He looks more fluid and confident on the court, handling the ball to a far greater extent and trying to make plays rather than shying away from the ball. With that increased ballhandling has come an increase in turnovers as well, but the Clippers will take those aggressive mistakes any day. Jerome has flashed really nice abilities in the pick and roll as a playmaker, dropping off nice dimes to cutters, big men, and shooters on the wing. He’s able to probe the defense with his handle and either make the pass or take the ball back out safely without coughing it up. He just looks better on offense this year.
The real improvement, however, has been defensively. Billed as a below-average defender coming out of Boston College, Robinson struggled on that end his rookie year, looking too weak to guard wings and too slow to pick up guards. In year two, with improved strength, Jerome has held his own better on opposing drives, refusing to get bullied out of the way. He’s also cut down on his fouls, jumping less on ball and shot fakes while still maintaining some defensive pressure. On the whole, he’s been a positive on the defense end this season, which would have been shocking to hear just a year ago. His lack of length and top-tier size means he’ll never be a true stopper, but if he’s even an average defensive player that changes his long-term outlook as an NBA Player.
One of the results of this is that Jerome Robinson has fared extremely well by on/off numbers. He’s fit in great with the Clippers potent second unit, offering some secondary ball-handling alongside Lou Williams while providing spacing for the Lou-Trez pick and roll. In fact, looking at the NBA.com lineup data, he’s improved those bench lineups significantly. Now, this is all a small sample size, certainly, and Robinson has played alongside already strong units for much of the season. But it’s still notable a sign of how he’s impacting the game more positively this year.
One of the oddest things this season for the Clippers is that Jerome Robinson, not Kawhi Leonard, leads the team in Total Net Rating (+11.2). Team has a 97.0 DRtg with Robinson on the floor. 192 of Robinson's 205 minutes have come without Leonard.— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) December 4, 2019
There is, however, a downside. Namely, while everything else has ticked up, Jerome has not stepped forward in his primary function as a scorer and shooter. He’s scoring fewer points per 100 possessions than he did last year, and is doing so on far worse efficiency. The three-point shot, in extremely limited evidence, has improved, but is still below average. Worse, Robinson has struggled mightily around the basket, shooting a mere 50% from up close and an atrocious 22.2% from 3-10 feet. The eye test bears this out: Jerome just doesn’t appear to have the explosion or burst to finish strong through traffic at the NBA level. For someone whose strength in the draft process and college was scoring, that’s disappointing, especially since the shooting has been mediocre as well. The most worrying aspect is that the struggles around the basket seem more a fundamental limitation of Jerome’s game than a workable fix he can overcome, and that puts a real damper on his ceiling.
For all the improvements Jerome has made this season, and they’ve been both real and significant, his poor shooting is holding him back. A scoring guard off the bench is not very valuable if they’re not scoring well, and Jerome has not been a strong scorer in his short NBA career thus far. Lots can change, as demonstrated by Jerome’s leap in other areas this season. Unfortunately, the Clippers need results now, and with Landry Shamet and Rodney McGruder returning soon, Jerome just hasn’t shown that he can be trusted to space the floor or consistently score the ball enough to remain a real part of the Clippers rotation. It’s been a promising second season, to be sure, but sooner or later Jerome will need to hit shots. It’s just that simple. If he can just get that shooting up to near 40% from deep, and maintain all the other qualities he’s demonstrated this year, he should be a nice rotation player for the Clippers going forward.