Isaiah Livers Isn't Surprised By Duncan Robinson's Rise To NBA Stardom
Miami Heat forward and former Michigan Wolverines sharpshooter Duncan Robinson was the surprise of the NBA season, helping lead his team to the NBA Finals.
Robinson's path to the basketball's biggest stage was unconventional, originally starting out at Division-III power Williams College before transferring to Michigan and proving he belonged with the big boys.
If there were to be a redraft the 2018 NBA Draft, Robinson would likely be a lottery pick. But at the time, he wasn't selected at all, having to prove himself in the Summer League and the G-League before earning a shot in Miami.
Robinson finished the 2019-20 regular season shooting the deep ball at a 44.6 percent clip, a mark good enough for fourth in the entire league. As a starter for the fifth-seeded Heat, Robinson had a rollercoaster of a postseason, showing he's one of the game's best shooters in some games and disappearing at times in others.
He made a huge impact in the Finals, despite falling short in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers. Robinson averaged 12.5 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in the series, while shooting under his usual average from three-point range (34.2 percent). But his finest moment came in game five, when Miami needed a victory to stay alive. In the 111-108 triumph to keep the team's season going, the New Hampshire native went off for 26 points, shooting 7-for-13 from long range.
Perhaps the biggest proof that Robinson has transformed himself from being an intriguing shooter into a high-level player were the words of Heat superstar guard Jimmy Butler following the win.
"Duncan's Duncan," Butler said in a postgame interview on ABC. "Those are the games that we expect him to have. He's so confident; he's going to continually do it, and he's going to be the reason that we win the next one."
Butler wasn't surprised. In fact, he said that's what he expects out of Robinson. Those who played with him in Ann Arbor feel the same way.
"To see him do that in the playoffs, I’m sure guys who played with him or even knew him, knew what he was capable of," Michigan senior forward Isaiah Livers said on a Zoom call this week. "And when he was doing that, it was just like, ‘Dang, this looks like open gym Duncan.’ That’s what I had to guard my freshman year — all that running around and shooting over me. Coming from high school, you don’t play a lot of guys that do that. So it was just like, ‘Ah yeah Duncan’s in that mode. He’s trying to get a ring. He’s locked in.'"
Livers, who is determined to have a big season after injuries plagued him as a junior, was inspired watching his friend and former teammate show out in front of the basketball world.
"Seeing that mental build up that he had, that confidence, that’s just amazing to me," Livers said. "That means he’s really been working on his game, his shot, his mental, and it shows. Obviously you can see it."
Livers' freshman year (2017-18) was an interesting one for both he and Robinson, a fifth-year senior at the time. Halfway through the season, Robinson was relegated to a sixth-man role while Livers was inserted into the starting lineup in his place. The Wolverines won the Big Ten Tournament and ended up advancing all the way to the National Championship Game.
The two are still connected, Livers said, and the senior-freshman relationship is still there.
"Last year, I had a rough game," Livers began. "He reached out to me and said, ‘Hey man, next game. You already know, get back in the gym, watch that shot fall.’
"And turns out, I did that and next game I had an even better game. So it was just talking to him, obviously, it’s a sense of just positivity and wisdom. He’s been around for a while. Duncan’s getting up there, so he has some experience and knowledge to share with me, and I’m always welcome to hear it."
The encouragement is a two-way street. Livers will reach out to Robinson before and after games, to wish him luck or congratulate him, and to make sure he knows he's supporting.
"I’ve been texting him, cheering him on," Livers said. "I know he’s locked in. I told him he doesn’t even have to text me back, just know I’m here supporting."
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