Orlando Robinson making an early case for role on Miami Heat next season

Jun 4, 2023; Denver, CO, USA; Miami Heat center Orlando Robinson (25) warms up before game two against the Denver Nuggets in the 2023 NBA Finals at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 4, 2023; Denver, CO, USA; Miami Heat center Orlando Robinson (25) warms up before game two against the Denver Nuggets in the 2023 NBA Finals at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

This time last year, the Miami Heat began experimenting with Omer Yurtseven as a frontcourt partner with Bam Adebayo. Yurtseven, at Summer League in Las Vegas, impressed coaches with his rebounding and shooting touch, and the Heat started diagraming how they could play the 7-footer next to Adebayo in the regular season.

Unfortunately, that never happened after a bone spur discovered in the preseason prematurely ended Yurtseven’s season. Now the Heat could try again with someone new. Orlando Robinson, who joined the team in Las Vegas last summer and then on a two-way contract during the season, is one of the standouts on the Heat’s current Summer League team. Robinson finished Miami’s Summer League win over the Boston Celtics at Cox Pavilion on Saturday with 36 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocks.

Most encouraging is Robinson’s development from 3-point range. The 23-year-old listed at 6-foot-10, 235 pounds, made three of his four 3-point attempts against the Celtics. He’s now 5 of 8 from distance in his first three Summer League games. It’s a skill Robinson has been working at, knowing it could help get him on the court.

“I’ve always tried to expand it because that’s kind of where the game is going now,” Robinson said. “In today’s game, the bigs are able to stretch the floor and space the floor. It’s always been in my game, so just trying to perfect it is something I’ve been focusing on for a long time now.”

The Heat signed Robinson last year after he went undrafted out of Fresno State, where he shot 35.2% on 3s in his final college season. He didn’t get much of a chance to flash his outside shot in his firs NBA season, but carved out some regular-season minutes with his solid defense, rebounding and physicality.

But Robinson hopes to make the 3-point shot a consistent part of his game, like it was in college, where he attempted 202 3s in three seasons. Since the offseason began, Robinson estimates he takes around 500 practice 3-pointers on most days and tries to make 80% of them each time. He’s made changes to his shooting form, keeping his arm closer to his body and adjusting his release to get more arc on the ball.

If Robinson can prove the 3-point shot can be a reliable part of his game, Heat coaches could try to find ways to get him on the court with Adebayo in two-big lineups the way they had been planning to do with Yurtseven. (Coach Erik Spoelstra was in attendance for Robinson’s 36-point outburst at Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus.)

“He’s identifying how he’s going to be on the floor with the main team,”  summer league head coach Caron Butler said. “We need size and help with the rebounding and things like that. If Orlando can be a spacer — we explored that last year with Omer — he’s like, ‘Alright, that’s something that I can add to my game and help.'”

Offensively, Adebayo is comfortable in the middle of the court facilitating from the nail or rolling to the basket. The Heat, from Kelly Olynyk, Meyers Leonard, PJ Tucker and Kevin Love, have always preferred to pair him with a big man who can shoot. Behind the scenes in training camp last year, the Heat worked on sets with Adebayo and Yurtseven sharing the floor. When one big man got the ball, the other was instructed to flash to the corner or above the break in order to create space. It’s not a coincidence that Robinson is most comfortable shooting from those spots.

“I know if I’m going to space the floor, most of the areas are going to be in the corner or at the top,” Robinson said. “If the big helps from the base line and I’m in the corner and I can shoot that three effectively, then I’ll be able to help impact the game that way.”

Love, who re-signed with the Heat last week, is the current projected starter next to Adebayo. Robinson could see some minutes, especially early in the season when Spoelstra is experimenting with his rotation.

But Robinson is also in play to be Adebayo’s backup. The Heat signed Thomas Bryant as a free agent, but Bryant will be playing for his fifth team in his seven NBA seasons. He has struggled to latch on because of his deficiencies as a defender, and Spoelstra has little patience for playing sub-par defenders at the center position. Bryant will have to prove he can take a step on that end to keep a spot in the rotation.

Meanwhile, the Heat want to give Robinson a chance. There’s a reason they promoted him from his two-way spot to the 15-man roster even before Summer League. Only $75,000 of his $1.8 million for next season is guaranteed, with his full salary becoming guaranteed if he’s still on the roster on Jan. 10. Miami knows the work he’s put in and believe he deserves a shot at regular rotation minutes.

Robinson will have an opportunity to compete for the backup center job and, if his early Summer League performance is any indication, it will be a real competition.

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