How Heat's Orlando Robinson is showing he can play next to Bam Adebayo: 'That's my goal'

Orlando Robinson has impressed as the Miami Heat's fill-in starting center with Bam Adebayo sidelined with a hip contusion.

Dec 6, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Miami Heat center Orlando Robinson (25) tries to around Toronto
Dec 6, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Miami Heat center Orlando Robinson (25) tries to around Toronto / John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
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Orlando Robinson has played well as Bam Adebayo’s replacement in the starting lineup, but his flashes suggest that one day he might be able to play alongside Adebayo instead.

Starting in place of Adebayo, who will miss his fourth straight game with a left hip contusion Monday night in Charlotte, Robinson has averaged 12 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.7 blocks in those starts. The 23-year-old recorded his first career double-double against the Raptors Wednesday and has made six of his seven 3-point attempts this season.

That last part – plus where he specializes defensively – is why Robinson could theoretically play next to Adebayo in the frontcourt.

Robinson has been projected as a potential floor-spacing center since his days at Fresno State, where he made 37 of 105 3-point attempts (35.2%) as a junior. He went undrafted in 2022 in part because of his perceived lack of athleticism, but he’s found a way to make an impact in Miami.

Robinson started the season behind Thomas Bryant on the depth chart and played in just four of Miami’s first 18 games before stepping in for Adebayo.

“He makes you absolutely respect his fortitude and his grit,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He is relentless with his work, with his approach, with his commitment to earn trust from everybody and he does it with a competitive spirit. He gets better each month. He goes to school on everything. If he makes a mistake in any kind of game, he gets to work with the film … and then he wants to drill it 10,000 times, which is what we love.”

Robinson, listed at 7 feet, 235 pounds, adds much-needed size to Miami’s frontcourt. His offensive rebounding rate (which measures the percentage of available rebounds a player gets) of 8.5% leads the team and opponents are shooting 7.6% less than their average when Robinson defends them within 6 feet of the basket.

But it’s the 3-point shooting that could lead to the most interesting opportunities.

From Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard to Kevin Love, the Heat have liked to have a big man who can space the floor available to play alongside Adebayo. They experimented with Omer Yurtseven before Yurtseven missed most of last season with an ankle injury, but Robinson could be the latest development project that pays off.

Robinson at media day told the Locked On Heat podcast that his goal is to play next to Adebayo.

“If we play big, then if Bam shoots on the other side then I go rebound,” Robinson said in October. “Then that’s what you have to deal with because I’m gonna space the floor and I’m gonna rebound. So that’s my goal, that’s what I want to do.”

Robinson was the fulcrum of his college offense but, since joining the Heat, he has improved as a screener and shooter so that he can make more of an impact when the ball isn't in his hands.

“My confidence is growing in playing off the ball,” Robinson told the Miami Herald this week. “Last year, I was trying to figure it out. But now I kind of understand the role more and understand how I can impact the game in different ways offensively. … I’m trying to impact the game, whether it be cuts, spacing the floor, just all kinds of things.”

Against the Cavaliers Friday, Robinson flashed his passing abilities with three assists. In the second quarter, he advanced the ball after a rebound and found a cutting Caleb Martin for an easy score. On the next possession, he blocked Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen at the basket and pushed a break that led to a corner 3. 

These flashes underscore Robinson’s burgeoning skillset and what is possible in the future. Having a 7-footer who can protect the rim in drop coverage and rebound would free up Adebayo to make more of a defensive impact as a help defender – like former defensive players of the year Jaren Jackson Jr. and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Offensively, a big man who can space the floor, pass and screen is a natural fit with Adebayo.

It’s too early to start planning two-big lineups featuring Robinson and Adebayo. Robinson needs to show he can consistently hit those 3s with a larger sample, and finding playing time for him when this roster is healthy won’t be easy.

But Robinson is under contract for next season, too. There’s no need to rush this process. For now, he can continue to learn from Adebayo, Love and the Heat’s coaching staff, and focus on making an impact when his number is called.

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