This hits home for me. I can honestly say that I’ve never felt a closer connection to a star college athlete than with Virginia Tech’s Justin Robinson. We were one class apart, but he went to middle school right up the road and I was one of those guys that went to games. Then we overlapped for three years of college, during which I claimed to already be all-knowing about him. There was also never a player I felt more comfortable talking to following a game than Robinson — I even wrote a feature of sorts on him during his breakout junior season.
Although it’s unfortunate — and a bit surprising — that he was not drafted, the fact that he will get his first chance to play in the NBA with the Wizards is almost too good to be true. They loved him during the draft process. They hosted him for two workouts, and his performance in interviews was reportedly off the charts.
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) June 7, 2019
Even so, it seemed as if they had their chance to select him when they traded into the second round (No. 42), but they passed on selecting him, opting for Admiral Schofield, a wing player out of Tennessee.
Then it happened. As soon as the draft reached its conclusion, NBA guru Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that the former Hokie point guard had agreed to a multiyear deal with Washington, including significant guaranteed money. The northern Virginia kid would be returning home. Candace Buckner of The Washington Post quickly clarified that, at its core, it is a G-League contract.
Normally I’d stop after seeing that. In this case, however, I’m not sure that it matters. Interim general manager Tommy Sheppard went so far as to say that he will have a very good chance to play for the top squad. As it stands, the only true point guard on their roster is John Wall (in my view, Troy Brown Jr. is a wing player that can pass, not a point guard) and he’s still recovering from a torn Achilles he suffered midseason. They also have three contracts that are universally considered bad at this point — including Wall’s — that will keep them from spending money on top commodities at the position.
Robinson will still have to prove himself. Even though there’s a path to making the roster and receiving considerable playing time, he went undrafted for a reason. The Wizards could still bring in a couple solid veteran point guards on cheap contracts and force him to start out in the G-League. Then again, even if that happens, Washington was more than willing to exhaust the allowable NBA service time out of its two-way contracts last year, and Chris Chiozza (who wasn’t even on a two-way deal) received a 10-day contract, and eventually a full-year contract, from Houston. The opportunity for him to advance from the G-League quickly will be there.
The comparison I see and agree with is Fred VanVleet. Think about what that means before blowing it out of proportion, though. He essentially spent a year in what was at the time still the D-League and didn’t receive a massive volume of minutes until this season — he went from under eight as a rookie to 20 in year two, and then 27.5 this year. They have very similar traits and the path is clearer for Robinson, but that doesn’t mean he should instantly become a 30 minutes per game player and it may never happen at all. What this comparison truly refers to is traits (high motor, ability to shoot and defend, etc.) and the idea that they could translate to the league in some capacity at some point in time.
With all of that said, Robinson will have about as great an opportunity to prove himself as any undrafted player could ask for. Depending on how things play out, he may be able to do so alongside one of the best shooting guards in the NBA.
How much he would ever play alongside Bradley Beal is up in the air, because there is a lot of roster space to be filled and still no general manager from which to judge who the Wizards are aiming to acquire. Regardless, Beal should serve as a great mentor to his potential backcourt mate.
On top of that, Robinson appears to be everything the Wizards ever look for in a backup to Wall. They need a solid passer with either a high-motor or elite basketball IQ, and oftentimes short and overlooked or cast aside by the rest of the league. They seem to think Wall’s backup needs to mirror him in every way possible, and Robinson seems to check every single box — not to mention his shooting ability, which I can confidently say is better than Wall’s.
If Beal and Robinson were to receive minutes together, it would almost be a match made in heaven. In many respects, Robinson could serve Beal much in the same ways that Wall does — racing all over the court, drawing the defense’s attention, and feeding him an easy kickout three-point attempt, which is something he did a lot of in college. But it gets better.
The offense wouldn’t have to solely run through Robinson. Wall’s tendency to play isolation hero-ball at times often rendered Beal nearly useless. Beal also had an impressive year as a facilitator last year, so he could clearly shoulder some of the load, which could do a lot of good for Robinson’s development.
The Wizards have seemingly always been in search of someone (typically a wing player) who can knock down three-pointers. Robinson’s ability to do just that (he converted on 41.8 percent of them as a senior), especially when he doesn’t have to create them on his own, fits perfectly with Beal. They could feed each other the ball out to 25 feet and have it serve as an actual threat to defenses, which has never been the case with Wall.
Even if all of that comes to fruition, even if he became Washington’s top point guard—he would still have to pay his dues in the league. Don’t expect his stat line as a rookie to approach his collegiate totals. He’s a great fit for the Wizards, but he’d be a relatively low usage rate player.
But that’s just fine. This is just the type of adversity Robinson seems to thrive off of. He’s received his opportunity, and that’s all he could truly ask for. Now the ball is in his court.