Point guard James Robinson has been a pretty indispensable player to the Panthers. The idea that he is a bad player is pretty far off in my estimation. Without him running the offense, we've seen the team struggle with turnovers during his tenure. Really, that's part of the reason Jamie Dixon has used him so much. There's no question to his value in the ability to run the offense while keeping turnovers down, and he has even made clutch shots at the end of games.
Still, if we're looking at Robinson's value as a scorer, it's safe to say that it's fairly low.
Finishing his third consecutive season as the Panthers' point guard, Robinson has continued to find shooting a difficult proposition. This year, he is dead last on the team (among scholarship players) in field goal efficiency, making only 37.5% of his baskets. That's slightly ahead of the 36.8% he shot as a true freshman, but a significant step backward from the 40% he made last year. At the end of last season, I figured Robinson was turning the corner. But the fact is that he's not really any better than he was when he stepped on campus three years ago in terms of purely shooting the ball.
To be fair, Robinson is a good free throw shooter (Pitt's best one, actually), knocking down 83% of his shots there. He also has stepped up late in games and made shots on occasion. But overall, Robinson has been a problem child of sorts.
A big issue I've had with his offensive game is also the approach he's taken on shots beyond the arc. Making only 30% of his three-point shots this season hasn't stopped Robinson from, well, taking more. Robinson took 89 of them this year, averaging almost three per game. The fact that he plays 34 minutes per game notwithstanding, that's simply too many for someone making so few. His decision-making, in that respect, has been poor.
The problem for Pitt is that defenders are often more than willing to leave him open out there and for guards to turn down wide open attempts seems illogical. Asking a guard to turn down a wide open opportunity is like asking me to turn down a Shamrock Shake. However, with such a low rate of success (combined with Pitt's rebounding problems this year and a decreased chance of pulling down an offensive board), those misses are really more like turnovers to some degree.
Turning down those shots might seem like a bad thing to do, but it isn't exactly unheard of, either. Consider this:
Cameron Wright is often crucified for his woeful three-point shooting. But one thing Wright does is not take many of those shots. Despite being a bad long-range shooter, Wright is actually a reasonably efficient scorer because he takes close range shots and drives to the basket. Altogether, he is shooting 45% from the field - significantly better than backcourt mates Robinson and Josh Newkirk. Despite being a shooting guard, only 8.8% of Wright's shots have been three-point attempts.
Now, contrast that with Robinson, who takes a whopping 37% of his shots from beyond the arc. For a 30% shooter back there, that's borderline insanity. And here's the crazy thing - Robinson actually continues to take a higher percentage of his shots from three-point range the deeper into his career. As a freshman, he shot 28% of his attempts from behind the three-point line. Last year, that number rose to 34% before the spike to 37% this season. Even though he is fully aware of his limitations, he's been unable to help himself in jacking up ill-advised shots. He did make more of them last year (34%), but overall, remains a very unreliable long-range threat.
Robinson does a fine job running Pitt's offense and I don't doubt that he has been a solid contributor. I've stuck up for him more often than not when it comes to that and to suggest he doesn't have value is inaccurate. But while the temptation may be there to do more offensively as an upperclassman, Robinson needs to scale back in that regard and focus on doing what he does best - putting other guys in position to score.