Four-year point guard James Robinson has been much maligned this year. But down the stretch, the Pitt senior is turning it up a level and arguably playing the best basketball of his career as head coach Jamie Dixon said after the Duke game on Sunday.
Robinson is averaging a modest 10.3 points per game this season and has been a frequent target for criticism that he needs to score more. He must have heard those complaints loud and clear because lately he's become more of an offensive force. He had his only 20-point game this season in a 22-point effort in a double overtime win against Wake Forest - a game the Panthers couldn't afford to lose. Over the past five games, he has upped his average to 15.2 points a contest.
Now, while Robinson isn't exactly Steph Curry out there, the Pitt guard is at least making more of his shots. He's only at 38% on the season but in the past four games is up over 45%. That's a much more manageable number and makes it less difficult to avoid cringing when he hoists up a jump shot. He's more consistent and even getting to the basket.
The good news is that his offense has gotten better without any sacrifice to his renowned assist-to-turnover margin. In fact, over the last four games, he is actually averaging more assists (6.0) than his season average (5.2) while turning the ball over less (1.0 turnover per game over the last four to his 1.1 season average). It's pretty remarkable that Robinson has been able to shoulder more of an offensive load while slightly improving upon an already stellar assist-to-turnover margin.
In addition, he's also been nearly perfect from the free throw line over that stretch, making 15 of his 17 attempts. His 88% conversion rate there is significantly higher than his 77% season average.
Robinson has been clutch, too. A better example of that can't be found than in his effort against the Demon Deacons in that aforementioned game. He connected on a three-point shot to send the game into overtime, made a key steal and free throw near the end of that overtime to send it to a second overtime, then made five free throws in the final thirty seconds of the final overtime to help win it. With his help, Pitt avoided the loss they couldn't afford and Robinson nearly had a triple double, with 22 points, ten rebounds, and nine assists.
Overall, he just seems to be playing with a ton of confidence. There was a play in the Duke game where he completely shook a defender off the dribble and while it didn't immediately result in a basket, it was a show of extreme athleticism - something we rarely have seen from him. He was loose out there and playing well. After the game, Coach K gave him a supreme compliment, saying he was "a great representative to the program, the city, everything."
Robinson isn't perfect, of course. He still plays pretty suspect defense and probably still takes too many three-pointers. His career is winding down and he's not going to turn into an absolute superstar overnight. Those things aren't likely to change the rest of the way. But over the last several games when Pitt's season has been on the line, he's stepped up big time. Robinson hasn't been the sole reason the Panthers' season has a better outlook, but over the past several games, his role as a team leader can't be questioned.
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