What Glenn Robinson III’s Return Means for the Pacers

Glenn Robinson III is back in Indiana, with two games under his belt since returning from injury.

He has posted a workmanlike 6-of-12 shooting, scoring 14 points, grabbing three rebounds, dishing four assists, grabbing a steal, and committing a turnover in 40 minutes. He hasn’t made a three-pointer yet, but he’s a career 37 percent shooter from out there, 38.2 if you discount his rookie year and focus only on his two-plus years with the Pacers.

He also plays the same position as Bojan Bogdanovic, and that means that controversy is imminent as coach Nate McMillan decides who’s going to be the starter down the stretch and in the playoffs.

If we operate on the assumption that Robinson’s good for the same production once he gets going as he was good for last year, that’s a guy who in 69 games and 27 starts put up a .467/.392/.711 shooting line, scored 10.6 points and grabbed 6.2 boards per 36 minutes, and played adequate but not great defense, all while posting a downright lousy 11.5 PER.

Oh, and he won the dunk contest, so that’s got to count for something.

Bogdanovic, meanwhile, after a white-hot start, has regressed down to a .471/.384/.852 shooting line, scoring 16.1 points and grabbing 3.9 rebounds per 36 minutes, playing downright rotten defense, and posting a below-league-average 13.4 PER, all while coming back to life in February to the tune of 51.1 percent from the field and 45.2 from three (those numbers were 40.8 and 31.5 in December and 43.2/29.3 in January.)

So Bogie’s caught fire again, and it seems a fool’s errand to relegate him to the bench.

And Robinson? Well, the fact remains he’s 24 years old, is still growing into his role and his skillset, and has improved every year in the first three seasons of his career.

Plus, there’s this curiosity about Bogdanovic. When he was a starter in Brooklyn, he was terrible. When he was a reserve with the Wizards, he feasted on other teams’ second units.

Nowhere is that more evident than last year; starting in Brooklyn, he hit 43.7 percent of his shots, 35.2 percent of his threes, and posted an offensive/defensive rating split of 104/115.

Off the bench in Washington, his shooting improved to 46.5 percent from the field and 40.2 from three, he posted a rating split of 113/117, and he even hit 92.9 percent of his free throws, showing more poise at the line.

His True Shooting? .565 as a starter. .630 as a reserve.

There’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t similarly excel as bench scoring help in Indiana, but he is otherwise not objectively worse than Robinson to the point where it wouldn’t be a blow to Bogdanovic’s ego to relegate him to a bench role after he’s been the starter all season long.

The Pacers, if they were a baseball team, would be a team of platoon players; consider Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, who we discussed in this space just last month (https://paceandspacehoops.com/should-myles-turner-be-indianas-sixth-man/).

Indiana has a bona fide superstar (Victor Oladipo), two clear starting options (Thaddeus Young and, when he’s healthy, Darren Collison), and two giant question marks (the question of who’s going to start at small forward and center.)

We know Robinson is Indiana’s small forward of the future, and that he won’t be Bogdanovic’s understudy forever.

But Indiana played 58 games without him and went 33-25. A guy who’s never posted a PER above 11.5 in his career can’t just step in and magically replace a guy whose February was more like his November without upsetting the delicate chemistry the Pacers have built up.

So we’ll probably see Robinson on the bench, where we’ll need to keep a careful eye on his stats, especially his Big Four advanced stats, just in case the guy in front of him loses that touch on his shot again.

Bottom line, Robinson should be the starter…but not now.