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Glenn Robinson III Off to Much Better Start With Pacers

Charlie Nye/The Star

During the Indiana Pacers’ busy offseason, the signing of Glenn Robinson III was both one of their last and quietest transactions.

The second-year forward went unsigned for most of the summer following an unexceptional rookie year, when he split his time between two of the league’s losingest franchises, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Philadelphia 76ers, neither of whom decided the young player fit their rebuilding plans.

With Indiana undergoing a serious strategic transformation and an end-of-roster reconstruction to go with it, the Pacers were looking for players who could suit their sleek new plans and unafraid to take on prospects. With a big wingspan, big hops, but an underdeveloped skill set, Robinson potentially fit both descriptions, and team president Larry Bird was apparently already a big fan of his, so the team inked Robinson to a three-year contract.

So far during the preason, Robinson played much better than the average offseason afterthought. He’s scored double digits in each of the team’s four games and shot the ball well at 54 percent from three and 55 percent overall. Coach Frank Vogel even gave Robinson a starting spot last week when injuries kept out George Hill and Chase Budinger against the Orlando Magic. So far, he’s made a very good impression.

It’s still the preseason, though, so there’s a long way to go before GR3 permanently takes a spot in Vogel’s rotation. Unlike in recent seasons, the Pacers are as deep on the wing as they’ve been in a long time, and between the shooting-guard, small-forward and power-forward positions, there are six guys expected to see time at one or more of those spots: Monta Ellis, Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles, Chase Budinger, Paul George and Jordan Hill. With only 144 minutes per game available at those spots, there’s barely enough to go around in that group.

It certainly doesn’t leave a ton of room for Robinson, and he’ll be in direct competition with Solomon Hill, Indiana’s 2013 first-round pick, for whatever minutes remain on the wing. Hill regressed since the beginning of last season despite being leading the team in minutes, and he looked historically bad playing in this year’s Orlando Summer League despite approaching his third season in the league. It’s still too early to write Hill off entirely, but other than his above-average defense, he brings very little to the table.

Robinson is similarly sized, more athletic and costs less than Hill’s first-round price tag. All of those factors, especially the latter, will be weighing in GR3’s favor as the pair compete for the chance to be “next up” in the wing rotation. While he still has a ways to go in order to match Hill’s activity level on the defensive end, Robinson has shot the three-pointer well enough during preseason that he’ll make it hard not to choose him over the hapless Hill, even if he can just keep up a league-average clip from deep.

This is an important developmental showdown for the Pacers, who will be relying heavily on George, Miles and Budinger as its main big wings. So far during the preseason, George and Miles have mixed and matched who guards opposing 4s on defense so as to maximize George’s skill on that end as well as minimize the impact on his body.

However, sharing the load means it’s going to take a toll on all three players, and while George is returning from his infamous leg injury, neither Miles nor Budinger have recently been pictures of health either. Should any of them get hurt, Indiana’s going to need another versatile wing to step in as a rotation cog, someone who can handle both the diverse intellectual and physical challenges of maintaining fluid responsibilities between two positions.

The safe money is on Hill to be the next man up for now, but he doesn’t have a ton going for him, and based on Robinson’s play so far, it seems like he’ll definitely have opportunities to fill that role instead. Vogel has already committed to giving rookies Myles Turner and Joe Young consistent minutes in the rotation –– perhaps GR3 could eventually be regarded similarly, if not the same.

While he’s already proven to have more upside, he’s still raw, so he must prove that he can be steady and dependable in that role. Considering certain future strain that the Pacers’ new style will take on its wings, as well as their injury history, that bench spot could be a key point of depth for Indiana this season.

If Robinson could fill that gap –– be it this season or even in the next couple –– it’d be one of those late-summer signing coups whose value far outweighs both the cost and the fanfare of the initial transaction.

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