Bricktown Beat

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl sources a seamless fit within Mark Daigneault’s system

Photo Credits: Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

When the Oklahoma City Thunder hit the podium for draft season, all those watching expected them to make some major moves. With 17 first-round picks and 17 second-round picks outstretched until 2027, the franchise consolidating selections looked to be inevitable. That inevitability came into fruition come draft day, however, the gift came in a strange package.

Oklahoma City had been rumored to be in the hunt for glitzy and glamorous selections in the draft. Picks one through five, seen as novelties in the class, looked to be obtainable through Presti’s eye — but the deals never came. The Thunder opted to select guard Josh Giddey sixth overall, and at Pick. No 16, they chose to trade out of the slot. Come the second round, the Thunder walked away with as many future firsts (2) as they drafted, and something had to change. And that it did.

As the opening stages of the second-round arose, the board budded with talent. Names in JT Thor, Sharife Cooper, and many more were available, even to their 34th pick, but Presti pulled the trigger. In a move that dazed many, the Thunder consolidated selections 34 and 36 to move up two slots — the pick — Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl entered the Thunder ranks as a quality, though low profile, second-round selection, but through an impressive Summer League and a decorative set of skills, the forward sourced a seamless fit within Mark Daigneault’s system.

Here’s the breakdown:

Playmaking Ability

When you break down the recent lineage of Thunder draft picks, one thing shines through — playmaking ability. 

The intentions have been clear from the get-go, whether it’s Aleksej Pokusevski, Theo Maledon, Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, or even Vit Krejci, the Thunder have come to cherish playmaking savants. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl happens to be one of them.

Initially, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl wasn’t expected to make a facilitating presence, and quite frankly, his touches may be futile in that department. However, the 20-year-old’s sound passing-play slips him right into the current alignment.

Robinson-Earl had been a mainstay for Villanova through his combination of scoring ability and presence around the glass, but he did have a sneaky passing game (2.1 career AST) that has worked while at the next level.

Robinson-Earl made his presence known for the Thunder’s Summer League roster averaging a team-high 12.0 points and 7.4 rebounds, but he also tacked on 1.8 assists. Across those 1.8 assists, Robinson-Earl flashed a bit of everything, kick-outs, dump-offs, and more, he had it in his bag. 

The major breakthrough in Robinson-Earl’s passing ability was untapped in the final patch of Summer-League contests as the forward became a fastbreak aficionado, even dialing up an on-the-money bounce pass to a slashing Aaron Wiggins.

Expanding into the playmaking department as a whole, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl’s ability to operate in both halfcourt and fastbreak settings has paved the way for even more potential in the passing department. Though a frontcourt figure, Robinson-Earl is fully capable of taking the ball coast-to-coast off a rebound, making an outlet pass, or dialing up a read once past the timeline.

If your current bar sets Robinson-Earl to a standard of no-looks, alley-oops, and cross-court passes, you will be sadly mistaken. However, the 20-year-old’s mature outlook on the game reflects in his passing ability meaning things may not be flashy, but they’ll yield the proper results.

Pick-and-Pop Prowess

Under Mark Daigneault’s system, orchestrating the offense through screens has become a staple. Plus, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, last season’s league leader in drives (25.3 DPG), the need for versatile screen setters is at an all-time premium. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl should fit the bill.  

Robinson-Earl had a less than impressive three-point game at Villanova in surfacing a 30.1 percent hit rate across his two seasons, but the forward showed extreme levels of reliability while in Las Vegas.

For the Thunder’s Summer League team, Robinson-Earl converted on 33.3 percent of threes on 3.6 tries a night. In regards to the shot distribution — almost all his trifectas came off of screens, or at the bare minimum, catch-and-shoot plays. The capability to shoot confidently from distance is major while working in the frontcourt, and in splitting time with Oklahoma City’s drive-heavy guards, he’ll be getting touches.

In Vegas, defenders opted to hedge or switch off of Robinson-Earl high-ball screens, leaving guards such as Tre Mann and Theo Maledon an easy kickout to the forward. Robinson-Earl’s silky smooth release shed zero signs of weakness across his five games. Instead, he gradually improved.

Robinson-Earl’s role popping off of screens placed him in close proximity to the top of the key almost every opportunity in the first few games, but the 20-year-old also carved out a role working on mid-range jumpers. This small additive to Robinson-Earl’s game amplified his teammates tenfold allowing for even non-ball-handlers such as Aaron Wiggins’ weight in working out of the pick-and-roll.

To conclude Robinson-Earl’s profile in setting screens, the 6-foot-8 forward has a sturdy palette when slashing inside. Similar to his playmaking ability, Robinson-Earl is not one to make highlight plays, to the tune of posterizers, but he is well equipped. Robinson-Earl has a surprising kick of speed which, in Summer League, allowed him to blaze past his defenders. On the other end of the spectrum, Robinson-Earl carries a bundle of upper-body strength in his 230-pound frame, making him one to absorb contact down low as opposed to step down from the pressure.

For a solid comparison, look no further than fellow teammate Isaiah Roby when inspecting his screen-setting play. He’ll confidently pop out and shoot, but slashing inside will always be in the equation. Add him to the collection of swiss-army knives.

Positional Versatility

Top to bottom, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s roster have put a halt to traditional lineups — effective immediately. Starting last season, the Thunder entered the season with one traditional center at hand, Al Horford. Once Big Al had been put to the side, Oklahoma City was chomping at the bit for transformative bigs. In the team’s push at replacements, players such as Isaiah Roby absorbed minutes, and with Horford absent, Roby garnered time in the starting unit. 

Entering this past offseason, Oklahoma City’s roster had been even more depleted, to the point of carrying zero centers. Former bigs in Al Horford, Moses Brown, and Tony Bradley had all put in their reservations, and outside of Mike Muscala, there was no true five on the roster. Thunder GM Sam Presti netted Bricktown a big veteran Derrick Favors over the summer, but the frontcourt disparity was still evident. 

Fast forward to the present-day, the Thunder’s need for big man help is apparent. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl provides an extra safety blanket. 

Robinson-Earl served his time at Villanova primarily at the forward spots, however, the forward held up in his spotting minutes at the five — and thus far in the pros, his game still holds up.

In all five of Robinson-Earl’s appearances in Vegas, the forward played strictly at the small-ball five, defending players three-plus inches taller than him. He hardly shed any signs of weakness. Utilizing his 6-foot-9 frame and 6-foot-10 wingspan, Robinson-Earl kept grounded on the interior to shut down post plays, and even swoop in on the glass — leading the Thunder with 7.4 rebounds. 

As a byproduct of Robinson-Earl’s shift in role, the 20-year-old, as aforementioned, blossomed while operating as a screen setter. When Robinson-Earl popped outside, defenders often sagged on him, however, when Robinson-Earl sliced inside, his opposition gave up a couple of steps — leading to some easy layups.

On the other side of the token, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl also caught some reps playing in his forward positions, but also playing out on the perimeter. In one of Robinson-Earl’s Kodak moments, the forward shut down No. 1 Pick Cade Cunningham as the guard attempted to turn the corner. In other deposits of highlights, Robinson-Earl also flashed some nimble feet sneaking in for a chasedown pin block. 

As a result of Robinson-Earl stepping up to the positional plate, the 20-year-old has cemented himself as another interchangeable part within Mark Daigneault’s system, making him a likely option at either forward spot, or playing stints at the five. 

Expectations:

Though promising, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl will likely cling to a bench role for the grander portion of his rookie season. The 20-year-old’s decorative play across the board should make him yet another interchangeable part in the rotation. 

As for statlines, Robinson-Earl could very well project into what he was with Villanova — an all-around contributor who won’t dazzle you with one given strength but blow you away with his wide array of skills. 

His overall build makes him a prime recipient to an Isaiah Roby-Esque role from last season — a primary forward, who when frontcourt injuries emerge, transfigures into a go-to option at the center spot.

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