I remember the moment when the Bulls signed Nate Robinson. I was casually checking Twitter on the way to the gym, saw that the Bulls had signed him, and kind of just chuckled to myself. Being the tail end of the offseason from hell, this last nail in the coffin (or so I thought at the time) just seemed funny to me. I had always loathed Nate from his time from the Knicks and Celtics, and pretty much just assumed he was terrible based on my limited viewing of his antics (shooting at the wrong basket anybody?). So why not cap off the dreadful offseason with a knucklehead who I've always despised?
Little did I know that Nate somewhat secretly had a nice season in Golden State last year. Upon perusing the numbers, I began to warm to the signing, but still certainly didn't expect much. Honestly, I really didn't know what to expect. And that's probably the way it should be, because you never know what the hell you're going to get when Nate is on the floor.
We're pretty used to bipolar play in this town, with the whole Good Rex, Bad Rex and Good Jay, Bad Jay thing going on in recent years with the Bears. So taking a ride on the Nate Robinson Roller Coaster is really nothing new, at least for those who do actually follow the Bears. And even if you don't, I'm sure you can think of some other example similar to this one.
Some nights, such as last night against the Mavericks (14 points on 5-of-6 shooting and six assists in 21 minutes), we get Good Nate. This Nate is aggressive without being stupid, breaking down defenders and creating good shots for himself and others. As one of the only, if not THE only, legitimate shot creators on the roster without Derrick Rose, the Bulls function MUCH better when Nate is playing this way.
But on other nights, we get the PUJIT taking, turnover prone, "What the hell are you doing out there?" Nate, AKA Bad Nate. This Nate fires up jumpers with reckless abandon and can't seem to hang on to the ball. This Nate has no regard for game management and just does whatever the heck he wants. This Nate often gets torched on the defensive end (although that happens a lot anyway no matter what). We've seen this Nate on several occasions this year, but the one game that really stands out to me was one where we actually saw Good Nate first, and that was the loss to the Rockets last week. After starting out strong in the fourth quarter, Nate decided that this game was his and his alone to win, only he lost it in horrific fashion. It all started with an ill-advised, heat check PUJIT, and spiraled downward from there.
It's this dichotomy in Nate's game that was the basis for a rather hilarious entry into Deadspin's "NBA Shit List" series by Barry Petchesky. The article, titled "Nate Robinson, The Tiny Exploding Cosmos" basically just examines Nate's ethos as a player. For example, after opening with the story about Robinson shooting at his own basket, we get this description:
This is the fundamental hurdle to "coaching" Nate Robinson, or rather lightly suggesting that whatever the thing he just did isn't something he should try to do again. He is medically incapable of picturing an unfavorable outcome for any of the possibilities racing through his mind like so many gerbils on Adderall. No-look pass to somewhere within a 10-foot radius of a wing who's not even paying attention? It'll work out somehow. Thirty-foot jumper with two men on him and 15 seconds left on the shot clock? That'll look so cool when it goes in. Nate believes in his precious little heart that he will make every shot he takes. And if he should happen to miss (which he does with horrible regularity), it's not his fault. Like for Vladimir and Estragon, there's nothing to be done. Mike D'Antoni's motto was wasted. Nate doesn't even grasp the concepts of terrible or stupid.
While a lot of this seems like bashing (obviously some of it is), Petchesky, a Knicks fan and first-hand observer of Nate's game, goes on to praise the guard for his work ethic and devotion to his craft. And it's hard not to appreciate it. The dude is 5-foot-9 and making an impact in the NBA. His athleticism obviously helps, but that only gets you so far.
The article then dives into the whole "irrational fan favorite" aspect, which is basically another way of saying people love seeing the underdog do well. And thanks to Nate's diminutive stature, he certainly looks the part of the underdog. The Bulls had Brian Scalabrine to play this role the last couple of seasons, as fans and Stacey King lost it any time Scal even sniffed the court. Nate is certainly a much better player than Scalabrine, and you know, he actually plays. But there's still hints of that extra excitement when Nate is being Nate, and I know Stacey eats that shit up (he calls him "Mr. Excitement" for God's sake).
The article closes with this summation of Nate:
The cosmology of Nate is vast; you get a glimpse of his potency in the occasional brief, destructive event, but you really don't appreciate the full effects unless you take the long view. Every night, every minute, every possession carries the possibility of an inexplicable decision that has fans pulling their hair out. But put it all together, and patterns emerge from the macroscopic Nate. They're not bad decisions; they're not decisions at all. He has no choice-there's the ball, there's the basket, everything else is just noise. It's the superstructure of a unique and maddening basketball universe, and Nate's so oversized, there's no room for anyone else.
After not even a month of riding the Nate Robinson Roller Coaster, I see where this is coming from. There have been times where Nate has carried the Bulls to victory, and others where I'm screaming expletives and wanting him punted to the bunch. The emotional swings can happen so quickly, you don't even know what hits you. And I think I've come to grips with that. It's just the way he is, although he's not quite as loose a cannon as he used to be. And when I really think about it, it's hard to get too mad at a guy who does actually provide some offense (11.5 points per game, 47 percent shooting, 36.6 from 3, 18.35 PER) and is playing on a freaking non-guaranteed contract.
Speaking of Nate's decision making, ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell did a cool little bit today on Robinson and his Air Jordan shoes. Before every game, Nate goes through his collection of approximately 80 Jordans and chooses which ones he wants to wear that night.
Nate also talked a little about how much of an "honor" it is to play in Chicago where legends like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen played before him, and also told a pretty humorous story about his first time meeting M-Jeff:
"I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to call him, Michael Jordan, Mr. Jordan, Mr. J, I didn't know what to say," Robinson said. "And my teammates at the time when I was with the Knicks -- Quentin Richardson and Jared Jeffries -- they were on my team they were sponsored my (the Jordan brand). They were like, 'Just go up to him, man. He's cool.' I'm like, 'It's not that easy man, this is the man right here!' When I met him he was cool, he knew who I was and everything."
Just Nate being Nate.