KnickerBlogger: New Yorkers absolutely loved Nate Robinson when he first came to the Knicks. Coming out of the University of Washington, Robinson was a lilliputian guard with colossal physical abilities. Last year Robinson did what you’d expect from an undersized shooting guard. He led all Knick guards in eFG% (51.3%) and 3P% (39.0%) and showed despite his short stature he could get to the line (TS% 55.2%, second among Knick guards). Due to his efficient scoring ability, Robinson was second on the team in points per 40 minutes (19.0 pts/40) only behind Eddy Curry. Not just a one dimensional scorer, among Knick guards Robinson was the best in respect to offensive rebounds (1.6 OREB/40) and turnovers (2.1 TO/40), and second best in respect to steals (1.5 STL/40). Yet despite all that, Robinson is no longer a fan favorite. So what happened?
Simply put, Nate Robinson is his own worst enemy. Along with his diminutive stature and his youthful enthusiasm, Robinson comes with a childlike temperament. There’s a fine line between having a zest for the game and acting like a grade schooler. Robinson not only crosses that line, he lives on it. Less than one month into the season, Nate attempted an in game alley-oop dunk on a fast break, only to be called for traveling on the play. Throwing away points on a losing team for the sake of showboating is among the game’s cardinal sins.
Robinson exacerbated his image problem by perpetually arguing with officials. It’s annoying when a marquee player like Tim Duncan disputes every call, but it’s downright unbearable when a bench guy like Robinson does it. Unfortunately, Nate gave himself plenty of opportunities to argue with officials as his foul rate (4.7 PF/40) was equal to Marbury (2.7 PF/40) and Crawford’s (2.1 PF/40) combined.
Robinson’s immaturity causes his actions to be viewed by the public through tinted glasses. Take for instance Nate’s role in the Denver melee. In the past plenty of Knicks have improved their public image through fisticuffs. Fighting improved Starks, Childs, and L.J.’s popularity among Knick fans. Although Nate was an instigator in the event, it’s hard to believe that a player with a calmer outward demeanor like Eddy Curry would have been seen in the same light. Had Curry been involved, the local airwaves would be talking about his moxie and willingness to defend his teammate. But Robinson was vilified for his role. It’s ironic considering a few years ago, Knicknation was up in arms when no one came to the rescue of Tim Thomas after Jason Collins slammed him to the floor.
To be fair, Nate’s negatives aren’t all in his head. His defense is suspect, and his assist rate is minuscule for a guard. While 82games.com says the Knicks are 2.4 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Robinson on the floor, opposing PGs are better than average (16.3 oPER) when Nate guards them. To the eye Robinson struggles mightily against the pick & roll, and other than the steals he doesn’t do anything particularly well on defense. I would rate him a mediocre to average defender.
Most people expect Robinson to be a point guard due to his height, but he’s really more of a shooting guard. Even accounting for that, his assist rate is subpar. As I said earlier, the Knick offense allows all the guards to play the point interchangeably. But it seems that Robinson isn’t sharing enough with his teammates. To put things in perspective, his 2.7 AST/40 is about the same as David Lee’s 2.4 AST/40 who rarely touches the ball. Nate does have the ability to make the spectacular play, and can pass the ball on his drives. It just that he desires to take the shot instead of making the pass. Normally you wouldn’t mind that from a guard that shoots as efficiently as Robinson. But then again Robinson suffers from his poor image, one that being a greedy guard certainly fits in with. In a way, for Nate Robinson hell is other people.
KnickerBlogger’s Grade: C, due to bad behavior.
2008 Outlook: With Nate Robinson entering his third season, it’s time to evaluate whether his poor decision making in the past was just youthful exuberance, or if it will continue to be a Rasheed Wallace like permanent petulance. I don’t expect Nate Robinson to turn into John Stockton, because he’s such an excitable person. What I would like to see is for Nate to take his job a little more seriously.
Robinson played 21.4 min/g under Larry Brown, and 21.2 min/g under Isiah Thomas. It seems that two coaches, who had very different views & philosophies, saw Robinson in the same light. If Nate wants to shed his role as spark off the bench, he’ll need to shed his image as a circus act crammed into a basketball uniform. It’ll be interesting to see how Nate plays in the preseason. I can envision Isiah giving Robinson more minutes due to his strong summer showing. If Nate can continue his productive ways, it could mean more playing time when the season starts. That would be a good thing, since the Knicks are paper thin at shooting guard, and they could use Robinson’s production.
In many ways KB’s take on Robinson has been by far the most “fair and balanced” (pardon the regrettable and unintended pun) I’ve read. I agree with his take on Robinson in total, but I also wish to offer a complementary perspective that’s less about Robinson’s performance than Robinson as a character in the theater that is professional sports. It’s easy to forget that sports is more than the simple pursuit of competitive dominance since that is precisely what the regular visitors to this blog come to read about and discuss. But, pro sports is also improv theater and all good theater (or “good copy,” to use the parlance of journalists) needs “heroes,” “bad boys,” and “villains.” As the great fat sage, Charles Barkley, is purported to have once said, “They can love you or they can hate you. Both sell tickets.”
Robinson, through a combination of his own immaturity as well as the fickle nature of media and fans, has gone from being a precocious but impish bad boy to something of a villain in just two full seasons. Though Robinson has clearly been the catalyst for his own fall from the good graces of many Knicks fans I also think he’s suffered from a demand for a steady of supply of villains that is becoming insatiable. Most of the time in professional sports players move seamlessly between the basic “villain,” “bad boy,” and “hero” roles for any number of reasons through a process that is reasonably organic and not always totally predictable. (I suspect many readers aren’t old enough to remember when Muhammad Ali was a villain to much of the American sporting public. He was hated in no uncertain terms. He had perhaps the most amazing role transformation ever.) But increasingly, the theater of pro sports has come to resemble the theater of pro ‘rasslin’ in its predictability, its cardboard cutouts of who gets assigned to which roles and for how long.
In Robinson’s case, since the Denver fight I see him being typecast as a particularly crappy villain archetype, and I really hope he’s allowed to work his way out of it. I call it the “Jeff George” villain archetype. Sometimes a player opens himself up to fan/media disdain by doing something over-the-top or exposing himself as a jerk and for whatever reason isn’t allowed much of a shot at redemption. Soon, the guy just can’t do anything right. The media fits him with a black top hat and a curly-Q mustache and it becomes obvious to the audience that he’s the guy to hate. (Note: I’m talking about sports-related stuff here NOT criminal or near-criminal behavior.) If you remember former NFL QB Jeff George, he was by most accounts a pompous jerk; universally reviled by fans, media, opposing players, even teammates and coaches. You would think by the way people couldn’t wait to denounce him that the NFL was not littered with similarly unbearable jerks. But of course it was, and is. As much as I truly loath Kansas City Star (and former ESPN.com) columnist Jason Whitlock, I must agree with his sentiment that no one can point to anything George ever said or did that was uniquely awful.
Robinson, though not having “achieved” anything approaching the pariah status of George, seems to be quickly approaching the “can’t do anything right” status that is the hallmark of the Jeff George villain archetype. Hell, watch any Knick’s telecast with Mike Breen (even before the fight) and you’ll see what I mean. Regardless of what Robinson actually did on the court Breen would raise questions about his immaturity and decision-making, typically citing his ball-handling, shot selection, and his role in the Denver fight as prima facie evidence. So a poor shooting night or any turnover became proof of Robinson’s immaturity and poor decision-making. Yet somehow a good shooting/low turnover night did not indicate maturity or improved decision-making. The “Nate Robinson cautionary tale” always spins such a night as proof of how much talent Robinson is potentially squandering by his immaturity and poor decision-making.
My outlook for Robinson in 2008 completely mirrors KB’s in most respects. I believe Robinson is quite important to the Knicks playoffs chances. Not only are the Knicks thin at the SG, my entirely intuitive suspicion is that Crawford’s injury last season may be the first in a string of small-but-ongoing leg-related ailments that may keep him shuttling in and out of the lineup. So I believe the Knicks need Robinson to improve; it’s not a luxury. To do so he will have to start with the man in the mirror. Whether he is the new Jeff George or the new Bozo the Clown he simply must learn to focus on things that help the team win and leave the nonsense alone–period. But, I also urge the fans not to give up on this kid. He’s already a useful player and has the chance to get even better.
Brian Cronin – Man, Dave just reminded me of how annoying Mike Breen can be sometimes. The man is a GREAT announcer, but I think he works better on national telecasts, where he is not close to the situation, because man, he certainly seems to have soured upon the Knicks.
Breen reminds me of the stereotypical middle age guy complaining about how the NBA is “all thugs” nowadays. Those guys annoy me so much.
Anyhow, as to Robinson, the guy definitely exhibits some weird behavior, but since the fight, I thought he was actually a lot calmer than before the fight, and he seemed like a real nice asset to the team as an outside shooter. I hated when he tried to control the offense at times (that is not his specialty), but as a guy there to hit the outside shot, I like him there more than most other Knicks, and I think he will be a useful player this season.