Why Nate Must Play
The most obvious reason is that Chris Duhon is killing us. Whether you think he was due to plummet back to earth following his hot-shooting start or you think he was ground to the nub by unsustainable usage, the fact is that when Duhon is turning the ball over he usually doesn’t do enough in other categories to offset that. And wow is he turning the ball over. According to basketball-reference.com his 22.4 turnover % after 61 games is well above his career average of 18.3%. In fairness, he is delivering a career high assist % of 29, though it is not as far off from his career average (27.1) as his turnovers. Moreover, teams appear to have figured out that Duhon has trouble finishing at the rim with his ailing back. Consequently, it has become more difficult to feed David Lee on the screen roll as teams play the passing lanes. Whatever his other faults, Nate Robinson has a) never been turnover prone, b) has put up decent assist numbers, and c) has been a better than average shooter throughout his career. According to the Knickerblogger stat page Robinson’s 18.4 assist rate compares favorably to other combo guards like Mo Williams (19) and Brandon Roy (18.8).
As the season moves into its “let’s pretend we are still playing meaningful games” phase, we know a lot about what the Knicks are and what they are not. If a playoff run is forthcoming it probably won’t be because Chris Duhon shoots his way out of his current slump. It will be because D’Antoni is playing his best players the lion’s share of the minutes. That’s kinda what I thought we would be getting from D’Antoni. However, he’s been slower than I would have expected to make a commitment to Nate. Duhon, with his 57.6 TS% on the year, way above his career mark, has been better than anyone had a right to expect. So it’s hard to fault D’Antoni too much for riding with him. However, given Duhon’s inability to finish at the rim due to his ailing back I have every reason to expect his slump to continue. He may get hot again from the three point line, but his current shooting slump feels a lot like regression to the mean. To D’Antoni’s credit, Nate has been a big part of his end-of-game group for a while. Even without considering the off-season, the time has come for Nate Robinson to take an even bigger share of Duhon’s minutes regardless of who starts.
I suppose you cannot create an entry about Nate Robinson without addressing the maturity issue. My intuition is to say that it’s a problem, if exaggerated at times. Some people are naturally put off by Nate’s showmanship. I happen to not be one of them but recognize that your mileage may vary. One thing most observers would agree on, I think, is that Nate is too easily distracted by nonsense that gets him out of sync. In Nate’s defense (somewhat), he takes a good bit of post-whistle contact in games I watch, especially from big men when he goes to the rim. Whether intentionally designed to bait him, this sort of thing too easily succeeds in shifting Nate’s focus to a running confrontation between he and some player, some fan, or worse, between he and the officials. It’s easy to exaggerate the impact that sort of thing has on a given game, but its effects can be corrosive because it moves his focus away from where it should be–on the next play. Nate’s got to work on that.
Part-time blogger on the Knicks at Knickerblogger.net and Seahawks at FieldGulls.com. In my free time I hang out at the University of South Carolina and occasionally fill thirsty young minds with knowledge about various and sundry things related to consumer behavior and marketing.