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Nate Robinson: Beyond Hatred

 

Picture 1There are very few players in the NBA who inspire a visceral reaction—positive or negative—when I watch them play. Nate Robinson is one of them. He has always struck me as more interested in promoting himself and appearing “cool” than in helping his team win basketball games. I’m not talking about the dunk contest, which is about showmanship and self-promotion. I’m talking about the high-fives with Will Ferrell, the Call of Duty salutes after made free throws and the incessant preening to the crowd. 

The latter reached a new low for me earlier this season, when the C’s played the Knicks and Rajon Rondo went up for what appeared to be an easy fast-break lay-in. Except Nate Robinson made a tremendous hustle play, sprinting the length of the court and pinning Rondo’s lay-in attempt on the glass. Nate turned toward the crowd, celebrating. A nice moment for Nate, only the ball was still in play right behind him. With Nate distracted, Marquis Daniels picked the ball up and laid it in. 

And that, to me, summed up Nate Robinson’s NBA career: Tons of talent, little understanding of what it means to be a successful NBA player on a successful NBA team. 

And so I reacted with a combination of anger and nausea when ESPN’s Chris Sheridan reported earlier today that Robinson, who has requested a trade and has veto power over any deal, would accept a trade to Boston. Of course, this doesn’t mean Boston would accept Nate Robinson. But they have the sort of cheap, expiring contracts (such as Tony Allen’s $2.5M expiring deal or the combination of J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker) that could work on the other side of a deal for Robinson. 

Were that anger and out-of-hand rejection really warranted? I decided to check the numbers and see. What I found surprised me a bit.

 

Let me say this: I am not one of those basketball people who believe that numbers are everything. I understand things like adjusted plus/minus and cite them here often, but I watch a lot of basketball and I do believe that some players have qualities that cannot be completely measured by statistics—and that those qualities can either make teams better or worse. 

So what I’m about to write doesn’t fundamentally change my view of Nate Robinson as a player. But it does complicate it. 

But: It is hard, if not impossible, to prove that Nate Robinson is a bad team basketball player simply by using numbers. Put another way: You cannot make a case that Nate Robinson has made the Knicks worse when he has been on the court. 

And that is the case I expected to make. I know Nate averaged 17 points per game last season and threw up an 18.9 Player Efficiency Rating (PER)—higher than every regular on the ’09 C’s other than KG. 

But I expected that the plus/minus numbers, both raw and adjusted, would show that Nate Robinson hurts his team, especially on defense. 

They don’t. 

In 2007, the Knicks offense scored 1.3 fewer points per 100 possessions with Nate on the floor versus with Nate on the bench; in the same season, the defense allowed 2.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Nate on the floor. Thus, Nate was a slight net plus that season.

In 2008, the Knicks offense scored 4.7 more points per 100 possessions with Nate on the floor; in the same season, the defense allowed 1.0 more points per 100 possessions with Nate on the court. Thus, Nate was a slightly significant plus that season.

In 2009, the Knicks offense scored 3.9 more points per 100 possessions with Nate on the floor; in the same season, the team gave up 0.9 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. Thus, Nate again was a slightly significant plus. 

In the very limited minutes Nate has played this year, the offense is scoring 2.3 fewer points per 100 possessions with Nate in the game, while the defense is allowing 0.5 fewer points per 100 possessions

All the above numbers courtesy of 82games.com)

At worst, Nate Robinson has had a neutral effect on New York’s defense. Of course, this doesn’t make him a good defensive player. The Knicks defense has been awful with Nate on the floor and Nate on the bench. He’s just not making it any worse when he steps onto the court. 

The other metrics we have also show that Nate is not the destructive, loss-causing force I had thought him to be—at least not by the numbers. 

In terms of adjusted plus/minus—which adjusts for the quality of teammates and opponents to put every player on an equal footing—only Al Harrington and Tim Thomas scored better among Knick players over the 2008 and 2009 seasons, according to Basketball Value

In David Berri’s system over at The Wages of Wins blog, Nate Robinson ranked second on the 2009 Knicks—behind only David Lee—in Berri’s wins produced stat, and his wins produced per 48 minutes mark was significantly above league average. Berri concludes that Robinson and Lee were together responsible for two-thirds (!) of New York’s wins last season.

Finally, the new defensive stats at Basketball Prospectus indicate that Robinson’s head-to-head opponents performed at almost the same level against Nate as they did against the rest of the league. In other words, the numbers again show Nate’s defense has had a neutral impact  on opponent performance. 

Does all of this mean Danny Ainge should be on the phone trying to convince Donnie Walsh to trade Nate Robinson for J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker? Of course not. And I’d be absolutely floored if Ainge considered the Marquis Daniels-Robinson deal Sheridan floated today.

There are fit issues to consider here. With whom does Robinson play if Marquis Daniels is on the roster with him? I suppose he could sort of split the Eddie House role with House, spending a couple of minutes with the non-Rondo starters and a couple of minutes with various bench combinations that don’t include House. (I just don’t think a House-Robinson back court is workable defensively). 

There just aren’t that many minutes to go around between Tony Allen, House, Daniels and the theoretical Celtic Nate Robinson, especially during the post-season. In that sense, I suppose it’d be a low-risk move, since there would be no guaranteed minutes at money time. But is it worth mucking up the current rotation to experiment with Nate Robinson? 

I still don’t think so. But the numbers tell a more complicated story.

  • Cptn Bubbles

    Assuming you have a good coach, is the player coachable? I don’t know if Nate really listens. Nate does have passion, speed, energy, & some physical skills, but I don’t think he is a real student of the game. His height also is a concern. He’s got the heart, but I don’t know if he has the smart.

  • DeVelaine

    His height means little when you compare it to how freakishly high he can jump for his size. He nearly jumped over Dwight Howard to win the dunk contest last year. He blocked a Yao Ming shot when Yao’s arm was up. We could have the “athleticism vs IQ” discussion, but why should we? I say Ainge should stick with what we have, and let the C’s make a run for it.

  • Mitch

    get nate now, please celtics…you will thank me in june

  • Mitch

    aside from the starters…what bench players are better than nate all around?? nate would be a good fit because he doesnt suck like giddens, scal, and walker…..3 bums on this team taking up space…get robinson and randolph….then you have a team full of potential starters 1-12 with big baby and marquis coming back later on

  • Mitch

    and i say walker because he is still assigned to the celtics, despite his maine red claw status…he is trade bait

  • Mitch

    Rajon Rondo
    Ray Allen
    Paul Pierce
    Kevin Garnett
    Kendrick Perkins
    Rasheed wallace
    Eddie House
    Nate Robinson
    Anthony Randolph
    Glen Davis
    Tony Allen
    Marquis Daniels

    that looks like a championship team

  • cmoney

    A friend of mine made an astute observation:

    Nate Robinson found absolutely no takers in free agency this summer. None. Now he’s getting zero minutes while the Knicks are actually making a run at the 8th seed. And he’s talking like any of the contenders (LAL, BOS, and CLE) will want him to shore up the bench.

    I’m sorry, it’s not happening.

  • Mitch

    we will see what happends…that is my astute observation

  • matthew

    what’s the risk of trading away giddens and walker for nate robinson? Nada! If ever nate turns out to be a headcase, then just bench him the rest of the season. If not and he helps bring another banner, then kudos to the coaching staff, right! Take the risk! Besides, it’s not like you’ll be missing JR and Bill’s b-ball smarts.

  • dasandruler

    Giddens and Walker…aka noway, and nohow. I would make a couple trades to form my team like the recent pistons champs. A second unit with studs, and a first unit that plays when they feel like it. I’ll take nate and coach his azz up…no big whoop. I’ll offset nate’s height with more athletic length on the boards, and a consistent spot up shooter who can rebound….bleep the 3ball, thats a lakers killer..mean on the boards-grrr

  • DRJ1

    There’s another very good reason the Cs will not consider Nate. Defense. The man can’t guard anybody, except maybe Earl Boykins. And what does everybody on this team always say?…”We’re all about defense.” There is no way in Satan’s red hell the Celtics will ever take Nate Robinson, even if he were free.

    Tyronn Lue, only 32, will probably make it onto the roster, once we trade down one spot. Who would we trade for? There will be a lot to choose from in a month or so. No need whatsoever to even think about Nate R. now.

  • Billy Bob Thorton

    Visceral reaction? Nate Robinson?

    Save the emotion for something that matters.

    You know, like the lakers.

  • Vic De Zen

    Very fair look. I thought he made huge strides last year, didn’t see this benching coming at all.

  • Tom

    Are you serious? Lue over Robinson? Lue can’t stay in front of Eddie House at this point!

    If we can get him for a bag of peanuts and he understands he is a 15-20 minutes guy, I honestly don’t see why not. Marbury didn’t have the skills, but it didn’t hurt the team.

    Giddens/Walker/TA/Scal. Are we really going to cry if we lose any one of those two guys?

  • Jay P

    Lue isn’t even in the conversation, come on. Now I’m still for this trade if we can get him for Giddens/Walker/Scal combo in some form. Here’s why:

    1) There’s no worry about his mental effect on the team, their too solid, and you think KG, Paul, Ray are going to stand by and watch him preen to the crowd while a play goes on behind him? Not a chance, KG would smack him upside the head, and Doc would have a nice spot warmed up on the bench for him. He will not hurt team chemistry, this team can’t be shaken by some clown like Robinson.

    2) We don’t need him, so there’s no downside really, if he screws around and isn’t useful, he’ll be benched. But it gives us some versatility to move Daniels off the point when he’s healthy, and it gives us a ball handler in the second unit who can take his man off the dribble and create in the lane. There’s a lot of potential for him to be useful in that second unit.

    Let me reiterate though, we don’t need him, and I am absolutely 100% opposed to giving up anything other than giddens, walker, or Scal for him. I wouldn’t even give up TA, cause I’m sorry, but TA has a bigger potential upside than Robinson, and damn it I’m pulling for him now, given his performance in the last few games.

  • strips

    uhm, isn’t lue a part of the coaching staff now? he’s in charge of the guards or something right?

    anyways…

    nate robinson…an expensive clown in my opinion. no room for showboating here in boston i believe, so my guess is that the celtics will pass this one up…

    that and what Cptn Bubbles said

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  • http://www.countdown2lebron.com Countdown2Lebron

    I am a Knick season ticket holder and you couldn’t have nailed this more. Nate doesn’t get it and unfortunately he never will. Great read.

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