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Nate Robinson: How’d He Become One of NBA’s Worst Finishers?

 

AP

Zach Lowe led us off today with a terrific post updating us on the continued struggles of Rajon Rondo’s perimeter shooting. I have decided to follow the leader here, and start to dig into this team’s offensive issues.

Right now, the Boston Celtics are ranked 17th in the league in offensive rating. It’s interesting to consider how defense has been just as much of a concern lately as the offense when this team struggles, amongst many fans. Mark my words though, it’ll be the offense, not the D that will be the biggest factor if this team makes an early postseason exit next month.

That brings us to this team’s bench. It’s been at full strength for the first time all year in the past 10-15 games, yet has been consistently up and down on the offensive end of the floor.

A lot of that can be attributed to underwhelming performances of Rasheed Wallace and more recently Marquis Daniels, which have been well chronicled here at CelticsHub, so we won’t waste time on them.

One guy though, whose uneven performances have been a bit more alarming however, is none other than new Celtic Nate Robinson.

Let’s start off with, what we Celtics’ fans thought we were getting out of Nate, according to this terrific profile from Zach, back at the trade deadline. A key excerpt from the piece:

In 2009, Robinson attempted 4.1 shots per game at the rim, according to Hoopdata.com. Only 13 point guards and 11 shooting guards got to the rim more often, and 23 of those 24 players logged more minutes per game than Robinson. (Nate played 29.9 minutes per game last year).

To put that in perspective: Chris Paul attempted 4.4 shots per game at the rim in 38.5 minutes, Kobe Bryant attempted 4.4 in 36.2 minutes, Rajon Rondo 5.2 in 33.0 minutes and Vince Carter 4.1 in 36.8 minutes. (All numbers via Hoopdata.com)

Put simply: Nate can beat his guy off the dribble and get to the rim almost at will. It is astounding to watch at times how easily he beats NBA defenders off the bounce. What he does next, of course, determines the course of a possession, and it’s there that Nate’s game needs improvement. To his credit, he’s trying; he has assisted on 26.7 percent of New York’s baskets while he’s been on the court this season, according to Basketball Reference. That’s a mediocre number for a lead ball-handler, but it’s not awful and it’s a career-best for Nate. Progress, people.

By comparison, Eddie House took 28 shots at the rim all of last season, according to Hoopdata. That works out to about 0.3 attempts per game, or one every three games.

This is not to fault Eddie House, for whom we all have great affection. Nate Robinson is just a different, more dynamic offensive player. And if you haven’t noticed, the C’s have struggled over their last 24 games because their offense has slipped to 14th in the league in efficiency; the defense remains the best in the league. It wouldn’t shock me to see Doc Rivers slide Robinson right into the game during crunch time if the C’s offense lacks pace or becomes jumper-happy, or if Rajon Rondo appears tentative.

Confused somewhat? Don’t worry I am too. You see, Zach’s description of Nate is someone that we have caught in very small doses, but generally just isn’t the guy we’ve seen in Boston. Let me put it bluntly. Nate Robinson, while wearing a Celtic uniform, has been bad at getting to the rim, and flat out terrible at finishing, once he gets there.

Now that’s not to say, I blame Nate for this entirely. He’s on a new team, a playoff team, playing 15 minutes a game. Doc Rivers wants him to attack, yet it’s apparent that Nate has been understandably hesitant at times, not wanting to ruffle any feathers and take the vast majority of the shots on a veteran laden second unit, on which many of the players are just as eager to shoot, as Nate is or should be.

Robinson, by all accounts, and from what I’ve observed in the locker room is just trying to fit in and be a good teammate. Being a ball hog, off the bat, is not going to earn you many friends, even if that’s what Danny Ainge wants you to be and is essentially how you will help this team the most.

There’s also the entirely different offensive system in Beantown, which is world’s away from the open court, run and gun system he played with in New York. Needless to say, given these elements, there are plenty of reasons on why this wouldn’t be a seamless transition for Robinson, just 19 games into his Boston career.

Yet, despite the small sample size, it’s impossible not to be concerned with Nate’s shot location chart, courtesy of Hoopdata.com

The area to pay attention to here, is the “at the rim” column. The first thing that should stand out to you is well, Nate just isn’t getting to the rim much at all with the C’s, with his attempts at the rim cut in half from last year, if you even out the shot rate per minute: 4.1 to 1.8. This is disturbing.

Eddie House’s main flaw on the offensive end was the fact he was incapable of getting to the rim…..and quite frankly Nate hasn’t done much of it since he’s been here. This is understandable, given the different styles of offense, but still disappointing.

However, there’s a bigger problem here. Look at that percentage column at the rim. There are a whole bunch of nice percentages there in the 50′s and 60′s…..and then…..wait what was that?

27 PERCENT? 27 FREAKING PERCENT?

Now before you all start clamoring about small sample size, let’s just get some perspective on how bad 27 percent shooting at the rim is…..for well any living and breathing NBA player. I decided to rank shooting percentages at the rim for the NBA, including all NBA rotation players My criteria was very simple.

You had to have played 10 games with your team this year, and be averaging 10 or more minutes a game.

Sound fair to you? I thought so too. Here’s the rankings, starting with the worst at the top. Let’s check out the alarming results shall we?

Nate Robinson everyone! At least he’s not James Jones! Ok, maybe that’s a little bit over the top. You’ll also notice that the San Antonio version of Michael Finley is on that list as well. Maybe that helps to explain why the Spurs were happy to release him last month. Thankfully for us, Finley has shot 75 percent at the rim (3 of 4!) since arriving in Beantown. Oh, and those Derek Fisher numbers must be giving Lakers fans nightmares. Man, he sucks.

Back to Robinson though. Listen, I don’t want to pick on Nate too much here. It is a small sample size and I still like him as a player overall. For as bad as he’s been at the rim, he’s been terrific shooting the ball from the perimeter thus far in Boston, giving this team some spark from that area of the floor.

Plus, I’ve been so nice to Nate, I haven’t even brought up the fact he is also shooting 28 percent from the 10-15 foot range, down from 53.8 percent in New York earlier this year.

All that being said though, how does a player like Robinson “lose it” that quickly and turn into half the shooter he was at the rim in just 20 games? Well, the easy answer is that it’s a slump….. one that that has gone on for about a fourth of the season now.

The problem is, this was supposed to be one of Nate’ biggest strengths as a player. How his finishing ability quickly turned into him being one of the worst finishers at the rim in the league, is well beyond me. Luckily, it also explains a lot of this bench’s latest struggles and makes performances like last night against San Antonio, easier to explain.

Thankfully, there is still time here for Nate to figure this out. Not a lot of time, but still time nonetheless. This has to be some kind of confidence issue more than anything else. No one “loses it” like that this quickly unless you are Chuck Knoblauch or something. Doc Rivers and his staff must have the same numbers we do here, and I can only hope they have a talk with number 4 about it. He’s better than this and we all know it.

Perhaps, some additional run would help work through it, help him get off his leash a little more and gain some confidence in the green jersey. Maybe simplifying the playbook for him would help? I know Doc tried that initially. I’m all ears for suggestions.

The point is, Nate has to revert back to at least an average point guard from that close range. In order to succeed in the postseason, Nate needs to be offensive weapon for this team, that’s what he was brought in for and no one else on the second unit can create their own shot consistently.

So for now, let’s hope Robinson rediscovers his touch from close range in the final 11 games of the regular season, or else, the chances increase that this team isn’t going anywhere next month.

  • FotoFinish

    Remember that scene in ‘Annie Hall’ where Woody Allen is comparing a relationship to a shark in that it needs to be constantly in motion to survive? Well, that’s what the Big 3 Relationship has become. A dead shark. It doesn’t matter what any of these bench players have to contribute. Boston falls to the 4th seed; Miami has the huevos to grab 5; and the Deer are caught in the headlights of a tough schedule.

  • Rocci

    A dead shark? Jeez buddy, no need to be so optimistic!

  • rondoislove

    It’s become pretty frustrating to watch Nate jacking up threes and not at all driving… but I just keep hoping that as he gets more comfortable with this team, he’ll start attacking again.

    Which brings me to another player who jacks up threes.. Has anyone else seen this on Ball Don’t Lie?

    http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/blog/ball_dont_lie/post/Rasheed-Wallace-is-the-kung-fu-teacher-of-post?urn=nba,225062

  • Jason

    Um, hey fellas the Spurs just lost to the Nets. The NBA is just weird sometimes. Last year the Bulls made a trade to get better then played the Cs who were without KG, which basically made them even, which is how the series played out, yet everyone was saying whoa 2 seed barely beat 7 seed. But 2v7 was inaccurate if you look beyond full season records. Same with the Nets, young, improving, now semi-dangerous. The Cs 23-5 doesn’t mean anything. And their winter slump isn’t really who they are either. Who are the Spurs? They looked cooked all year, then started improving, waxed the Cs, then lost to the Nets. Maybe we shouldn’t be so pessimistic since the Cs aren’t going in as an unstoppable juggernaut. Maybe we should just be patient and know anything is possible once the playoffs start and just hope they are playing just well enough to win 4 out of 7 games one series at a time.

  • Dan

    Q: How did [Nate Robinson] Become One of NBA’s Worst Finishers?

    A: He’s 5’8″.

  • Jrmz

    Worse thing about that chart with Nate on it? Finley is right above him. And they’re both on the Cs.

  • http://politicaldeathmatch.org Harrison Bergeron

    Here’s the thing about Nate: He’s only capable of being a big fish when he’s in a small pond. When there’s no cohesive system that he’s expected to adhere to, no superstars for him to defer to, when he’s allowed to freelance and do whatever he wants, when he has the freedom to worry more about his highlight reel than about wins and losses, then he can make spectacular plays with his athleticism and aggression.

    Bottom line, he’s more of an athlete than a basketball player.

  • Albert

    You have to be willing to consider the most obvious reason for the decline in Nate’s shot attempts at the rim as well as his efficiency when he gets there: he’s tiny, and tiny guards wear down much faster than bigger players, and now, at the ripe old age of 25, he’s just not as quick or explosive during games as he used to be. The downward slope for the quick, waterbug-type guard is amazingly steep, and Nate’s not just Allen Iverson-tiny: he’s Spud Webb-tiny.

    Playing in D’Antoni’s Wild West style in New York mitigated (or hid) his decline a little bit, because of the way that lunatic system spreads the floor and keeps defenders away from the rim, but Nate has no such luxury in Boston, where the ball takes half an hour just to get past half-court. Quickness is absolutely everything in Nate’s game, because of his size – more so than for literally any other NBA player not named Earl Boykins. Losing a step – or a half-step, or a quarter-step, or an eighth-step – has consequences for his effectiveness that are exponentially more dire than they’d be if he weren’t built like a 12-year-old. I’m sorry to say it, but this explanation passes the Occam’s Razor test.

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  • Jason

    You know what I really hate about this offense? It’s actually Rondo. I just hate the fact that he has the ball in his hands all the time. He’s in Chris Paul territory and I think that’s just the way he wants it. It is freaking annoying. After every rebound, he jumps up and down screaming for the ball. You don’t see that in the NBA and even guards like Paul, Williams, Nash allow teammates to initiate the offense. To scream after the ball to guys like Pierce or Allen is just stupid but it’s also bad basketball. When Pierce or Allen or any wing scorer brings the ball up the floor, they’re dangerous because they have space in front of them and a little head of steam. The Celtics have stopped using this element.

    After Rondo brings the up the floor, he routinely dribbles for 10 to 14 seconds doing nothing. I scream all the time at the TV for him to just past the ball, to get Allen or Pierce touches so they can get in rhythm. I don’t know why he doesn’t get called out for it. It is awful basketball. It is maddening to see four or five possessions in a row where there is no more than 3 passes made. I feel like sometimes he’s playing for his numbers. Throwing an alley-oop to Garnett is an assist opportunity, regardless of whether Garnett had missed his previous 10 tries. Waiting for 10 seconds while Allen tries to get free is another assist opportunity. On a team with passers like Garnett, Allen and Pierce, it is mind-boggingly that the ball is so centralized in one guy’s hands, like they couldn’t create otherwise.

    There is something messed up when one game Allen attempts only 3 shots for the whole game and then the following game, Pierce takes one shot in the first half, that coming with two minutes remaining in the second quarter. That’s on Rondo.

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