1. Fact or Fiction: the Bulls will miss Nate.
Avi Saini: Fact. Aside from everything Braedan noted about scoring off of the bench, three-point shooting, and Marquis Teague and Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson acted as a pure energy guy off of the bench. While it may not seem important, having a guy who can energize the team on nights when no one really wants to be playing is often times the difference between a win and a loss. Having a boundless energy like Nate Robinson can also be a morale and chemistry boost for a team during rough stretches of the season. Nate wasn’t the best player on the Bulls and could be frustrating at times, but finding a high energy guy who is arguably more energetic than Joakim Noah and knows his role is tough to find.
Braedan Ritter: Fact. With Derrick Rose coming back, they won’t need his scoring as much as they did this past season, but having someone who can fill it up off the bench is always an advantage. I’m not yet sold on Marquis Teague, and Kirk Hinrich has his struggles (37 percent from the field last season) and injury issues, so I do think Nate still had a role on this team. Coming off the bench, Robinson averaged 12.4 points per game and shot 41.8 percent from deep. His minutes would be down this season, but the Bulls could use his long-range shooting as well as his ability to create a shot.
Matt McHale: Mostly fact. Nate wasn’t going to get nearly many minutes next season, not with Rose returning, nor with players like Hinrich (whom Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau loves for his defense) and Teague (whom the front office probably want Thibs to develop ala Jimmy Butler) both likely ahead of him in the depth chart. But Robinson is nearly without peer as an off-the-bench scorer/energy guy. And the Bulls will miss that during the long grind of the season.
2. How will the Bulls replace Nate’s scoring off the bench?
Avi Saini: I don’t think the Bulls do replace his scoring off of the bench. After his summer league performances, a lot of people are talking about Andrew Goudelock coming to Chicago to play Nate’s role. However, I find it highly unlikely Goudelock will agree to play in Chicago as the de facto third string point guard when he could likely get a role as a team’s backup. The only other Nate Robinson-esque player available in the market as a free agent is Gary Neal. Yesterday morning the San Antonio Spurs withdrew their qualifying offer making Neal an unrestricted free agent. However, Chicago is probably out of the running for Neal already as he will likely demand a multi-million dollar contract, something the Bulls cant offer.
Braedan Ritter: That is going to be one of the most important questions of the year, and honestly, I’m not sure where it’s going to come from. If I had to pick someone, it would be Mike Dunleavy. The former Buck can’t create his shot like Nate could, but depending on who he is playing with, he may be able to find himself open from three (42.8 percent from deep). The truth is, no one guy that the Bulls have on their current bench can do what Robinson did, with the combination of creating his own shot along with being a three-point threat. It’s going to have to be filled by committee, which means Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich and Dunleavy will have to step up.
Matt McHale: If we’ve learned anything about this team over the past couple seasons, the Bulls do everything by committee. If one guy gets hurt, one or more players need to step up. If somebody leaves or gets traded, the same rules apply. Still, expect some of the scoring deficit to get filled by Dunleavy Jr. and Teague. There’s nobody else like Robinson in the league let alone on the Bulls, so there’s no way to truly replace him. But as the coach and players might say, the team will still have more than enough to win.
3. What was your favorite Nate moment?
Avi Saini: Like Braedan, I have to go with the game against the New York Knicks but mostly for his funny feud with former Knicks player Steve Novak. For those of you who didn’t know, Steve Novak would often times use Aaron Rodgers’s “Championship Belt” (often referred to as the “Discount Double-Check”) celebration after making a three pointer. In a game against the Knicks, Nate Robinson did the same celebration after scoring a three pointer. Novak seemed to take issue with it, which Robinson laughed off considering it wasn’t Novak’s celebration to begin with. This sparked what I consider one of the most random and funny feuds to ever take place in basketball. Watching Nate Robinson tear the Knicks apart in that game was fun. But watching Robinson trash talk Novak after every made shot and seeing Robinson repeatedly do the celebration while looking over at Novak was pure gold.
Braedan Ritter: It’s hard to choose just one moment from his action-packed season. I’ve broken down some of the ones that stuck with me, and I’m still not sure which my favorite is. I should probably say his Game 4 performance against the Nets, because that was his best game and one of the two best Bulls’ games of the season, but I’ll say the time he “discount double-checked” over and over and over again. Not just for that moment, but for the game that went along with it, because that night was the perfect summation of Nate Robinson. He scored a season-high 35 in that contest, hitting five threes and outscoring the entire Knicks team in overtime to lead the Bulls to a 118-111 win that ended New York’s 13-game win streak. The two things that Nate added all year—scoring and entertainment—were on full display, as was his behavior that I didn’t fully embrace until he brought it to the Bulls. I’m going to miss you, Nate. Thanks for the memories.
Matt McHale: There’s no “one moment” for me. It was a nightly pleasure to watch the smallest guy on the floor have the biggest guts, take the biggest (and, often, most questionable) shots any and every time it mattered. Robinson played with the heart and soul of a superstar on a minimum contract. And he loved it. He loved every minute of it. The Bulls got everything they could have possibly hoped for out of the Nate Robinson experience. So did the fans. He’ll be missed, that’s for sure. Hopefully the return of Rose will ease the sting of his departure.