I’m going to miss Nate Robinson.
I’m jumping the gun here. I know that. The regular season isn’t even over yet, the playoffs haven’t started, and nobody has any idea what the Bulls are going to look like next season.
But what we do know is this: Robinson is a minimum contract player who was signed as a one-year stopgap while Derrick Rose recovered from knee surgery. When Rose returns, and with Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague on the books for next season, it’s not unreasonable to assume that little Nate will be doing his thing elsewhere in 2013-14.
Talk about a team getting its money’s worth, though. Chicago signed him on July 31 last year almost as an afterthought. All Robinson has done is go on to give the Bulls 18.9 points and 6.2 assist Per 36 minutes while shooting 40 percent from three-point range, making him the team’s only true long-range threat.
According to Basketball-Reference, Nate leads the team in Effective Field Goal Percentage (.511), Assist Percentage (31.7) and Steal Percentage (2.3). He’s second in Player Efficiency Rating (17.8), True Shooting Percentage (.541), Offensive Rating (109) and Offensive Win Shares (3.5). He also ranks third in Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.142) and fourth in total Win Shares (5.8).
Without question, Robinson leads the team in exciting plays. He also leads the team in frustrating, head-scratching, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” plays. It’s all part of the package.
With Rose still watching games from a luxury box in the United Center, Robinson is the team’s most explosive offensive player and the only guy who can really break down the defense on his own. He has boundless energy and absolutely never gives up. He orchestrated a near comeback against the Raptors on Tuesday night by exploding for 14 points in the fourth quarter. Last night, after the Bulls fell behind 23-6 in the early going, Robinson erupted for 14 points in the second quarter to help pull the Bulls to within 59-54 by halftime.
The Bulls still had their fair share of struggles in the second half. They fell behind 79-64 with just under five minutes left in the third quarter and looked a little outmatched. Then Jimmy Butler — who had another fantastic game — pilfered back-t0-back passes for a couple breakaway dunks that breathed life back into the injury-weary Bulls.
Chicago later responded to a series of consecutive misses by the Knicks with a 22-footer from Marco Belinelli and back-to-back threes by Hinrich and Butler. And Butler was fouled by Jason Kidd on his triple, and he knocked down the ensuing free throw for a four-point play. More misses by New York were met by a Butler free throw and a buzzer beating three-pointer by Robinson to move the Bulls to within 82-80 heading into the fourth quarter.
Behind Robinson — who scored 10 fourth quarter points — the Bulls led by as many as nine points in what could have been the final frame. But Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith led the Knicks back…and Anthony missed a long jumper at the end of the fourth that could have won it. Instead, Robinson and Luol Deng combined to outscore the Knicks 13-4 in overtime, thus ending New York’s 13-game winning streak.
Little Nate finished with a season-high 35 points in 33 minutes. Robinson was 10-for-18 from the field, 5-for-11 from beyond the arc and 10-for-10 from the charity stripe.
Said Carlos Boozer: “It was amazing, man. He just took the game over. He just snapped, I don’t know what happened out there, but he just got the switch on and took over the fourth and obviously took over overtime. He’s the reason why we won.”
With all due respect to Boozer’s opinion and Robinson’s performance, Nate wasn’t the only reason the Bulls won. Another big reason was defense. Anthony scored 36 points…but he was 13-for-34 from the field and 0-f0r-4 on threes. Much credit for his lackluster shooting goes to Butler and Deng.
According to ESPN Stats and Information: “Carmelo Anthony was 6-17 when guarded by Jimmy Butler, including 2-10 outside 5 feet. Carmelo was 4-10 in the first half against Luol Deng, and Deng didn’t guard him at all in the second half.”
Not surprisingly, ‘Melo was gnashing his teeth on sour grapes after the game: “They can have it. They can have it. They can have it. They can have the regular-season wins. They did a great job at beating us four times. We’re not worrying about them at this point.”
In case you’d forgotten, the last time the Bulls beat the Knicks, Anthony said: “They beat us three times. At this point, it is onto the next one. We are not worried about Chicago at this point. They do what they do and we will see them again.”
Yeeeeeaaah. I’d say Anthony is a little bitter.
The Bulls also did a defensive number on Smith (11-for-27) and limited the Knicks to 33 percent shooting from downtown. New York still had a strong offensive game overall, scoring at a rate of 108.4 points per 100 possessions, but Chicago’s D at forced them into a lot of difficult, uncomfortable outside shots while shutting down the paint, forcing the Knicks into 19-for-29 shooting (48 percent) at the rim (per Hoopdata). Not bad considering Joakim Noah (plantar faciitis) and Taj Gibson (sprained left knee) are still out.
Of course, the Bulls also benefited from injury for a change. New York was without a whole host of big men: Amar’e Stoudemire (knee surgery), Tyson Chandler (bulging disc in back), Kenyon Martin (sprained left ankle), Kurt Thomas (stress fracture in the right foot), Marcus Camby (plantar faciitis) and Rasheed Wallace (left foot surgery).
Beyond that, Butler continued to thrill and delight, once again playing big minutes (50) and putting up big numbers (22 points, 9-for-15, 2-for-3 on threes, 14 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocks and 2 assists). This kid is all arms and legs and endless hustle. He works incredibly hard and has no fear. Can you believe the Bulls snagged this kid with the 30th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft? If visions of a Rose-Butler backcourt don’t have you excited, then you’d better check your pulse, because you might be dead.
The Bulls also got strong contributions from Boozer, who had a double-double (15 rebounds and 13 points) despite shooting 3-for-11 and committing 5 turnovers. Luol Deng returned from his hip injury to chip in 16 points and 8 rebounds. And Rip Hamilton was surprisingly aggressive, scoring 14 points, dishing out 8 assists and compiling a team-best plus-minus score of +20 in 26 minutes.
And so Chicago’s enigmatic season continues. Since March 23, they’ve beaten the East’s four best teams (Heat, Knicks, Pacers, Nets) while losing to three of the worst teams in the conference (Pistons, Raptors, Wizards). In some ways, you can kind of understand why Anthony is so dismissive of a team that can play like world beaters one night and then play like the world has beaten them the next.
Said Gibson: “It was a big win. It seems that we don’t really get any respect around the East. … We tried to make a statement. We tried to let people know that we’re still a tough team. We got a lot of injuries. A lot of people don’t understand we’ve had a lot of injuries on this team throughout the season and we’re still playing well. But with this team, you don’t know what you’re going to get. We lose to below-.500 teams, and we come out and beat some of the best teams around the NBA.”
Well, yeah, it’s hard for a team to establish consistency when it’s nearing 200 player games lost to injury, as the Bulls are. But as wildly unpredictable as they often are, this Chicago squad still competes hard every night. And if ‘Melo and other Eastern Conference teams aren’t worrying about them…they should be.