Overlooked again by NBA, Nate Robinson may play in China


Mar 17, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Nate Robinson (8) reacts after being called for a foul during the second quarter against the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The point of this article isn’t to look at a former Los Angeles Clippers’ player, as point guard Nate Robinson merely signed two ten-day contracts with the team in March of this year. That’s all. However, that fact that Robinson may be going to play in China brings up the issue that he might be one of the most undervalued players around.

The fact that Nate Robinson is only 5’9″ has hurt him his entire career. He’s constantly been doubted, constantly been traded around teams or released, and if it wasn’t for his ridiculous athleticism he probably wouldn’t have even lasted this long. Without a 43.5 inch vertical — which earned him three Slam Dunk Contest crowns — Robinson may not have even lasted this long.

Of course his explosiveness has helped make up for his height, but it’s never removed the issue in the eyes of NBA teams. Yes, he may not excel defensively. Yet, when you consider the amount of huge contracts players receive these days who just score, and then wait around on defense till they get the ball to try and score again (the $70 million man Enes Kanter springs to mind), it doesn’t seem quite right that Nate Robinson can’t find a team.

As has now been reported by David Pick, he’s considering taking an offer from the Sichuan Blue Whales in China.

Not long ago, Nate Robinson was with the Chicago Bulls in the 2012-13 season while Derrick Rose was out for the entire year due to being plagued by injury. It was nothing new for Bulls fans, but it at least gave them a chance to watch a new point guard take over at times.

Robinson wasn’t just filling the Rose-void in his 25.4 minutes per game, though. He was delivering. More importantly, he delivered in the playoffs.

Robinson’s time with the Bulls was his last major role in the NBA. Since then, he joined the Denver Nuggets from 2013 to 2015, starting a measly three games during his time there whilst never playing in more than 44 games in a season. Then, in January of this year, he was traded to the Boston Celtics before being released two days later. Finally, he joined the Clippers for nine games and then he was done for the year.

Defensive deficiencies aside, Robinson can still make a difference. He’s averaged 17.7 points per 36 minutes during the course of his career, whilst even make a highly respectable 36 percent of his three point attempts.

Before his career declined after leaving Chicago, though, Robinson gave everyone a glimpse at just how much of an impact he can make as an offensive energizer off the bench.

Remember this game? It was one of the most exhilarating playoff performances we’ve seen in recent memory. Not necessarily because 34 points is so insanely good, but because it was so unexpected.

The Bulls were without their star Derrick Rose, and it was little Nate that came through and put the team on his back.

As the clock wound down, Robinson continued to attack. Every player on the other team had more than enough height and length to cover his shots, yet they all failed as he buried threes, deep 20 foot jumpers, and a one-handed floater from barely inside the arc that he hit with just 1.7 seconds left in over time.

It’s only one game, but it is by no means the only time we’ve seen Nate Robinson give his team a remarkable surge of offensive energy off the bench. And for a player who’s only 5’9″, he proved how good he can be in isolation plays.

The Bulls went on to win that series in seven games against the Brooklyn Nets, with Robinson being the ultimate x-factor before they went on to face the Miami Heat in the second round (losing 4-1 to LeBron James’ eventual championship winning team). Nevertheless, Nate still elevated his game to a level none of us were expecting.

After averaging 16.3 points and 4.4 assists per game in the playoffs that year, and delivering performances such his unbelievable 34 point explosion against the Nets, what did Robinson do to make people think he wasn’t worthy as a second or third point guard? Time has obviously passed since then and two seasons in Denver have gone by. So, we don’t want to cling onto the past too much.

Although, when he actually received a moderate role with 19.7 minutes per game in his first year with the Nuggets in 2013-14, Robinson still produced an impressive 19 points on 42.8 percent shooting per 36 minutes, not to mention shooting 37.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Dec 30, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Nate Robinson (5) during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Pepsi Center. The Lakers won 111-103. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

His defensive numbers aren’t actually nearly as bad as you might expect either. In 40 games last season, players actually shot a startling 12.1 percent worse on their two point field goal attempts when guarded by Robinson. Even looking back to 2013-14, players still shot 0.8 percent lower than normal (stats per NBA.com Player Tracking). He also averaged a solid 1.7 steals per 36 minutes last season.

So whilst there may be a clear difference between those percentages in the two seasons, the fact that Robinson’s pesky defense and energy away from the basket actually had a negative effect on his opponent’s efficiency says a lot about how his defense isn’t as bad as people give him credit for. To add even more support to the case for Nate Robinson’s defense, the offensive rating of the Nuggets’ opponents fell by 2.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor last season.

He may not be able to match up well against too many of the league’s increasingly tall and hyper athletic guards, but Robinson does a lot of things that teams need from a backup point guard to great effect at the other end of the floor.

When considering his energy, passion and clear ability to produce points, it seems surprising that Nate Robinson may need to go to China in order to continue his basketball career. At only 31 years of age, he’s by no means too old, and regardless of his size, his vertical leap is still probably better than most players in the league.

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Obviously very rare dunks mean nothing, but the man can produce offense in ways that most teams should value immensely in a backup point guard. Yet with the offseason gradually winding down, and teams seeming more settled with their rosters heading towards October, it doesn’t look like Robinson will have much more success holding down a spot than he has throughout his career.

If given the chance, he can still make an offensive difference and do so with heart. Unfortunately for Nate, though, it appears that the NBA may have just underestimated him again.

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