Nate Robinson Thriving On Defense In Chicago
Perhaps the ultimate showman in the NBA over the past eight seasons and the only three-time NBA Slam Dunk Champion, the freakishly athletic 5’ 9” point guard Nate Robinson has landed in the ultra-conservative, defense-first world of Chicago’s head coach Tom Thibodeau. While Robinson has always been able to score and produce flashy defensive plays because of his athleticism, the Bulls rely on a disciplined five-man on string approach, but the strengths and weaknesses of Robinson’s game were well known to Thibodeau before the Bulls acquired him as a free agent in July.
“I don’t want him to change,” Thibodeau said. “But I do want him to do his job and I want him to play to his strengths and to cover up his weaknesses. I want him to be consistent with his approach and be a good teammate. I had Nate in Boston, so I have a good understanding of who he is. I think he is improving and I want him to continue to improve.”
Robinson’s contract with the Bulls was not fully guaranteed until January 10 and there was plenty of speculation that the over the luxury tax team would release him to go with rookie Marquis Teague, but Robinson has proved his worth at both ends of the court this season. In 21.3 minutes off the bench, Robinson is fifth in scoring on the Bulls at 10.6 points per game and is hitting on 39.2 percent of his three-point attempts. More importantly, Robinson’s defensive rating has been on par with starting point guard Kirk Hinrich.
“Nate has been a great guy for us,” Hinrich said. “Played well for us all year and he needs to continue doing that.”
“Nobody wants to be scored on,” Robinson said. “So for us, we just try to do what we can, play as hard as we can as a team. It’s hard enough for one guy playing defense one-on-one, it’s hard to stop somebody in this league. We try to play collectively as a team, team basketball, team defense, five guys helping each other. Everybody is on a string, it makes it easier for us to go out there and play defense.”
Playing for Thibodeau in Boston has definitely helped Robinson adapt to the Bulls quickly. Robinson had already been exposed to Thibodeau’s defensive schemes, team-oriented play and championship mentality and it shows.
“Most of the schemes we had in Boston we have here, so it was easy for me to adapt,” Robinson said. “Championship-caliber basketball is defense, playing defense. Offense wins games, defense wins championships. Coach buys into that and so do we.”
It is relatively easy to forget that Robinson is now a young veteran in his eighth NBA season. He is no longer the brash young player he was in New York. A player who loved the limelight now just wants to be part of the team.
“I got my years, [now] I just try to fall into suit,” Robinson said. “Rip [Hamilton], Naz [Nazr Mohammed], Booz [Carlos Boozer], Kirk [Hinrich], Vlad [Vladimir Radmanovic], those are the guys that have been here and know what it takes to get to where we need to get to. We fall into place, me down to the rookies on our team.”
As a veteran, Robinson knows he has additional responsibilities towards his younger teammates and even though Teague is competing for his minutes, it’s part of job to help the rookie along.
“That’s my guy, yeah, [Teague] does a great job of preparing himself, being ready,” Robinson said. “Fun guy, loves to play the game of basketball, his brother has been in the league so he knows how to play the game. I had a rookie a couple times on a couple other teams. Nothing changes, they get younger, but the game still goes on.”
“Nate plays with a lot of energy,” Teague said. “He plays hard every possession, no matter what game he’s in, he’ll give 110 percent. He shows me how to go out there and how to compete. He just competes every game.”
The now veteran Robinson has carved himself out a place on the defense-first Chicago Bulls. The energy that made him standout early in his career is still there, but under Thibodeau, it has become more focused and responsible. Just as Robinson accepts and understands his role with respect to the veterans on his team and his responsibilities towards his rookie, he has bought into the team-oriented system Thibodeau demands. Thibodeau may see further room for improvement, but Robinson made the January 10 guarantee date in his contract irrelevant by doing his job and in Chicago, that’s playing defense.