Robinson has averaged 12.3 points, 4.3 assists and a remarkable 4.3 rebounds per game off the bench in just 23.3 minutes.
The 4.3 rebounds is just a stunning number for a player that is only a reported 5'9" (and we all know that's a stretch.)
If Derrick Rose is mini-Lebron then nifty Nate Robinson is little-Rose.
But the little guy has heart—tons of it. It's amazing how all that heart fits in his little body, and in Chicago, fans love nothing more than heart.
Talent is nice, but if you have talent and don't show heart, the fans will turn on you fast. Just ask Jay Cutler and Carlos Boozer. (But if you have a change of heart and gut it up, the fans will forgive you and welcome you back. Just ask Jay Cutler.)
The pure enthusiasm that Robinson plays with makes him a ready favorite in Chicago, and some even have observed that perhaps he plays better with the starters, but at least for now he is better off coming off the bench.
First, it's not true. The Bulls are actually a little bit better with Hinrich running the show. When Hinrich plays with the starters the Bulls are a plus-7.0 per 100 possessions, but they are "only" a plus-6.2 with Robinson playing with the starters.
Second, they need his energy off the bench. He is an infusion into the offense. The Bulls have five of their six best scoring lineups with Robinson at the helm. It's not that he is playing with a lineup which then generates offense; he seems to be successful with all kinds of lineups.
The Bulls are a better offensive team period when he's on the court, scoring 10 more points per 100 possessions.
Having Robinson come in off the bench allows them the freedom to be versatile with him and saves his energy for when they need it most.
Fans should be used to it by now with Tom Thibodeau. Starting doesn't matter. Finishing does. And Robinson is probably the best fit for a closer the Bulls have without Rose in the lineup. The thing is, though, that the downside of being small is that Robinson can only take so much of a beating.
They need to limit his minutes—and those are best used at the end of games, not at the beginning of them.
Third, the identity of this team is still defense, and Kirk Hinrich brings an amazing level of defense to the team. While the Bulls offense is 10 points better while Robinson is on the court, the defense is also 10 points worse.
Hinrich, as the savvy veteran, is better equipped to lead the starting unit. He fits better with the starting lineup while Robinson fits better with the second unit.
Of course the most important thing is that he plays. Robinson has give Bulls fans a reason to believe they can still very much contend until Derrick Rose returns.
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