Something unexpected became very evident as the Bulls' preseason progressed: Nate Robinson, despite his reputation as a flashy, shoot-first point guard, has the discipline to not only control the tempo, make plays for his teammates and take care of the basketball, but the diminutive scorer also possesses the capacity to not let the aforementioned traits limit him from doing what he does best. In Friday's win over the rival Pacers--a term that Carlos Boozer, for one, slightly objects to, saying "rivalry's a strong word," when characterizing the divisional battles the Bulls have had with Indiana, seen by many as the Central Division favorites this season--on the campus of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., Robinson scored an efficient 21 points on 7-for-10 shooting, dished out eight assists and perhaps most importantly, notched only one turnover while playing starter's minutes in place of the injured Kirk Hinrich.
"I had that one, but as a team, I think were taking care of the ball. Throughout the game, nobodys going to go perfect with no turnoversa whole team, Ive never seen a game like thatbut its something that weve got to get better at, taking care of the ball. Trying to stay under 13, but keep being aggressive, as weve been doing," the irrepressible Seattle native said. "For me, I just try not to make the home-run play all the time. I just make the right play. Just pass, move, cut. The pass is there, hopefully they make the shot. If they dont, you live with it, get back on defense."
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau concurred: "We want 13 or less and so, the last two games have been very good. Making the simple plays, the balls moving, bodies are moving, good spacing. If we can sustain our spacing, we should be able to take care of the ball."
Robinson, who first crossed paths with Thibodeau when both were employed by the Boston Celtics, had an idea of what he was in for when he signed with the Bulls. However, it was reinforced during voluntary workouts in the offseason and throughout training camp--particularly after his off-the-backboard fast-break alley-oop to swingman Jimmy Butler was closely scrutinized by the basketball-purist coach--that Robinson would have to tone down some of his crowd-pleasing ways in order to properly execute Thibodeau's system, without losing too much of what's made him successful in his well-traveled NBA career.
"We run it so much in practiceIve got to say it again: Coach is big on repetitionso we run the plays over and over. He drills it in our head about running the play, getting guys in their sets where theyre supposed to be and I think we do a great job in the course of the game," Robinson explained. "Im here to fill in. Guys go down, Ill be ready. Starting, off the bench. My role, I know, is off the bench. Thats what Ive been doing my whole career and Im happy with it."
"When basketballs fun, it becomes easy, so Friday was fun. We had a great time out there," he added. "We just had fun, it flowed, everything was good. There were some mistakes that we made out there offensively, but overall, it was like kids in the playground, hanging out, having fun."
Fun to Thibodeau is winning via his five basic tenets (inside-out offense, unselfish play, strong rebounding, a commitment to defense and low turnovers), but Robinson's definition also involves playing with boundless energy, which, when properly harnessed, has proven to be effective. Already very popular among his new teammates off the court, the University of Washington product has earned their respect on the floor
"Nate plays high energy. He picks up 94 feet. Offensively, he pushes the ball every time. Its great for us because weve got some great athletes, great finishers, so if we run in transition, put the pressure on the defense trying to get layups and dunks, then we can always pull it back out and execute our offense in the half-court. He does a great job of pushing the rock. You saw his stat line was phenomenal tonight," Carlos Boozer said. "He plays with a lot of confidence, man. Its a big deal. I think as we get healthy, when we get everybody back, hes going to be monumental for our second group."
Directly next to Robinson in proximity in the Bulls' locker room is center Joakim Noah, previously the team's undisputed champion in terms of bringing electricity to the court. But the locker-room neighbors are now battling for the crown.
"I hope so. I dont know. Joakim says no, so I guess Ive got to do a better job," Robinson responded to the question of just how much energy he plays with, before moving on to a query about a comparison with his teammate, who is more than a foot taller than him "Him? Nah, Ive got way more energy than Joakim. Im taking that title, so he better move to the back of the bus."