Confession: I am an ardent long-time supporter of new Denver Nuggets guard Nate Robinson. While the NBA's largest Napoleon complex of the post-Iverson era has his flaws and a reputation for being a sideshow, there's a highly talented NBA player behind the yapping.
For whatever reason, humans are adverse to things that are tiny and obnoxiously interested in making their presence known. We have a baby exception, for puppies and other things that are irrepressibly cute and can pass their annoying nature off on not knowing better. But when things should have grown and maintain peak yippiness, we get irritated. I'm talking about Slippy, the annoying, androgynous frog that's supposed to be your wingman in Star Fox but dies every eight seconds. I'm talking about Scrappy-Doo, who, yes, is a puppy, but doesn't pass the baby exemption because he isn't cute in any way, shape or form and was put in the cartoons by adults who should have known better. I'm talking about THAT STUPID PAPER CLIP THAT ASKS YOU IF YOU'RE TRYING TO WRITE A LETTER IN MS OFFICE SHUT UP SHUT SHUT UP YOU'RE THE REASON I BOUGHT A MAC.
In these terms, Nate Robinson is extraordinarily Slippy-esque.
I first encountered Robinson as a high school-aged Knicks fan. It was a terrifying and sad time. One year, the Knicks won 33 games, Eddy Curry felt he had been snubbed for an All-Star bid and got a tattoo saying "BEND NEVER BREAK" across his chest to commemorate his snub, and I considered it a great season. My point is, actual basketball relevance wasn't important.
In this environment, Robinson thrived. In 2005-06, he was one of three rookies, alongside David Lee and Channing Frye, and his frisky desire to constantly be shooting and overexcitable antics were fun distractions from a dismal season. He hit a game-winning three over Allen Iverson to cap his first career 30-point game. He blocked Yao Ming one time. He won the Slam Dunk Contest, a trophy he maybe didn't deserve from the dunks he had, but dawwwwwwww look at how small he is and how high he can jump! He could score and he was a freaky athlete, and there was room to grow. His precociousness befit his 5'9 frame, and his 5'9 frame befit his youth.
I, too, was probably around 5'9 at the time. But I've grown -- I'm probably around 6'2, but I'd yell at any NBA team that signed me to list me as 6'3 -- and while I became a man, or at the very least a heavy drinking 23-year-old, I put aside childish things. And as Nate aged, he never seemed to grow, turning into a veteran convinced he was still an NBA newbie.
Four years into his career, he was still showing up at the NBA Summer League, something so rare they retired his jersey. (No word on whether it's still hanging from this past week in Las Vegas.) Five years into his career, he was still participating in the Slam Dunk Contest, meant for "Rising Stars," and although he took pleasure from winning, the rest of us wondered what he was still doing there.
And his game hasn't grown either. He still guns, taking 15.0 shots per 36 minutes. He's still not a point guard, shooting about two and a half times for every assist he picks up. He still hasn't figured out how to make himself anything but an enormous defensive liability due to his frame, although he's blessed with tremendous athleticism and strength.
And although he's no longer playing for doomed 25-win Knicks teams, he's always played like it. He was relegated to a deep bench role on the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder, and although he was sometimes useful -- he saw the court in Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 2010 as the C's looked to get back in the game late -- he was generally something they didn't need: a volume scorer on teams that were vying for the NBA Finals.
But there's a reason that despite all this, Robinson hasn't been loaded into a cannon and blasted to the D-League or China by the NBA's executives. Although he has a limited skill set -- scoring, trying hard to score, shooting -- he's quite good at it.
Robinson shot 40.5 percent from three last year. He averaged 13.1 points per game, not a career high, not close, but his best effort ever on a team that ended up making the playoffs.
And with Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, and virtually every other Chicago Bulls player struck down by injuries, Robinson was forced into a starring role, and he didn't disappoint. He had 29 points in the fourth quarter and overtimes of a triple-OT comeback win against the Nets:
Then, tasked with an unwinnable series against the Heat after knocking off the Nets in seven, Robinson answered again:
And scored the final seven points in a Game 1 upset win:
There isn't a whole lot Nate Robinson can do. He's one-dimensional to a fault. He's the same 55-inch, 155-decibel sparkplug scorer with a knack for shooting when he shouldn't and a knack for hitting shots when he shouldn't that he was back in 2006. For all his NBA experience, he's not a veteran. He's just an oversized kid who didn't become oversized enough.
But he owns that one dimension. He owns it thoroughly, and with no remorse. And although he's relegated to being Ty Lawson's backup and perhaps a third-stringer if Andre Miller stays, I can only dream about the haywire uptempo havoc he could wreak in Denver.