It was never going to be a one man job filling in for the injured Derrick Rose. Probably for the first time this season, the restocked group known as the bench mob pushed the Chicago Bulls to a win, led by Nate Robinson, enjoying his best game for his new team with 18 points in a 87-80 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Not much is left from the group that was considered the best supporting cast in the NBA. Taj Gibson, and pretty much no one else. New faces: Nate Robinson (11.5 points, 4.2 assists), Nazr Mohammed (0.7 points, 1.8 rebounds), Marquis Teague (rookie, 1 points, 1.5 assists), Marco Belinelli (7 points per game) and Vladimir Radmanovic (1 point, 0.3 assists). Not the kind of output that’ll fill in for the former NBA MVP, who’s replaced in the starting lineup by Kirk Hinrich, averaging 5.7 points and 5 assists per game.
It was always going to be a team effort. Taj Gibson getting more minutes for the constant disappointment that is Carlos Boozer; Joakim Noah taking more responsibility on offense, averaging 15 points so far this season; Rip Hamilton showing what he can add when he’s healthy from the get go, with 13.5 points per game, and obviously Luol Deng, whose contribution is in much more than points, but he knows that the Bulls need him to be much bigger on the offensive side, averaging 17.7 points so far this season.
But it’s always going to be about the X-factor. X-Factor and defense when these are the Chicago Bulls we’re talking about, scoring only 94.5 points per game so far this season put keeping opponents at 88.7, 5th best in the NBA. Only once have they scored more than 100 points in the first six games, but they haven’t allowed 100 points against anyone this season.
When you look at the Bulls’ lineup, it’s solid all around. Nothing great, but good, dependable players. A good, dependable bench. Nate Robinson, on a good day, makes it much more than that. Now that Kirk Hinrich is out with a right hip strain, it’s much more up to the man mostly known for his Dunk contest victories, and less for his ability to be a consistent point guard, reliable at both his scoring, unselfishness and general decision making.
No one is expecting Robinson to be Derrick Rose; in fact, after 7 years in the NBA in which Robinson never managed to get an unmovable spot in a starting lineup, it’s hard to know what to expect from the 5’9 guard, who is much more of a shooting guard in his style, but confined to the role of a point guard because of his height.
Once again, another team (his fifth NBA franchise) and another head coach who has a shot at curbing the talent, harnessing it for good and organized instead of wild, unpredictable and sometimes destructive for those around him.
Against the Timberwolves, it was a Robinson who shows up 40-50% of the time. There is always energy in his game, but the problem is the direction he takes it. It was the right one against Minnesota, scoring 18 points while going 8-14 from the field and adding four assists. His decision making was great, and he didn’t force anything like he usually does.
He led the Bulls to the 11 point run that pretty much that gave them enough of a cushion for the rest of the game. He’s not going to be Derrick Rose, but Robinson has the ability to make the Bulls a much better team on offense, if he plays the game like he did against the T-Wolves. Simple, smart, with his own special spark of energy.