There's some thought that a team can pick up a Nate Robinson at the minimum at any point. Guys who are undersized and score are simply a dime a dozen, but that's not really true. There's a huge gap between Robinson and John Lucas III or C.J. Watson. In fact Nate Robinson was the best one year player to ever suit up for the Chicago Bulls.
Mike McGraw posted a list of the top scorers to only play one season for the Bulls. Robinson comes second on the list, but he's first in assists per game and PER. Statistically, it seems clear Robinson is the best.
Going beyond the stats, he also had tons of big moments for Chicago. He effectively won game four against the Brooklyn Nets single-handedly. His performance in that game is easily on the list of all time great Bulls playoff performances. A case could be made that it's the best playoff performance by any player outside of Michael Jordan in a Bulls uniform, and that includes Derrick Rose.
Robinson almost broke the record for fourth quarter points in a playoff game (one shy of Jordan if memory serves me correctly) and his flurry of points at the end to erase a 14 point deficit over roughly a four minute stretch was one of the more remarkable things you'll ever see in the NBA.
Robinson scored on five straight possessions before assisting on the final one, hitting all four of his shots, knocking down all three of his free throws (fouled on a three), and then finding Carlos Boozer for a wide open layup to tie the game after Brooklyn finally double teamed him hard to get the ball out of his hands. Over that stretch he scored 12 and had the assist on the game tying field goal.
No one will forget his toughness as he played through the flu, throwing up in a bucket on the sideline during game six of the series. For a team decimated with injuries, Robinson came through. There's no stat about how well the Bulls played without Robinson, because they never had to. He suited up in all 82 games and every playoff game.
Beyond what he did for the Bulls on the floor both objectively and subjectively, I think Robinson meant even more for the fans. I don't know if there's a Bulls fan I talked to over the year who didn't fall in love with little Nate during the season. He brought the energy and excitement to a team that was about as interesting as watching paint dry.
From his scoring bursts to his wild dunk attempt over Ibaka that fell about two feet short, Nate Robinson never failed to entertain. He was what made tuning into a game of defensive rotations and poor offensive execution watchable. He gave you that "what's going to happen next" feeling, pumped up the crowd, and lifted you out of your seat.
Nate Robinson signed with Denver for two years and four million. I'm not quite sure whether the Bulls are better off with Dunleavy or Robinson. I understand that Nate's role won't be needed so much with Derrick back. I understand the Bulls have three PGs on the roster already and likely couldn't have dumped Hinrich for cap room (not that I think they tried).
However, the team will definitely be a little sadder without Nate, a little less fun, possibly quite a bit worse. Will Dunleavy create a shot when the Bulls need him to? Will Hinrich stay health or generate any offense for the second team? Maybe the Bulls are better off with the roster they put together. Once they used the MMLE they had no money to offer, and if they did there still wasn't any room left. I get it.
However, I'm still going to miss Nate Robinson. Thank you for that amazing season.