Before joining his fifth team since 2010, Nate Robinson decided to alter his mindset to maximize his potential with the Chicago Bulls. As the regular season draws to a close, Robinson and Tom Thibodeau believe he’s succeeded in his endeavor.
“My mindset was to do whatever coach asked,” said Robinson. “When I got the call (Thibodeau) wanted me to come to the Bulls, I was like 'this is my chance to show the world and these guys that I can be that player that they want me to be'. I just took an initiative to come in and do whatever it took to play as hard as I can when my number is called and just have fun.”
Robinson has been a fixture in the Bulls’ rotation by becoming a consistent playmaking point guard and defensive ball hawk.
“He’s done a good job,” said Thibodeau. “I think along with his experience, each year he’s gotten better and better. He’s been a catalyst for us and he’s had some big games. We want him to be a complete player to play on both sides of the ball and he’s trying to do that.”
Known as a top defensive coach, Thibodeau has worked relentlessly with Robinson on defensive principles and has been pleased by his progress.
“I think he’s growing in that area,” said Thibodeau of Robinson's defense. “He’s improved on his on-ball defense and his off-ball defense because he’s playing a lot with Kirk (Hinrich) now. That’s an area that he’s concentrating on right now. As long as he tries to play the best defense he can, that’s all we can ask him to do.”
Robinson has enjoyed being reunited with Thibodeau, who was an assistant coach when the Seattle native played for the Celtics.
“It’s been great,” said Robinson. “Coach Thibodeau is awesome. He’s on me all the time, which I love because that means he cares and he wants me to get better and help these guys bring energy.”
Thibodeau’s constant tutelage has helped Robinson become a more disciplined point guard and orchestrator.
“Right now I’m actually running the point throughout the course of the game when I’m in there subbing in for Kirk (Hinrich),” said Robinson. “He just molded my game to be more of a floor general and be more of a leader.”
Thibodeau has amazingly found a balance between minimizing Robinson’s erratic play while maintaining his infectious high-energy play.
“You don’t want to change who he is,” said Thibodeau. “There’s going to be some good and bad. At the end, you hope the good outweighs the bad. He’s a talented guy that can come in and knock down three or four shots real quick for you. That’s what we want him to do, provide a spark, and he’s done that.”
With the help of Thibodeau’s guidance in his eighth season, Robinson has finally seen the maturation in his game he has long desired.
“It’s funny because my ‘out of control’ is controlled for me,” said Robinson. “For me it’s just accepting my talent and getting better and slowing down and seeing the game. I’m just trying to better my talents by being more poised. I think over the years it took me a while to get it, but I guess I just love to play the game for what it is. I just have fun with it. I don’t really worry about what people say about my game. I play the way I think it’s supposed to be played, which is hard and my way. I just try to do it within a controlled system of the coaches. I just love basketball. What can I say? I’m like a kid in the candy store and I just love playing, it’s like I’m playing at the playground.”
While the game has slowed down for Robinson, it’s his rapid maturation that has helped Chicago sustain the loss of Derrick Rose and maintain a playoff spot.