When we signed on to do the Natrix, we knew it would be a seesaw ride: Robinson's ups and downs are, after all, the point of this feature. But we are still surprised by what has happened so far this season.
Nate opened with an 0-for-8 shooting performance and proceeded to go 10 for 35 (that's 28.6 percent) in his first three games. At the end of October, he sprained his ankle and missed the next six contests. When he returned, he played dismally for three games and, after a horseplay shot at the wrong basket against New Jersey, appeared to be headed for the bottom of the bench. Then, after the Knicks passed on Allen Iverson, in a five-game stretch at the end of November he played 27 minutes per game, averaged nineteen points and shot nearly 60 percent from the field. The peak came with a 22-point fourth quarter against Orlando in which he sank nine consecutive shots in less than eight minutes. The little guy was going like gangbusters. But he hasn't made a basket, and has played only eleven minutes, since. What gives?
Well, the Knicks do, for one. They lost every game in that hot stretch, giving up 112 points on average. They seemed to have rewound to last February, when Nate regularly led the team in scoring while they lost almost all their games. Back then, as now, the Knicks were going nowhere and everybody knew it. The thinking seemed to be: Why not let Nate run wild? At least then there would be some thrills to go with all the losing. But this time something in Mike D'Antoni flipped and he decided to bury Robinson on the bench. D'Antoni's official explanation is that "it's probably more about Toney [Douglas] than about Nate." This makes perfect sense. Douglas plays better defense than Nate and doesn't dominate the ball. Plus, there's a chance he could someday be a starter on a good Knicks team. But that doesn't explain why Nate hasn't played a single minute in the last four games. Clearly something happened to sour D'Antoni. According to the Post, "the final straw" came when he "caught Robinson yukking it up during the pregame" with Orlando's Dwight Howard. Maybe so, but Nate must have piled on a lot of straws before that one. Perhaps the benching is only temporary, but for the moment D'Antoni seems to have decided that Nate isn't worth the trouble.
Given that the Knicks have won four of five since Nate began riding the cushy chairs, he may very well be right, but it leaves us with a few questions. Why did the Knicks bother to sign Robinson, even if only for one year and $4 million? Were they not aware that he is an erratic, no-defense scorer? And why are Knicks fans chanting "We want Nate!"? Do they not like winning? And, most urgent of all, what will happen to the Natrix?
The final tallies:
Nov. 29 vs. Orlando
Spectacularity 8 out of 10
Nate the Greatness 5 out of 10
Dec. 2–7 DNP
Spectaularity 1 out of 10 (it can't be a 0 when the fans chant your name even though you're on the bench)
Nate the Greatness 7 out of 10 (Whatever it takes, right?)