Can Nate Robinson Become Our Leandro Barbosa?

Published: October 18, 2015

In September of 2014, Leandro Barbosa was a 31-year-old free agent without any interested suitors. After seven fantastic years in Phoenix, Barbosa bounced around the league and even had to go to the Brazilian League to help resurrect his career. His former coach, Alvin Gentry, along with Steve Kerr and the Warriors brass saw enough to give him a minimum contract prior to the 2014-15 season and he rewarded them with his best season since he left Gentry in 2009.

He started the season off as a fringe rotation player, but by January he became an important fixture for Golden State, adding another scoring option to their second unit. Barbosa, who isn’t a pure point guard by any means, played well with Shaun Livingston, another combo guard who loves to handle the ball. The pace that Golden State played at, along with the freedom that Gentry’s system gave him and the pressure Livingston took off of him, allowed Barbosa to be a key player for a championship team last year. Can the same thing happen this year for newly acquired veteran Nate Robinson this season?

Robinson, like Barbosa last season, was a 31-year-old free agent that had one foot out of the league before Gentry and the Pelicans brass reached out and gave him a chance this week. In fact, when you look closely at Robinson and Barbosa, you will see a lot of similarities. Barbosa’s usage rate heading into last season – 23.0. Robinson’s career usage rate – 23.7. Turnover rates – Barbosa is at 11.7, Nate is 12.0. Career PER’s? Both men are at 15.6. Corner three-point shooting, win shares per 48, steal percentage – all nearly identical. In fact, it would be extremely hard to find two men with ten or more years in the league each with more in common stat wise.

Teams believed that Barbosa was on the decline last season, hence the relative lack of interest. Similarly, after a remarkable season filling in for Derrick Rose back in 2012-13, Robinson’s numbers have declined the past two years. Robinson found himself with the imploding Nuggets and the Clippers last season – where NBA role players go to die – and he had (arguably) the worst season of his NBA career. When you combine that with his style of play and his questionable off-court antics, many teams probably viewed him as more trouble than he was worth.

But after a two-week stretch that saw the Pelicans absolutely depleted by injuries, the need for another playmaker was obvious, and Robinson was the most accomplished player available. Not only is Jrue Holiday on a minutes restriction, but Norris Cole will likely miss at least the first month of the season, Eric Gordon has a back issue, and Tyreke Evans’s knee is acting up again. While it is commendable to give overseas guys like Corey Webster and Bo McCaleb a chance in training camp, the Pelicans need somebody who has shown he can succeed in an NBA game if they need a guy to play major minutes early on. Nate Robinson is that guy.

Nate Robinson is a plus-40% on catch-and-shoot 3’s over the last three years, and isn’t the greatest off the dribble shooter in the world, but he’s better than every Pelican guard other than Holiday. Robinson can run the pick and roll, and perhaps most importantly, he can keep the turnovers to a minimum even when he is asked to play a large role in the offense. Despite high usage rates throughout his career, Robinson has never averaged more than 2.7 turnovers per 36 minutes – and that was in his rookie year. He is careful with the ball, can play on or off the ball, and will knock down the three when left open.

Robinson has his flaws, but like Barbosa, the things he does well are highlighted in certain systems and outweigh the negatives. Alvin Gentry’s systems provide both guys with the thing they need most – freedom. On some nights, that freedom will frustrate fans as either of those guys can go 1-10 on a given night. But more times than not, Barbosa was a positive X factor for the Golden State Warriors, and if history is any indicator, Nate Robinson could follow in Barbosa’s footsteps this year.


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