StrategyMarch 16, 2009

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Keeper Case: Nate Robinson

By Phil Londen

At this point in the season, it is clear that New York’s Nate Robinson was one of the best waiver wire prizes this year. His stellar play and fantasy production this season require that KryptoNate be given full keeper consideration.

Let’s take a look at the reigning NBA Dunk Champion in more detail and see if he warrants being considered a legitimate keeper.

League Settings and Team Composition
Of course, league settings play an important role in determining which players are valuable enough to keep. A league with a large number of managers will have a different keeper quality than a smaller league. Similarly, a league with a large number of keepers will have different keeper quality than a league with fewer keepers. Also, scoring categories play a role, as the inclusion or exclusion of values affects keeper values.

Another factor in the keeper debate is team composition. Certain teams are stacked and have maybe seven or eight legitimate keeper candidates. Other teams have a couple of quality keeper candidates and some other borderline candidates. These teams may also have older fantasy stars whose careers are trending downward and may be better acquired through the redraft.

Robinson definitely falls into the borderline keeper category and we should therefore consider some other factors to see if he warrants keeper status.

Age and Ceiling
In each of his four seasons in the league, Robinson has improved as a player, which have resulted in significant fantasy gains along the way. This season Nate has transformed from fantasy fringe player to a must-start fantasy player. Beyond the natural progression as a player, Mike D’Antoni’s coaching has allowed Nate to truly blossom as an offensive force. Under D’Antoni, Nate has also become a terror in the passing lanes, as evidenced by his spike in steals this season.

At 24, Nate has his prime years ahead of him and should continue to improve statistically in the coming years. Although constantly underrated and dismissed due to his size (officially listed at 5′9″ and 180 pounds), Robinson has made up for lack of NBA size with freakish athleticism. Without the athleticism, Robinson would clearly not be the player he is today.

Regarding Nate’s ceiling as a player, you have to think that he is currently playing at a level just below his ceiling. The only area of Nate’s fantasy game we can realistically expect to see significant improvements in is steals. Possessing lightning quickness, Robinson could increase his fantasy value greatly if he were to accumulate more steals per game. If he approaches or exceeds two steals per game, Robinson’s fantasy value would be greatly augmented.

The Numbers
As mentioned earlier, Coach D’Antoni has created the opportunity for Robinson and his teammates to step up and take a big role in the New York offense. Robinson has played a big part in the Knicks’ success throughout the season and his averages stats are good for thirtieth in the league over that time period (standard nine category), according to Basketball Monster’s Player Rankings. However, over the past 22 games, Robinson has stepped up his game and earned himself a ranking of thirteenth in per game statistics. Over the past month, Nate has been playing phenomenal basketball and his ranking of tenth over that time period reflects it. Take a look at his numbers for the season and his more recent numbers.

Full Season57 G44.984.
Past 50 Days22 G47.984.323.
Past Month12 G47.986.726.

Over the past couple of months, Robinson has been scoring more while also scoring more efficiently. That is the key to making the transition from the middle ranks of fantasy fame to the realm of the truly elite. Robinson has been proving that he can score in quantity without sacrificing quality in D’Antoni’s offensive system. Nate truly has carved out a Barbosa-like role for himself in New York, and should continue to provide instant offense off the bench.

Robinson’s fantasy line is very strong and provides across the board production, with the lone exception being blocks. On a head-to-head team that is punting blocks, Robinson is a perfect fit (although he has been known to block a shot once in a while). Robinson’s primary fantasy assets are in points and threes. However, he provides solid value in steals and assists as well, while also scoring efficiently from the field and the line. With his increased volume over the past month, it is nice to see that Robinson’s shooting from the field has actually gotten more efficient.

New York Knicks: Team Composition and Future Prospects
A player’s long term fantasy value and keeper value is strongly related to the player’s NBA team situation and future prospects. In Nate’s case, his fantasy value is intimately connected with Mike D’Antoni and his high scoring offensive system. D’Antoni’s defensive schemes also allow players with Nate’s quickness to play aggressive defense in the passing lanes, which results in lots of steals.

But is Robinson’s situation with the Knicks secure? That is the most crucial piece of information for determining whether or not Nate is worthy of being kept.

Next season, Nate is a restricted free agent. That means that Donnie Walsh and the Knicks can match any offer for Robinson’s services in order to keep him on their roster. Or, if Robinson is made a large offer, the Knicks can choose to let him go. With the Knicks clearing cap space in order to enter the Lebron sweepstakes, it is hard to tell whether or not Robinson is in the Knicks’ future plans. In addition to Robinson, the Knicks also have a difficult decision about whether or not to re-sign Madison Square Garden favorite, David Lee.

Looking at the team situation in general, the Knicks would probably be in deep front court trouble if they let David Lee walk. They do not have very much depth at power forward and center and could also look to the draft to add a quality big man. The Knicks also have a need for a true backup point guard, as D’Antoni prefers to use Nate as an offensive threat instead of a distributor. Chris Duhon has done a remarkable job this season as the Knicks starting point guard but is clearly showing signs of wear and tear after averaging a career high 37.8 minutes per game this season. With the acquisition of another point guard or combo guard, Robinson’s role with the team may become redundant, with negative implications for Nate’s fantasy value.

Nate Robinson can certainly be considered a legitimate keeper option in most leagues and in most formats. However, his fantasy status is correlated with whether or not he remains a Knick. If Robinson remains in New York, there is no reason to believe he cannot play at a similar level to this season for the next few years. However, Robinson’s status will remain unresolved until the offseason. If you are in a keeper league with late keeper deadlines, it may make sense to wait as long as possible to see if Nate remains a Knick. If he does stay in New York playing for Coach D’Antoni, Robinson is a very attractive keeper option. If he ends up leaving the Knicks, his status as a legitimate keeper option may be in jeopardy but would have to be reconsidered based upon where he ended up.

Phil Londen is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Phil in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of plonden.
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