We're now a little more than a week away from the start of the NBA's regular season, and the excitement is palpable in Boston as the Celtics prepare to defend their Eastern Conference championship and make another run at the Finals.
The anticipation of the C's season opener on Oct. 26 against the Miami Heat is everywhere. You can feel it in the air. But if you're really perceptive, you can also feel a tinge of disappointment — when it comes time for the games that really count, we're probably going to miss the exploits of one Nathaniel Cornelius Robinson.
Nate Robinson has played in all seven preseason games for the Celtics this October, logging big minutes while all the veterans around him on the C's bench pace themselves for the regular season. With one game still to play on the team's exhibition schedule, Robinson currently leads the squad in minutes per game (26.1), points per game (14.3), field goals made (26), 3-pointers made (12) and free throws made (36).
He's been quietly dominating for a Celtics team that's 6-1 despite resting its starters extensively. He had a big weekend against Toronto and New York (going off for 23 and 13 points respectively), and he dropped 26 on the Sixers earlier this week in the team's lone preseason loss. He's been more than just an X-factor off the bench; he's been the leader of the pack.
That can't last. When the season tips off next week, Doc Rivers will inevitably scale back Robinson's minutes and hand the proverbial car keys back to Rajon Rondo, the king of the 40-plus minute performance. Robinson will return to being a bench scorer and an "energy guy" to infuse new life into the C's second unit. He's capable of being much more than that, but on this team he doesn't get the chance.
It's unfortunate, because Robinson might well be the most entertaining Celtic we've got — both on the court, where his zeal for the game is unmatched, and off it, where he's the team's most lovable jokester.
By day, he's lacing up Shaquille O'Neal's sneakers and tampering with his teammates' popcorn at the movies. By night, he's taking the court and knocking down back-to-back 3s to breathe life into the TD Garden crowd.
This preseason has been The Nate Show, and it's a shame that that has to end. The little guy off the bench won't be leading the C's in points, minutes or anything else of note this season, barring a miracle. He'll have to return to life as a role player, backing up Rondo whether he likes it or not.
But there's a chance this season for Robinson to emerge as the star of the Celtics' second unit, and he's shown that throughout the preseason.
It's been an up and down journey for Robinson since he arrived in Boston back in February. He went from being a star, to being benched, to being a postseason hero, to being a free agent, to being a Celtic again, to being the star of the show now in October.
Somewhere along that roller-coaster ride, Robinson learned a few things about being a Celtic. He learned about unselfishness. He learned about work ethic. He learned about defense. He learned, as Rivers affectionately puts it, that "there's a time to be serious and focused, and there's a time to be Nate."
Nate is going to be Nate a lot this season. He won't be the same guy he's been in October, but he'll be an impact player from wire to wire this year, and in the process, he'll be a heck of a lot of fun to watch.