For the first nine games of the year, Nick Robinson manned the
starting small forward position while Josh Childress rested and
healed a stress reaction in his foot. The redshirt junior from
Liberty, MO played big minutes in some of those games, including
37 against then #1-ranked Kansas. Starting point guard Chris Hernandez was out for two of those preseason games with back
troubles, which forced Robinson to play meaningful minutes atop
the offense as well.
When Childress worked his way back into the rotation in
January, Robinson continued to play more than 20 minutes each
game for the next three weeks. Only in the fourth week of the
Pac-10 season did he move to the bench, now in a more clearly
defined reserve role. But then starting power forward Justin Davis was lost to a knee injury just three games later at Oregon State. The following week, Robinson was back in the starting
lineup - now as a frontcourt player.
The difference between the "three" and the
"four" defensively in a game can vary, depending on the
personnel and matchups that a given opponent brings to the game.
But the offensive roles are quite distinct in Stanford's offense
- in both games and practices. During the week, the team
practices stretches of time in positional groupings, typically
with the frontcourt players off by themselves with big assistant
coach Eric Reveno. They work on low and high post offensive plays
and defensive tactics. The wings are in another world, passing
around the perimeter and refining their jump-shooting and
Practices work on cerebral functions for the game, but they
also condition players to react in various situations and plays
by muscle memory. You are being conditioned to move to certain
spots on the floor and act out specific movements in the
offensive sets. Transitioning from a "wing" to a
"big" requires a complete change of focus on the floor
- for both offense and defense.
Robinson made that transition well enough, as he started the
last nine games of the regular season at the power forward. With
Davis completely out of action, Robinson was not some utility man
who could be utilized creatively as a four-man; instead, he was a
crucial cog in the tight post rotation. Only Matt Haryasz and Joe Kirchofer were available to backup Robinson and Rob Little. Foul
trouble was commonplace for one or more of that quartet, which is
a big reason why Robinson averaged 28+ minutes game over that
But then last weekend in the Pac-10 Tournament, Davis returned
to game action. The fifth-year senior power forward came off the
bench for limited minutes each of the first two games, but in the
final contest against Washington, he started and played a
surprising 27 minutes. Barring some reinjury of his knee, Davis
will start the remainder of the season for Stanford and likely
play big minutes. Rather than juggle three players at the power
forward position, Mike Montgomery would like to utilize Robinson
elsewhere on the floor.
"We want to use Nick at the two, three and the four. He's
so valuable off the bench," the cogitating coach offers.
"He's just such a smart defender - such a smart player. He
does so many things for us. I told him, 'I need you on the
perimeter." Let's see if we can get by with Justin and Matt
[at power forward]. Maybe Joe and Rob could play together, even.
Joe has played really well."
And so the 24-year old ping pong ball is shuttled once again
to a new position on the floor. A change like this 30 games into
the season could be a traumatic one for almost any player, but
Robinson has been juggled between wing and post positions his
entire Stanford playing career. Change is just about the only
constant he has known.
"He did it early on," Montgomery reminds us of
Robinson playing on the wing. While his time the first two months
of the season were at the small forward, rather than the shooting
guard, in the Stanford offense there is little enough difference
as to be of no concern to the redshirt junior.
"Essentially I feel no difference between the two and the
three," Robinson declares. "I don't feel much of an
adjustment. And I've been working out here [on the wing] the last
few weeks already. This wasn't just a change this week after
Justin played. We had been leading up to this. I've already been
spending a lot of time in practice with the wings."
The Missouri man also recognizes that the way in which he
played at the forward position had a little more "wing"
flavor to it than your run-of-the-mill post player.
"To be honest, even when I'm a four I play on the
perimeter," Robinson admits. "I have to continue to be
aggressive attacking the basket, and hope to hit some shots. At
the two, I should have a good size advantage and still be able to
get to the basket."
Driving to the hole has seldom been a question for the
versatile 6'7" Stanford man, though. The concern by
observers has been his outside shooting. Whether or not he is a
good jump shooter remains to be seen, but it has become painfully
clear that he is reticent to shoot in perimeter situations.
Robinson has taken just 16 shots beyond the arc in his last 10
weeks (19 games). He has made only four during that span.
"We'd like to get him back to shooting the ball
early," Montgomery allows. "Like to see him hit four of
This is the critical factor to watch for Robinson on offense
if he plays these minutes at the shooting guard that Montgomery
is forecasting. The scouting report on the wing/forward is clear:
Play off him to protect against that long-stride drive. No
worries, he won't shoot.
A shooting guard who doesn't shoot is probably a liability in
this offense, which through much of the year has enjoyed scoring
threats from all five positions on the floor. But playing time
and positions are about much more than offense for Mike
Montgomery. Defense ultimately rules in his book.
"Nick really helps us on the perimeter," says
Childress on the prospect of playing with Robinson
"smaller" than him on the wing. Previously this year
they have played together with Robinson inside as a
"He is a heck of a defender," Childress continues.
"To have big forwards like him spread out there defending
guards - that's great. Nick is probably our best all-around
defender. Most teams have an excellent wing; it will be great to
have Nick to shut that down."
Though each team will need to win three games before they can
meet, the spectre of Connecticut's Ben Gordon looms large in the
minds of many Cardinalmaniacs™. He blew by Stanford
defenders in turnstile fashion, driving to the basket in a
veritable carpool lane. The Phoenix bracket this year has plenty
of talented wings who could give the Cardinal problems, as well.
If Childress is correct, and Robinson can be the designated
stopper to plug those lethal leaks on the perimeter defense, this
move could be the missing link for Stanford's drive to a return
trip to San Antonio and the Final Four.
- For those worried about the health of Justin Davis' knee
after three games in three days last weekend, including
an alarming 27 minutes, there is good news. While
Montgomery admits he may have gone too far with his
recuperating senior forward in the Pac-10 Tournament
final game ("Maybe that was more minutes than I
should have had him in there - but he looked pretty
good"), there does not appear to have been any
ill-effects. Says Davis after the blitzkrieg of minutes
last weekend, "I feel fine - just tired from the
games, the travel and this heat. [The knee] is better
than I expected. It's alright."
- Though it has been an assumption of coaches and teammates
all season, there have been some nervous nellies in the
Stanford fanbase who have asked the concerned question
about Nick Robinson's fifth year. At 24 years old, with a
wife and new baby girl, would he still have the desire
and incentive at this stage in his life to stick around
Stanford for a fifth year? The Missouri native took a
redshirt his first season on The Farm (2000-01) and has
another year of eligibility remaining should he choose to
use it. "Of course I'm coming back," he replied
to my question, with a surprised blank stare that the
question even needs to be asked. Robinson has applied and
already been accepted for a co-teriminal fifth year in
the Sociology Department, where he will pursue a master's
degree while simultaneously concluding his bachelor's
studies next year. Should Josh Childress jump to the NBA
this spring, Robinson would be a no-brainer to start at
the small forward position in the 2004-05 season. A more
interesting question will be debated as to whether Mike
Montgomery would start Robinson at the shooting guard
position if Childress stays. The wise Stanford veteran,
known as "Pops" by teammates, would be tough to
keep on the bench with three starting spots to fill. But
there is already good depth and competition at the
off-guard between Dan Grunfeld and Tim Morris next year,
while the depth at the power forward will be thin behind
presumptive starter Matt Haryasz. Much food for thought
in the coming off-season. We'll chew on it then, once we
know what Childress does...
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