By Nick Faggio
Cue the “Idk, maybe he lives in a NYC loft” jokes.
Lofty may be a good way to describe his ceiling, however. During Mitchell Robinson’s rookie campaign, he recorded a total of 161 blocks in just 66 games; a mark good enough to take 2nd place in blocks per game for the season. Not bad for a 7-footer’s first year in the Association.
A rookie who missed out on playing college ball, Robinson entered the league with only high school and AAU experience but still recorded a 9 block game versus the Magic. What’s more, it happened in what was just his 12th career outing.
When he entered the league, Robinson’s inexperience commonly got him in foul trouble. Guys with a little more meat on their bones could knock him out of position. But even with his faults, his raw ability to record 2.4 blocks per game serves as an ode to his defensive potential. The possibility of Robinson being the Knicks’ best defender since Patrick Ewing gives us fans a sense of renewed hope. All-Defensive Team selections could be a matter of when, not if. But how can Robinson get there?
Defensively, Robinson has all of the measurables to impact on the highest level. His ability to use his 7-foot-4 wingspan to close out and block three-point shots is a scary sight for opponents. Agility for someone that big is rare; suggesting the Knicks could have a future switch-5 defender. How often do you see bigs fight around screen to do this:
What’s more, Robinson shows flashes of being able to defend on the perimeter when switched onto guards. His discipline and fundamentals need more growth but Robinson’s length and leaping ability make up for it. Below, he gets put off-balance by Austin River’s smooth handle yet still has the physical attributes necessary to erase the shot.
He is also a primetime paint deterrent. According to the RAD metric at BBall-Index.com, Robinson ranks 19th in the NBA this season at limiting opponents shots at the rim. Specifically, teams take 2.11 less shots at the tin when he’s on the floor. If you want to see what this looks like visually, watch James Harden think twice in this next clip.
Just because Robinson has shown stellar defensive flashes at times does not mean his game is one dimensional. Before this season was suspended, Mitchell was shooting a ridiculous 73.2 percent from the field, on pace to break a record currently held by Wilt Chamberlain (72.7%.) Robinson’s athletic ability and huge hands allow him to convert every alley-oop finishes in fashion. Check out the way this gazelle in hooper’s clothing runs down the court before the slam.
When the Knicks get Robinson moving downhill off of screens, high percentage chances result. There may not be a lob too high for Robinson to snag. A consistent lob-thrower, however, may be the key to unlocking is potential.
Yet, Robinson has not been totally unleashed by the Knicks this season. In addition to providing a must-see twitter name, Geoffrey Campbell of Elite Sports NY stopped by to lend some thoughts on the matter. Campbell suggested that,
“…the overall hesitance in giving him 30 min plus a night stems from his ankle injuries during his rookie year, foul trouble, and the fact that he didn’t play organized basketball for an entire year prior to getting drafted.”– Geoffrey Campbell
This comes in spite of the excellent, hyperefficient production that garners Robinson player comparisons to Marcus Camby, Tyson Chandler and even Rudy Gobert. Despite playing significantly less minutes than Gobert, Robinson is still just second to him in dunks on the season. When paired with his some of his league leading efficiency stats, these comparisons could hold weight.
Additionally, his on/off stats with New York are top tier. Cleaning the Glass provided these telling numbers and it only makes you question the Knicks even more. How could they not give more minutes to a player who produces such a lovely shade of orange?
It is no wonder that New York has a greater point differential when he is on the court. Robinson does not take many field goals but his vertical spacing helps the offense run efficiently. Off of this pick and roll, watch RJ Barrett’s defender fake-and-retreat. He does so to cover Robinson, who is always a lob threat. This creates a wide open jumper for Barrett.
Campbell discussed how Robinson does not need to acquire the skill set of a Karl-Anthony Towns or Joel Embiid to be a Knicks long time center. He offered that Robinson is,
“one of the few players, that even if he doesn’t develop a post game or a reliable jump shot, will still impact winning for a long time. He’s a franchise cornerstone for sure.– Campbell
This doesn’t mean Robinson is exempt from working on his game. He fouls too often and the game can still look too fast for him. These kinks must be ironed out and the only way to do so is to let the kid play. In a league that prioritizes taking high percentage 2-pointers and stopping teams from doing the same, Robinson’s lack of major minutes is inexcusable.
New York needs to draft, sign or trade for a point guard that can develop solid pick and roll rapport with Robinson. Perhaps they should experiment more with a Barrett-Robinson pick and roll combo. Defensively, they need to simply let him learn from his mistakes. If this happens, New York could have an All-Defensive team anchor on their hands. Until then, well, it looks like the Knicks are gonna’ Knick.