New York Knicks rookie Mitchell Robinson has flaws to correct, but he’s flashing elite defensive potential at Summer League.
Beware of the Summer League standout who has yet to prove anything against an NBA-caliber level of competition. That must be reiterated on a consistent basis to New York Knicks fans who are understandably excited by the players who are thriving in Las Vegas.
In saying that, New York has been given an exhibit of why one of their 2018 draft picks has elite potential on the defensive end of the floor.
Kevin Knox has taken the NBA by storm with his explosive finishing ability and relentless pursuit of improvement. He’s taken on every challenge placed in front of him, and has refused to back down in the face of adversity.
True as that may be, it’s second-round draft pick Mitchell Robinson who has given the Knicks the most tangible evidence that they found a steal.
Robinson has been recorded at both 6’11” and 7’1″, which are both tremendous measurements for the center position. He’s still thin in his frame, but he boasts a massive 7’4″ wingspan and athleticism that ranks in the top one percentile of the NBA.
It was all hype until Summer League, but Robinson has proven in three brief games that the upside is real on the defensive end of the floor.
Robinson began Summer League by recording nine points, eight rebounds, four blocks, and one steal in 27 minutes of action. It was an impressive showing by the 20-year-old, as he battled inside with a second-year player who impressed in 2017-18: John Collins.
Robinson also shot 1-of-4 from the free throw line and committed six personal fouls, but the signs of potential were clear as day.
The next time out, Robinson posted 12 points, 11 rebounds, eight offensive boards, and two blocks in just 22 minutes against the Utah Jazz. He committed seven personal fouls, but again showcased a set of abilities that should translate well to the NBA.
That includes the ability to absolutely dominate the offensive glass, with the long arms and athletic ability to reach rebounds that most simply can’t.
Robinson rounded it all into form by posting 13 points, eight rebounds, five offensive boards, and three blocks in 26 minutes against the Los Angeles Lakers. He committed five fouls—a decreased tally from the first two games—and shot 3-of-4 from the free throw line—a severe improvement.
Robinson made a number of highlight plays against the Lakers, and proved to have the toughness to battle inside against their bigs.
Clearly, crashing the boards and blocking shots against Summer League competition isn’t the same as doing so in the NBA. A vast majority of the players on the court are fighting for a contract that wouldn’t even guarantee them a place in the rotation.
What Robinson has managed to do, however, is provide the New York Knicks with information that can help them find his ideal role on both ends of the floor.
Offensively, Robinson’s athleticism enables the potential for powerful execution in the pick and roll. He can set a screen, swiftly dive to the basket, and either catch the ball in traffic with strong hands or play above the rim as a lob target.
Defensively, Robinson’s ability to cover ground is something that should immediately translate to the next level.
Cutting down on fouls and improving his footwork will be essential, but how exactly can one watch a center cover that much ground without getting excited?
Having a center who possesses the length and athleticism to defend the pick and roll will make the game significantly easier for Kristaps Porzingis. Robinson’s ability to run out to the perimeter and force shooters off the three-point line could be of even greater significance.
New York ranked in the bottom third of the NBA in both three-point field goals allowed and opponent three-point field goal percentage. With a center who can cover that much ground, shooters will be forced to put the ball on the floor or make an extra pass.
When a shooter opts to attack the closeout and drive the lane, one of the premier rim protectors in the NBA, Porzingis, will be awaiting their arrival.
The New York Knicks will need help Mitchell Robinson to become a more disciplined defender and polished offensive player, but there’s something special to work with.