New York Knicks: Mitchell Robinson thriving early as starter

New York Knicks Mitchell Robinson (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
New York Knicks Mitchell Robinson (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) /

The New York Knicks have embraced Mitchell Robinson as a starter ahead of Enes Kanter.

Mitchell Robinson was the surprise lineup-insertion when New York Knicks head coach David Fizdale changed the starting group after the fifth game. It was at Enes Kanter’s downfall, as he went to the bench and didn’t show much enthusiasm for the move. 

The perception of Robinson’s move to the starting lineup provided athletic defensive presence and, through three games, that has become the case. It’s what team executives Scott Perry and Steve Mills hoped for, including Noah Vonleh, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post.

"“Mitchell is not even scratching the surface of his potential,’’ Vonleh said. “He can be a really good player in this league once he gets comfortable. He’s 20. He gets his feet set and confidence under him he’s going to be a great player. I love the tandem — great defensively. I know he has my back. I have his back.’’"

It’s not just praise for the 2018 second round pick, but his on-court impact that’s difficult to deny.

In the aforementioned three games since the lineup change, Robinson has averaged 6.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.0 steal and 1.0 block in 20.7 minutes. It’s only on 4.3 shot attempts per contest, but offensive confidence will come as he garners experience.

These numbers don’t dwarf Kanter’s 10.0 points and 11.3 rebounds in that span, but the basic points and rebounds fail to tell the full story, which favors the former Western Kentucky commit, per NBA Advanced Stats:

  • Mitchell Robinson on the court: 109.2 Offensive Rating, 110.8 Defensive Rating
  • Mitchell Robinson off the court: 103.6 Offensive Rating, 114.0 Defensive Rating
  • Enes Kanter on the court: 103.6 Offensive Rating, 113.3 Defensive Rating
  • Enes Kanter off the court: 102.4 Offensive Rating, 100.0 Defensive Rating

Attribute Robinson’s high off-court Defensive Rating to Kanter’s on-court numbers since they don’t share the floor. Though, the remarkable stat is how well the Knicks play defensively, on paper, when the Turkish big man sits. The team’s rebound percentage also rises from 49.8 to 52.5 when he’s on the bench.

Aside from this, as Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic noted, Robinson’s rebound numbers haven’t played out well across his six NBA games and the three in the starting lineup:

The numbers aren’t perfect, which can’t be expected from a player without collegiate experience that essentially jumped from high school to the NBA.

Robinson’s answer to improved rebound numbers can arise from bulking up to battle the NBA’s big men. That’s not an overnight solution, but added weight will help him find position and box out others under the hoop.

However, Jack Huntley of Knicks Wall tempered these concerns with who the 7-foot-1 center plays next to — Kanter and Vonleh. They have two of the highest defensive rebound percentages in 20-plus minutes of on-court time.

So if Fizdale tests Robinson in a lineup without Kanter and Vonleh, and a stretch four like Mario Hezonja or Kevin Knox next to him, it may better indicate his rebounding ability as the paint opens.

Next. 15 greatest draft picks in franchise history. dark

The future is bright for New York’s long-term big man next to Kristaps Porzingis. There’s work to be done, but not even one-tenth of the way into his rookie season, patience is a virtue on this projectable player.