The ceiling is high for Mitchell Robinson in a New York Knicks uniform.
There hasn’t been much to celebrate about the New York Knicks performance the past few seasons. Since 2013, the Knicks have spent more time contending for the top lottery spot than a championship, and have struggled to accumulate quality talent throughout the rebuilding process. It didn’t help that the Knicks traded away multiple top picks, but the lottery picks they did make have yet to yield a player the franchise can truly build around. The closest the Knicks have come was selecting Kristaps Porzingis with the No. 4 pick in 2015.
The Porzingis era was ultimately cut short after the 7-foot-3 Latvian demanded to be traded earlier this season, and he was the best thing to happen to this franchise in the past five-plus years. Little did they know the Knicks had struck gold in a place people least expected.
2018’s lottery selection, Kevin Knox dominated headlines when the Knicks made him a top-10 pick this past season. However, it was the second round selection, Mitchell Robinson, who emerged as a force on both ends of the floor and eventually earn a spot on the All-Rookie team. Robinson’s game is still raw and he has ways to go before becoming a finished product, but the strides he made in a limited amount of time suggest that he could be a difference maker for the Knicks down the road.
After skipping college and not playing organized basketball for almost two years, nobody knew what to expect when the Knicks picked Robinson with the 36th overall pick. Despite being relatively unknown entering the 2018 Draft, Robinson had long been touted as an elite prospect. In high school he was an All-American and was widely viewed as a top 10 player in the nation. This kind of upside was intriguing enough for New York to take a risk on the boom or bust product.
It didn’t take long for Robinson to make his name known. In the Las Vegas Summer League, the big man averaged a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. He also contributed 4.0 blocks a game, a summer league record all while playing just 24 minutes per game. When you combine his 7-foot frame with a wingspan longer than the likes of Giannis Antetokoumpo and Kawhi Leonard, it’s no surprise to see him dominate inside the paint on both sides of the floor.
Robinson continued to make history in the regular season. In less than 10 games as a pro, he set the Knicks rookie record with nine blocks in a game against the Orlando Magic. Robinson’s 29 straight games with two-plus blocks broke Patrick Ewing‘s Knicks rookie record for such a streak. The only rookie to ever have a longer stretch was Manute Bol, with 45 straight games in 1986.
Despite playing just 20 minutes per game, Robinson led all rookies and was second in overall in the NBA with 2.5 blocks per game. While his shot blocking ability is already elite, Robinson still needs to develop if he wants to truly be considered an elite rim protector around the league. Stats like ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus suggest Robinson is actually a bottom tier NBA center.
Robinson still struggles in rotation and often leaves his man, and the rim, wide open pursuing a shot-blocking opportunity. If Robinson can polish off his game on the defensive side of the floor, it isn’t hard to imagine him reaching the Defensive Player of the Year potential he constantly flashed throughout the regular season.
Robinson also flashed real potential on the offensive side of the floor as well. His field goal percentage of 69 percent would lead the league had he taken enough shots to qualify. The center’s leaping ability made him an excellent lob threat off the pick and roll and helped open up shots and driving lanes for his teammates.
Robinson also averaged 2.7 offensive rebounds per game. Per 36 minutes, he would average 4.8 ORPG, good enough for third in the league behind only Steven Adams and Andre Drummond. His offensive rebounding prowess creates a lot of easy second-chance opportunities for the offense. Robinson shot 60 percent from the charity stripe this season.
However, for the back half of the regular season, Robinson shot closer to 70 percent, suggesting both untapped potential as a jump shooter as well as reason to believe even more improvement is on the way. If Robinson is able to develop a real post-game AND a jump shot, there’s no telling how good he could become offensively.
Mitchell Robinson’s potential is the beacon of hope Knicks fans have desperately craved during a time when all else seems lost. Deandre Jordan is the perfect example for Robinson to learn from as he develops his overall game. Robinson balled out in his limited playing time and will likely get even better once he gets real, consistent time on the floor.
Robinson has the potential to develop into a 20-point, 12-rebound, perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Robinson himself once said he believes he could average as many as 6 blocks per game, and at the rate he’s going the idea isn’t so far fetched. Let’s just hope he does it all with the New York Knicks.