New York Knicks: Mitchell Robinson needs a bigger role

(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

The New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson has taken a smaller-than-expected role to open the 2019-20 season.

When the New York Knicks squared off with the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday night, Mitchell Robinson picked up his fifth foul with about 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Had it not been his fifth foul, it would not have been a bad play: Robinson gave a good contest on DeAndre Jordan’s putback attempt and sent a bad free-throw shooter to the line.

Commentator Mike Breen, however, did not hide his frustration, noting that this would keep Robinson out for the next few minutes when the team needed its rim protector on the floor. Sure enough, he fouled out with 4:12 to go in the fourth, warranting a rare “c’mon man” from Walt “Clyde” Frazier.

Robinson’s fouls have plagued him all season. While his points per game, field goal percentage, and free throw percentage have all risen since his rookie year, Robinson is seeing the floor for only 18.8 minutes per game as opposed to 20.6 minutes per game last year. His abhorrent 6.6 personal fouls per 36 minutes have impeded the team’s progress as well as his own.

Compare these stats to Jarrett Allen, who started for the Nets on Sunday night. Allen averages only 3.3 fouls per 36 minutes, which allows him to play 8 more minutes per game than Robinson. The foul issues that Robinson has are both a product of his own over-zealous block chasing and his teammates’ inability to stay in front of their matchups and rotate properly.

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Of the Knicks’ young players, the argument could be made that he is the most important. Kevin Knox is only 20, but Coach David Fizdale has completely ignored him in the second half of recent games. Frank Ntilikina has played well as a starter, but his offense makes it unclear that he projects as a starter on a winning team. It is too early to say if RJ Barrett will have a better career. Robinson is by far the most unique out of this young group.

An already elite rim-runner and paint protector, Robinson can make a difference in this league for a long time based on those two skills alone. Coming off an All-Rookie 2nd Team selection, Robinson tied for third on the NBA GM survey for the most athletic category.

This season should be considered a failure for the Knicks if Robinson does not end up playing more minutes per game than he did last year. Notably, he has only appeared in 3 games so far when the scoring margin was less than 5 in the last 3 minutes. This is not only a product of the Knicks frequently getting blown out, but also from the fact that Robinson cannot stay on the floor, as shown during the game against the Nets.

Robinson needs both quality minutes and a higher volume of minutes. He has developed a nice chemistry with Dennis Smith Jr. off the bench, and has carved out a nice role in the half-court setting screens at the top of the key and in transition by crashing the boards. Surrounding Robinson with playmakers can unlock his true potential as one of the best rim-runners of his generation.

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Through 17 games this season, the New York Knicks have not offered much to get excited about. For fans to remain invested in the current roster as well as excited for the future, the coaching staff needs to start treating Mitchell Robinson like the franchise cornerstone he could be.