1. Increase Mitchell Robinson’s Defensive Rebounding Percentage
Despite racking up minutes as a reserve, Mitchell Robinson’s accomplished several impressive feats as a defender. His 2.4 blocks/game as a rookie ranked 2nd in the NBA. While he suffered a slight regression this season, his 2 blocks/game ranks 7th in the NBA. This has helped keep the Knicks in the middle of the pack in terms of blocking shots/game.
While Mitch earned a reputation as an intimidating shot blocker, it has come at the cost of defensive rebounding. When analyzing the Knicks’ rebounding numbers, it’s important to emphasize that leading the league in offensive rebounds/game has helped bump up their total rebounding numbers to rank 7th in the NBA. Their defensive rebounds/game rank 17th in the NBA. In other words, the Knicks are an average team at grabbing defensive rebounds, thus are average at finishing defensive possessions.
One of the downsides of contesting every shot is that Mitch exposed the defense to losing the rebounding battle on the defensive end. His defensive rebounding rate (DRB%) of 16% (as per NBA Advanced Stats) ranks him 43rd out of all qualifying centers that played at least 40 games. The top 10 centers, in terms of DRB%, all average a minimum of 26%.
Like life, basketball games are often determined at the margins. Each missed defensive rebound opportunity allows the offense to either get an easy opportunity to score at the basket or a wide open jump shot due to poor positioning. The defensive rebounds can be the difference between wins and losses.
During the 2019-20 season, the Knicks were one of the worst teams in the league in terms of opponents 3-point field goals and 3-point field goal percentage. At 38% opponents 3P/FG%, the Knicks gave up a lot of really good perimeter shots. Securing some defensive rebounds might reduce those open three-point opportunities. Securing defensive rebounds allow the Knicks to get on the fast break, resulting in better looks from the perimeter or the paint. The Knicks were one of the worst offensive teams in the league, ranking in the bottom in FG% (24th), 3PTM, 3PA, 3P%, FTA, and PPG.
On the flip side, a greater focus on the defensive rebounds can also help Mitch avoid fouls. While Mitch put a lot of effort in minimizing unnecessary fouls, his 3.2 fouls/game is tied for 13th in the NBA, a feat further amplified by the fact that most of the leaders ahead of him played significantly more minutes. Getting better positioning on the glass will help reduce fouls going forward.
Thibs’ main goal for Mitch is to emphasize the importance of finishing a defensive possession. The inability to grab defensive rebounds has a domino effect on the team’s defense and concurrently limits the upside of the offense.
Mitch must learn how to be judicious in contesting shots and setting himself up with better positioning to intimidate shots, box out to grab rebounds, and minimize fouls. Thibs knows all too well the temptation to block every single shot, as he was front-and-center to Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng in Minnesota. For Mitch to be a full-time starter, he will need to sacrifice contesting every single shot – and potentially reducing his blocks/game – in order to be a true defensive anchor.