The Knicks are missing Mitchell Robinson’s physical presence

Mitchell Robinson, NY Knicks. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Mitchell Robinson, NY Knicks. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /
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Knicks, Mitchell Robinson
Mitchell Robinson, Knicks. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Mitchell Robinson’s strength and athleticism are key to the Knicks defense

Oftentimes when we talk about big men and their role on defense, the details of their game are omitted. We tend to just focus on shot blockers.

While Robinson certainly has made a name for himself as a shot-blocker, his defense doesn’t stop there. His long frame, athletic burst, and added strength have seen him become a player who can physically match up with the best bigs in the league.

Robinson’s replacement, Nerlens Noel, has been a godsend for the Knicks. Noel has stepped up from his backup center role and been a top-tier, prolific shot-blocker. The crucial thing to note about Noel’s game is that he’s an incredibly smart defender, but not a physically dominant one.

Noel has unbelievable anticipation as a shot-blocker and swift hands even as a pick-pocket in the paint. However, he won’t jump out of the gym and he won’t body anyone. It shows up in his lack of rebounding (which I’ll get to in a bit) and when he’s tasked with defending the league’s best centers.

We’ve seen Nikola Jokic and Deandre Ayton absolutely torch Noel this week. Ayton finished with 26 and 15, with 8 points in the first 6 minutes. Nikola Jokic finished with 32 points including an embarrassing 24 in the first quarter.

You could simply say these are some of the league’s best centers and they do this all of the time, but you can’t call Nerlens Noel an All-NBA level defender if he’s getting obliterated by the league’s best. He simply doesn’t have the strength or athleticism to keep up with those guys.

Robinson’s defense had shown up as a positive in plenty of advanced metrics, and in many ways, he was an underrated defender. The improved discipline this season saw him commit fewer fouls and even become a solid pick & roll defender – he always utilizes his long reach to disrupt passing lanes and wreak havoc for both the opposing ball-handler and roll-man. He’s also not going to get bodied.

Mitchell Robinson may not be enough to completely neutralize those high-level centers, but he will make them work much harder. He is a physical specimen and it shows up on defense. It also shows up on the boards.