Over the offseason, the New York Knicks decided to re-sign former second-round pick Mitchell Robinson to a four-year, $60 million contract on July 12.
Ultimately, the Knicks declined to explore trades involving their starting center because they value his shot blocking and presence in the paint on both ends of the floor.
Because Robinson is an efficient finisher around the rim (he shot 76.1 % from the field in 2022), the Knicks believe that he’ll be a key part of the team’s nucleus going forward. Despite the Knicks signing Isiah Hartenstein to a two-year, $16 million contract this offseason, the Knicks were satisfied with the progress Robinson has shown because of how much his game has evolved since his rookie year.
What may have given the Knicks confidence to strike this deal was how Robinson decided to use his time while he was dealing with his knee injury last offseason. The organization must’ve felt he’s a valuable piece because it sensed how hungry and determined he was by watching extra film and working out.
This contract is good value for the Knicks because Atlanta Hawks Clint Capela is the 10th-highest paid center in the league at $18 million per season. Capela and Robinson are similar players because they both present a lob threat and do all their damage around the rim. Here is where Robinson ranks compared to the highest paid centers in the NBA:
- Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves – $38 million
- Karl Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves – $33.8 million
- Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas Mavericks – $33.8 million
- Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers – $33.6 million
- Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets – $33 million
- Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns – $30.9 million
- Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat – $30.3 million
- Al Horford, Boston Celtics – $26.5 million
- Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls – $22 million
- Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers – $20 million
- Clint Capela, Atlanta Hawks – $18.7 million
- Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers – $18 million
- Steven Adams, Memphis Grizzlies – $17.9 million
- Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks – $17 million
When you look at these centers, Robinson did not get paid like a top center in the league because his offensive upside is not as high compared to these guys. What Towns, Embiid, Jokic, Ayton, Adebayo and Vucevic all have in common is they have the ability to score with therir back to the basket and stretch out the defense because they can shoot the three ball.
What separates, Embiid, Jokic and Towns from Robinson is how versatile they are on offense. Embiid shot 49.9% from the field and 37.1% from three, while shooting 81.4 percent from the free throw line last year. Embiid has the ability to score from anywhere on the floor and create his own shot, whereas Robinson can’t.
Similar to Embiid, Towns has become one of the best centers in the league because he has developed into a great outside shooter. Last year, Towns shot 41% from three and made two three-point field goals per game, which was first among centers. Robinson is nowhere close to the offensive talent as these guys because he does not have the ability to shoot three-pointers. Because Robinson is limited on the offensive end, it prevents him from being paid like a top-10 center.
Among centers last year, Vucevic ranked eighth among centers, shooting 33% from three. Furthermore, Vucevic is a double-double machine, as he finished with 44 last year. Robinson doesn’t come close to being as good as Vucevic because he’s isn’t a threat from the outside. With the three-pointer so important in the NBA today, Robinson will not be seen as a legit threat from opposing teams unless he develops a jump shot.
When it comes to comparing him to Adebayo, Robinson is not on his level because he doesn’t have his passing ability. Adebayo averaged 3.4 assists per game last year, while Robinson averaged 0.5. Because Adebayo has solid vision, the Heat will run their offense with him at the top of the key where he’s the playmaker. Robinson does not have the ability to do that, as his damage comes around the rim.
You can make an argument that Robinson and Allen should both be getting paid the same amount of money because they’re similar players. Like Robinson, Allen does his damage around the rim by being an alley-oop threat and a shot blocker. Both of these guys are true, old school centers.
What makes Allen and Robinson valuable is their defense on the interior because they can alter shots at the rim. That’s where Robinson is makes the most impact — he averaged 3.3 blocks per game, while Allen averaged 1.5 last year. That’s why you can make the case that Allen and Robinson are on the same level because their skill sets on the offensive and defensive side are very limited.
While the Knicks are committed to Robinson being their starting center for the foreseeable future, they felt it was necessary to get a capable backup center in Hartenstein. Since entering the league, Hartenstein has not found a true home — this is his fourth team in four years. But now he has an opportunity to either stick on with the Knicks or get a bigger payday in two summers.
Unlike Robinson, Hartenstein allows the team to stretch the floor if head coach Tom Thibodeau wants to put in a shooter-heavy lineup. With the Los Angeles Clippers during the 2021-22 season, Hartenstein made 14 of his 30 attempts from 3-point range. It’s a very small sample size, but it’s something the defense has to respect when Hartenstein is lurking around the arc.
Hartenstein is not someone who is viewed as a starting center in the league. Despite the advanced stats proving he was one of the best rim protectors last year, Hartenstein doesn’t affect layups or dunks at the rim like Robinson. Since this is a weakness in his game, teams will show no fear attacking him in the paint. That’s what prevents him from getting a contract like Robinson because he does not shoot well enough from three to average starter minutes nor does he play imposing defense like Robinson does on a nightly basis.
Furthermore he’s a foul machine (he averages 4.9 personal fouls per 36 minutes). Where Hartenstein also struggles is in defensive rebounding because he can get physically outmatched by the opponents’ big men.
But adding Hartenstein to the roster gives the Knicks a different option compared to what Robinson brings. What Hartenstein provides is someone who can finish around the crowds at the rim and who is versatile enough to guard multiple positions. Having a more athletic and skilled center (he’s also a good passer) will allow the Knicks to get out in transition more if that becomes a point of emphasis for Thibodeau.
The Knicks making a four-year commitment to Robinson shows that they are confident he will continue to evolve as a player because of the amount of work he’s put in. On the other hand, Hartenstein gives the team insurance in case Robinson suffers an injury or gets in foul trouble, in addition to versatility depending on the team’s matchup on a given night.
All in all, the value on these contracts is very good and will cost the Knicks just $25 million total this year.