Soaring Knicks duo get recognition they deserve for hot starts to season

New York Knicks, Mitchell Robinson
New York Knicks, Mitchell Robinson / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson aren't the two New York Knicks players that fans predicted would have big seasons in 2023-24. Sure, Barrett was coming off a promising playoff performance, as was Robinson, but New York was led by Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle in 2022-23.

However, through the first few weeks of the season, it's been all about Barrett and Robinson. The former has already spent time sidelined, and his absence has been felt. The latter has been not-so-quietly dominating the paint, averaging a career-high 11.7 rebounds per game.

Robinson is almost single-handedly responsible for New York's league-leading offensive rebounding percentage (35.2). As The Athletic's Mike Vorkunov wrote, he might even be the sole reason that offensive rebounding is cool again (subscription required).

As for Barrett, he's played in only seven games, but his numbers have been impressive. He's averaging a career-high 22.6 points per game on 48.7% shooting from the field and 50% from three.

Barrett will cool off as the season wears on, but his scoring output and efficiency have helped him to stand out. Not only that, but his decision-making has been one of the best parts of his game.

It's no surprise that CBS Sports' Brad Botkin included Barrett and Robinson as two of 10 stars flying under the radar to start 2023-24.

RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson top 'flying under the radar' list

The list is comprised of:

1. RJ Barrett

2. Jaden McDaniels (Timberwolves)

3. Mitchell Robinson

4. Jalen Johnson (Hawks)

5. Scottie Barnes (Raptors)

6. Tyrese Haliburton (Pacers)

7. Dillon Brooks (Rockets)

8. Devin Vassell (Spurs)

9. Derrick White (Celtics)

10. Ausar Thompson (Pistons)

Yes, Barrett is No. 1. Knicks fans have been waiting for him to have a breakout season, and many thought it'd come in 2022-23 after he signed an extension. After a strong 2023 offseason, he's risen to the occasion.

"Barrett has been spectacular to start the season for the Knicks, who are outscoring opponents by an eye-popping 20 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. As such, New York is 5-2 when Barrett plays and 1-3 when he doesn't.


Brad Botkin, CBS Sports

Barrett hasn't played in a game since Sunday, where he recorded 24 points (9-of-16) in 31 minutes to help secure the 129-107 win over the Hornets.

Botkin summed up Mitchell Robinson perfectly with this line: "Robinson's offensive rebounding is a system unto itself: Somebody just put some shot, any shot, up on the rim, and Mitchell is going to go get it."

Outside of his rebounding, what's helped Robinson be even more dominant is that he hasn't caught himself in early foul trouble swatting shots. He's averaging two fouls per game, down from the 2.7 per game he averaged in the past two seasons. Even when he isn't on the floor, the Knicks have Isaiah Hartenstein, a force to be reckoned with in his own right.

Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle are still vital to New York's success, but Barrett and Robinson playing at a high level is one of the team's most intriguing storylines to start the season. Their play isn't a fluke, either.

How far will big Mitch and RJ rise? Stay tuned!