Die-hard Knicks fans became privy to one of the NBA’s best-kept secrets last season. Mitchell Robinson is one of the league's best young defensive centers; a player whose combination of athleticism, tangibles, and timing will catapult him into the Most Improved Player and All-NBA Defensive Team conversations next season.
Standing at 7'1 with a 9'3 standing reach and a 7'4 wingspan Mitchell Robinson without question passes the NBA eye test. Robinson averaged 7.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.4 BPG in a mere 20.6 MPG. Robinson’s 2.4 BPG placed him in 2nd place just above reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. Many Knicks fans didn’t know what to expect from Mitchell Robinson heading into this season. The New Orleans transplant from Pensacola, Florida was ranked the #3 center, #11 overall by ESPN in their 2017 rankings.
Robinson initially signed with the Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers to play under Rick Stansbury and Robinson’s godfather NBA/UNC Alumni, Shammond Williams. Two weeks into summer practice Robinson withdrew from WKU, in favor of training for the NBA draft. Though Robinson held his own against the likes DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley Jr., Wendell Carter Jr. in the AAU and summer circuit but that didn’t give GM’s much of a sample size to evaluate his talent.
Front offices could see the size and explosion in action during workouts but were reluctant to commit a 1st rd pick on a prospect who was a year older than the rest of his class and had so many questions marks. Mitchell Robinson dropped to the 2nd round and was selected by the Knicks with the 36th pick in the 2018 NBA draft.
Robinson wasn’t particularly spectacular in the early months of the NBA season but he flashed glimpses of his defensive prowess early on. Robinson notched his first career double-double November 2 against the Mavericks with a 13 point and 10 rebound performance. Robinson went on to set the Knicks rookie record for blocks in a game with nine against the Orlando Magic nine days later. The Knicks “project” found himself starting 12 straight games for the team before getting reassigned to the bench rotation. Robinson's statistical output was inconsistent, but the Knick’s brass seemed content with his development until he suffered a setback with an ankle injury in December.
Robinson returned to the club in January after missing 13 games with an ankle/groin injury. In those first eight games back Robinson once again showed defensive flashes with multiple 4-block games. The midseason acquisition of 2x All-NBA Defensive first teamer DeAndre Jordan helped elevate the young Robinson’s play. Robinson found a mentor in Jordan, whom like Robinson entered the league as a young, 2nd round pick project fighting for a spot in the rotation.
Robinson finished the season on a high note; the NBA named Robinson to the All-Rookie Second Team. Robinson led all rookies in blocks and field goal percentage, set the Knicks rookie record for blocks, lead the league in blocked three-pointers, and had a streak of 29 games with 2 or more blocks.
The NBA selected Robinson to the U.S. select team; Sports Illustrated listed Robinson as “one of the five most impressive 2nd-year players at the NBA summer league". Robinson still has far from a finished product though I believe his perimeter shot is further along than people think. Robinson is still incredibly raw on the offensive end; he doesn’t have much of a “back to basket” game and has primarily gotten by on his athleticism and length this far. Robinson’s footwork on the block is still a ways away. Though Robinson is highly productive on the defensive side of the ball, he still struggles to stay out of foul trouble and compete on the defensive boards with his slight frame.
All things considered you can’t help but be encouraged by Robinson's overall development in year one. Scott Perry, Steve Mills, and David Fizdale deserve credit for recognizing Robinson’s talent, the group seems keen on helping Mitchell reach his full potential on both sides of the ball. The addition of Brookyln’s own Taj Gibson should provide a stabilizing force in the training room, on the floor, and off the court for Robinson and company. One thing is for sure; we are going to see a stronger, faster, smarter Mitchell Robinson next season.