Mitchell Robinson
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

New York Knicks rookie Mitchell Robinson is showcasing scary good talent and court play that’ll go a long way for his organization.

Robby Sabo

When an NBA center legitimately holds down the fort at 7-foot-1 with a wingspan of 7-foot-4, it’s a tremendous thing. When the very same individual can actually guard opposing guards, a frightening discussion needs to be had.

How’s that even possible?

For those asking the question, a complicated answer may follow or at least be attempted. If you’re running short of time, simply tell the question maker to target No. 26, Mitchell Robinson, for a quick example of how it is, indeed, possible.

The New York Knicks second-round gem is now the team’s starting five-man, well ahead of Monday night’s star Enes Kanter. The David Fizdale move was made for one amazingly great reason: defense.

The following film lays out just how unreal Robinson’s defense and intangibles via his defense already are and just how scary his defensive experience will be.

Welcome to the Mitchell Robinson scary defensive experience:

Length/Quickness

The very first attribute that comes to mind pertaining to Mitchell Robinson is his undeniable length. With a 7-foot-3 wingspan, his size and speedy attributes equate to a probable defensive menace in the NBA.

In the first ESNY Film Room example, the kid had no business in even attempting to make this a 50/50 ball. By the time the ball comes off the rim and Mitchell is shoved a bit by DeAndre Jordan, the play should be over and the Dallas Mavericks should be looking to push it up the court.

Because it’s young Robinson, a non-50/50 ball actually turns into a Knickerbockers rebound. Robinson literally makes one of the best NBA rebounders in the game look like a little kid on this one.

The overall awareness is not there yet. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as only nine NBA games and six starts would never get it done in this regard, even for the most professional-ready big man.

Still, the kid does showcase spurts of excellent defensive awareness.


The following has Robinson on a perimeter man after a few switches. He knows this isn’t where he’s best used, therefore, his head is on one serious swivel.

As soon as the high-post flash happens, Robinson is on the spot to use his length and quickness and create the shot block.

Through 17.3 minutes per night in nine games, Robinson’s currently averaging 0.9 blocks per game. Per 36 minutes a contest, he’s at an impressive 1.8 swats a night.


The next example is sheer dominance. After a pick-and-roll, Dennis Smith Jr. had the stones to try to throw a pass over Robinson’s head.

No chance.

If you’re going to go over young Robinson, you better go high. It’s not that his wingspan is the killer, either. It’s about the wingspan in combination with guard-like quickness.

Rim Protector

Mitchell Robinson absolutely needs to beef up a bit. This is especially the case by way of hitting the boards. Thus far, Robinson is averaging 8.5 rebounds a night per 36 minutes. Playing alongside Kristaps Porzingis, that number will have to grow.

That’s rebounding. This is rim protection, an area in which is slimmer, quicker body is already dominating at times on the NBA hardwood.

In the first example, he easily sticks with a slower four-man down the lane. His altering of the shot leads to a Noah Vonleh block.

KP must be foaming at the mouth right about now watching the kid’s defensive, rim-protecting prowess at this young stage of the game.


Example two provides solid patience from Robinson. He doesn’t commit too early or give up too late. Instead, he remains on his man and comes from the weak side to help at just the right moment.

It’s a beautiful example of rim protecting in combination with awareness.


Example three is a silly balance of quickness, length and pure ferocity. He keeps up with the guard and swats it away with authority when he dares to challenge the 7-foot-1 big man.

For the first time in a long time, the New York Knicks employ a true rim protector.

Pick & Roll

The reason Mitchell Robinson is an excellent defensive pick-and-roll big is purely due to his body type. His quickness gets it done.

Enes Kanter isn’t a good defender. We know this. While I can make the argument he’s better than people think, Robinson’s play puts anything Kanter does defensively to shame. This is especially the case in the area of pick-and-roll play on the defensive side of the ball.

The first example would have been much nicer to view from the baseline angle. Robinson’s quick, slick movement to his left blew up the right-side penetration.

From there, both he and Tim Hardaway Jr. shut it down to perfection.


Next, J.J. Barea, as quick as the little dude is, has no shot against Robinson in space with plenty of time on the clock. It allows Frank Ntilikina to fight over the top and get back to his man.

The pick-and-roll set was, once again, shut down with Robinson on the floor.

The Knicks center did sort of find himself in between on the running lob, but made up for it with a desperation contest.


Not only does Robinson and Damyean Dotson shut down the pick-and-roll cold, but the former takes a smaller player one-on-one and shuts him down with authority.

That’s No. 77 Luka Doncic, the young pride and joy of Mark Cuban’s squad right now. As the third pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, he should find his way around a second-round center on the NBA hardwood, no?

The forward, Doncic, has no chance against the 7-foot-1 center, and it’s an incredible statement to make.

Final Thoughts

Mitchell Robinson is a once in a generation body type. He has the chance to become a once in a generation defensive player.

The kid possesses all the tools: length, quickness, hops, awareness, etc. Most importantly, he just has “it” as it pertains to defensive basketball.

Contrary to popular and casual belief, it’s not easy to teach defense. In fact, just as many players have “it” pertaining to defense while attempting to develop the offensive game (see Frank Ntilikina). Folks just don’t recognize those instances as much purely due to the idea they can’t identify great defense early on. Usually, reputation over time spreads the word.

Should Robinson develop as we currently believe, think about the potential starting lineup in a few months:

  • 5: Mitchell Robinson
  • 4: Kristaps Porzingis
  • 3: Kevin Knox
  • 2: Tim Hardaway Jr.
  • 1: Frank Ntilikina

Other than Timmy, the four others are incredibly long for each’s position. It’s a defensive dream lineup but one that sacrifices offensive pick-and-roll play (which is huge). In any event, the length of these five would be a nightmare.

Mitchell Robinson simply has “it” and has every chance to become an NBA All-Defensive 1st-Team center in the coming seasons.

 

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