Mitchell Robinson
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Mitchell Robinson will only get better for the New York Knicks, which should help in attracting top free agents this summer.

Josh Benjamin

Mitchell Robinson doesn’t get nearly enough credit.

The New York Knicks’ rookie center has very quietly had a good season, though the bare numbers may not imply it. Robinson is averaging six points, 4.4 rebounds, and two blocks per game, shooting 70.3 percent from the field. The scoring and rebounding could certainly be higher but now consider Robinson is only posting 17.6 minutes per contest.

Now let’s look at what Robinson’s per-36 minutes numbers are. Were he receiving that kind of playing time, and we’re going to ignore the 6.2 fouls per game, his numbers would be as follows: 12.2 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 4.1 blocks per game. Robinson has also posted a 1.4 VORP, or 3.8 WAR by baseball standards. That’s pretty impressive for a rookie who doesn’t start much.

Some of you are probably confused. The stats usually used to prove a point are at the beginning of the piece instead of in the middle. No, the world hasn’t been taken over by Bizarro Superman, nor has Thanos further broken the universe. Everything is fine! Step away from the fallout shelter!

The point is Mitchell Robinson is only going to get better as a player. With a potentially busy summer in free agency looming, his potential is only going to help the Knicks in that area.

Five-star Pedigree

Not many people realize just how talented Robinson is. On top of being blessed with great size at 7-foot-1, 240 pounds, he was a five-star recruit out of Louisiana’s Chalmette High School. Robinson was also a McDonald’s All-American and set to play college ball at Western Kentucky.

However, not long after arriving at school, Robinson opted to leave the program and prepare for the NBA Draft. There, New York made him a second-round pick. Next, Robinson looked strong on the Knicks’ NBA Summer League Team. He averaged 10.2 boards and four blocks a game in those five games, and there was plenty of reason to be excited.

And Robinson, despite some injury troubles this year, has quietly lived up to that hype. He doesn’t score much but is a fine defensive anchor in the middle. This month alone, he has averaged 11.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks while shooting an eye-popping 77.4 percent from the field. Best of all, for the entire season, he has averaged less than a turnover per game.

The kid is good, pure and simple, and his continued development needs to be one of the Knicks’ main selling points this summer.

An Ace Up The Sleeve

That said, think of the free agents the Knicks could pursue come July 1. Big names in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, and others are expected to be on the open market, and the Knicks are expected to show heavy interest.

And New York already has a lot in its favor ahead of these meetings. Following the Kristaps Porzingis trade, the team will have $74.5 million in cap space come summer. That means general manager Scott Perry can now offer two max contracts to free agents. New York hasn’t exactly been the bastion of successful basketball, but money talks in free agency.

Also helping is free agency officially starting on July 1, less than two weeks after June 20’s NBA Draft. New York owns the league’s worst record and could wind up with a Top 3 pick this year. Assuming Perry keeps the pick, that means the Knicks would have a Zion Williamson or Ja Morant to show off to free agents on top of money. Throw in dynamic wing Kevin Knox’s continual positive development, and the Knicks’ pitch looks even stronger.

How Robinson Fits

Now, let’s talk about the players the Knicks may pursue in July, namely Durant. He has spent the last three years with the Golden State Warriors. Teamed with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, he is one of a three-headed scoring monstera on that squad. Still, no matter how many championships he wins with the Warriors, he’ll always be second banana to Curry.

In New York, however, the Knicks would automatically become his team along with whichever free agent (if any) joins him. There’s just one problem. Durant will be handling most of the scoring duties and will do what he can defensively. How will the Knicks build a defense so he doesn’t have to do everything?

Enter Mitchell Robinson, who will be a year wiser next season and likely earning more minutes at center. Durant is worried about protection in the paint? Don’t worry, Robinson has that area covered. Need a big body to feed under the basket? Robinson will not only produce there, but he’ll protect the ball well too.

The reason for selling Robinson hard is to prove one point. As much as offense has taken over today’s NBA, defense shouldn’t fall by the wayside, and Robinson provides plenty of that.

Final Thoughts

All in all, how Mitchell Robinson’s development projects at the end of this season will only play a small role in the Knicks’ free agency pitch. The greater points, on top of the young core, need to be money and the planned direction of the franchise. That’s what the Kevin Durantst and Kawhi Leonards are going to know before they put a pen to any paper.

But the catch is that young core cannot be properly covered without discussing Robinson at length. For all the time he has spent in foul trouble, he has spent double that improving as a player. Even in today’s game of scoring and speed, Robinson is proving the importance of that strong defensive anchor. He patrols that paint like he owns it, which the young Knicks need.

Make no mistake, the Knicks need to sell Robinson’s potential to free agents. Much as the Knicks need to add a big name, they need him to keep improving equally so.

 

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