Taj Gibson, Mitchell Robinson
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After losing DeAndre Jordan, New York Knicks youth Mitchell Robinson will have a new mentor in veteran big man Taj Gibson.

Collin Loring

Mitchell Robinson is an NBA-caliber center, after playing no basketball at the collegiate level. With that in mind, the New York Knicks front office has taken measures to ensure that he has the right veterans to lead him.

Last season, it was DeAndre Jordan, who they acquired in the Kristaps Porzingis-Dallas Mavericks deal.

This year, however, Robinson will be learning from 10-year veteran center Taj Gibson. New York signed the 34-year-old to a two-year deal worth $20 million in July.

While Jordan likely taught Robinson plenty in his short stint with the club, Gibson has signed on to two years of mentorship. Here’s a look at why he’s the perfect bridge for Robinson’s road to stardom.

Background

Gibson was a late first-round pick out of USC, drafted 26th by the Bulls in 2009. He played out his prime alongside a formidable and feisty Chicago era featuring Derrick Rose (before and after his injury), Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, and Joakim Noah.

He’s seen highs and lows while maintaining relatively good health (average of 67 games played) over his 11-year career.

Gibson has always been a part of team’s aiming for contention (or something like that, in Minnesota’s case). But there’s a reason he spent eight consecutive seasons in Chicago after being drafted.

The veteran forward has, and always will be, a glue guy. For the Knicks (and Robinson especially) there’s no more appropriate mentor headed into next season.

Backup First, Starter Second

It’s a small thing for some players, and a not-so-small thing for others—making the starting lineup. This year, it would be foolish for head coach David Fizdale and staff to not start Robinson.

Which is refreshing for Knicks fans, as last season was a toss-up for New York at some points. They started the year with Enes Kanter and finished with Jordan.

Now, with a declining Gibson, the starting spot is assuredly Robinson’s. As well as minutes playing alongside the starting unit, featuring newest draft selection, RJ Barrett. Robinson started 19 of his 66 games played during his rookie season.

Being a bonafide starter at 21 can do a lot for your confidence. And for a young team, it can help build team chemistry. Gibson isn’t going to block Robinson from starting like Jordan did at times last season. Moreover, there’s no chance he will be as dramatic as Kanter about coming off the bench.

So Robinson will play alongside the Knicks newest rookie, and actual veterans: newly signed Marcus Morris and Julius Randle.

This is much different than his freshman season experience, playing next to the likes of Luke Kornet or Mario Hezonja. You can see how real talent might benefit the big man.

Defensive Expertise

Gibson’s presence immediately benefits the locker room, yes. But for Robinson, it opens up a second avenue in terms of defensive responsibility: guarding the four.

Jordan is an 11-year veteran and perennial talent on the interior. He offered a lot to Robinson regarding the NBA’s classic center, but lacked versatility.

You’d never see Jordan too far outside the post defensively.

In Gibson, New York offers Robinson some insight from a versatile stretch five, even though at 7-foot-1 he’ll likely never close games next to another center. Robinson did play a handful of minutes last year alongside Kornet.

But the veteran’s experience will come in handy for when Robinson switches onto smaller guards, and playing against teams with a star-powered frontcourt (see Los Angeles Lakers).

At a minimum, learning how a stretch big man operates will only benefit Robinson’s own play next to the newly-signed Randle. At 6-foot-9, he serves as a five only within small-ball lineups.


The New York Knicks did well (objectively) this offseason. Taj Gibson is no exception. For franchise cornerstone Mitchell Robinson, having a reliable and respected mentor heading into his prime could prove instrumental in his development.

 

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