There is no ceiling on Mitchell Robinson’s game, but the New York Knicks big man will face new challenges in year two.
The New York Knicks have something special in Mitchell Robinson. That fact was readily apparent down the stretch of the 2018-19 season. He is already one of the elite rim protectors in the game and although his offensive game is limited, he’s one of the best lob threats in the league.
He can play the same role that Rudy Gobert fills for the Utah Jazz. The Frenchman is a defensive anchor and a constant threat in the pick-and-roll on offense.
Floating a Rudy Gobert comparison may seem premature for Robinson, but it’s not as wild as it sounds. In his final 38 games of the season, Robinson averaged 9.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game. The lanky Louisianan had a ridiculous 29-game streak of blocking at least two shots during the second half of the season.
During his rookie season, Robinson was able to sneak up on everyone. He was a second-round unknown who was originally expected to spend a significant amount of time in the G League. But he quickly earned his keep with the Knicks and garnered consistent minutes off the bench.
In year two, Robinson will be starting games and that presents a challenge for the 7-footer. His strengths will be tested and he won’t have the luxury of taking anyone by surprise.
Aggressiveness is a huge reason for Robinson’s shot-blocking prowess. He blocked 22 three-pointers last season which is downright ridiculous for a center.
But learning how to manage that aggressiveness is going to be key for Robinson in year two. The other 29 teams will look to exploit his aggressiveness and goad the young center into early foul trouble.
During his rookie season, Robinson fouled out eight times. It’s going to be even tougher to avoid foul trouble as a starter. The big men are better at drawing fouls and the guards will know Robinson loves to fly out at shooters. Expect way more pump fakes from shooters on the perimeter.
Constant Lob Threat
Robinson’s bread-and-butter on offense is quite simple. Put him in the high pick-and-roll and let him fly towards the rim for lobs. He doesn’t have a whole lot in his bag at the moment, but he already has undeniable gravity on the offensive end.
As the roll man in pick-and-rolls last season, Robinson posted ridiculous numbers. He scored 1.46 points per possession which was good for 98.6th percentile for that specific play type. Again, things will be different for Robinson when he’s facing starters, but those numbers are encouraging.
That being said, running the pick-and-roll will be different with the new personnel. The starting backcourt could very well be Dennis Smith Jr. and RJ Barrett. Both have questionable jump shots at this point in their careers. Smith shoots threes at 31.6% for his career and Barrett shot 30.8% from downtown at Duke.
Both Smith and Barrett can facilitate out of the pick-and-roll, but if teams are comfortable going underneath screens, that will muddy things up for Robinson in the paint.
Moreover, Julius Randle will be Robinson’s running mate in the frontcourt next season. The fit between Randle and Robinson is a bit wonky. Randle is good with the ball in his hands and he can bully his opponents with brute physicality.
Although Randle shot a respectable 34.4% from deep last season, teams will have no qualms about sagging off him to protect the paint. That—along with the questionable shooting in the backcourt—could clog the lane for Robinson.
But with all this said, the Knicks were 28th in the NBA in three-point percentage last season and it didn’t slow down the high-flying Robinson. The personnel fit might not look perfect, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work.
Entering the starting lineup is a challenge in itself. Savvy veterans will look to exploit his aggressiveness as a shot-blocker and how he fits alongside his new teammates is to be determined.
Progression is rarely linear. Offseason comparisons to Rudy Gobert are fun, but it would be unwise to expect Robinson to fully reach his potential in year two. He is an elite shot-blocker and a dynamic threat in the pick-and-roll, but both of those strengths will be tested in year two.