Mitchell Robinson
AP Photo

Mitchell Robinson’s projected big step forward puts him in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year in just his second season.

Mitchell Robinson will be the best New York Knicks center since Patrick Ewing. In just his second season, he will also draw serious consideration for Defensive Player of the Year.

Yes, I stand by those statements. No, I am not crazy. No, I have not just watched The Room on a 24-hour loop and my brain is thus fried. Nor did I drink a Starbucks quintuple espresso and run a bunch of laps in Central Park.

Seriously, the New York Knicks won’t have much going for them in the 2019-20 season. One of the few silver linings will be the continued development of Robinson, who already turned heads as a rookie last year.

His sophomore campaign is already off to a strong start. The 21-year-old was a defensive juggernaut in this year’s NBA Summer League. Robinson averaged 13.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks per game in Las Vegas.

He cemented himself as the Knicks’ starting center and mark this writer’s words: By season’s end, he will be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year.

Underrated rookie

Taken at face value, Mitchell Robinson’s rookie stats come off more as good than they do great. He averaged 7.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks over 20.6 minutes per game. His prowess for scoring in the paint shined bright as he made 69.4% of his shots, but he looked far from elite as a rookie.

Granted, the above numbers only tell half the story. Robinson only played in 66 games last year and started just 19 of them. He was also a rookie with no collegiate experience and often looked slow on his feet. The growing pains were real, but a potential beast lurked underneath.

This is because taking a look at some of Robinson’s deeper numbers, he would have done quite well with more playing time. Per 36 minutes, Robinson averaged 12.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 4.3 blocks per game. The only drawback is he also averaged 5.7 fouls per 36, thus the shorter playing time as a rookie.

And who was the last rookie Knicks center to post a double-double per 36 minutes? None other than Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing.

Robinson may still be raw, but he’s already in great Knicks company. His ascension will only continue.

A sophomore breakout


Now, let’s shift back to Mitchell Robinson’s upcoming sophomore NBA season. He’s penciled in as head coach David Fizdale‘s starting center.

Odds are greater than none he will average 25 minutes a game or more. Playing alongside new power forward Julius Randle, everything is set up for him to be an unstoppable force for the Knicks.

And Robinson won’t just be a force on defense. Rookie RJ Barrett will almost certainly have growing pains as he learns how to score in the NBA. This sets up Robinson to, despite his defense being his best asset, having plenty of scoring opportunities. There is no reason to believe he won’t build off of his meager 0.5 Offensive Box Plus/Minus last season (OBPM).

Defensive Player of the Year

This brings the conversation to the reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert. Like Robinson, he stands 7-foot-1 and is just five pounds heavier at 245 pounds. The main difference is Gobert has a longer and leaner build defined by a 7-foot-9 wingspan.

Now, let’s take a look at Gobert’s numbers last year. He averaged 15.9 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks over 31.8 minutes per game (17.9 points, 14.5 rebounds, 2.6 blocks per 36). He had an NBA-best Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM) of 5.1 and an OBPM of 2.0.

Robinson, meanwhile, posted a DBPM of 5.7 despite not qualifying to be among league leaders. Everything will change this year with him as the Knicks’ starting center. More minutes means more scoring opportunities and more chances to anchor New York’s defense.

This isn’t to say Mitchell Robinson will average more points than Rudy Gobert this season. He certainly could, but Fizdale’s offense won’t flow through him the way it will Randle or Barrett.

No, Robinson will likely average between 10 and 12 points per game, but much more in rebounding. He’s even a serious dark horse to be among the league leaders in boards.

Assuming he stays healthy, Robinson can easily be a Ben Wallace type defined by defensive toughness. Wallace was rewarded accordingly four times in his NBA career, and so should Robinson if he plays a similar game.

Final thoughts

All in all, it’s easy to get excited for Mitchell Robinson’s second season with the New York Knicks. He showed a lot of potential during his rookie year, and a longer leash this year sets up for an exciting future. Winning Defensive Player of the Year, or at least being a finalist for it, would give long-suffering New York fans some hope.

Yes, Tyson Chandler won the award as a Knick in 2012, but he was signed as a free agent. He earned the award, but not being a homegrown product took something away from it.

It would be the exact opposite with Robinson. He entered the NBA as a second-round pick—a diamond in the rough like no other. Him taking this big a leap forward would do wonders for the Knicks in so many ways.

A lot has to go right on Robinson’s end for him to be considered as Defensive Player of the Year, but the potential is there as is the opportunity.

Now, he just has to take the ball and run with it.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.