Mitchell Robinson
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Mitchell Robinson’s job is to play strong defense, not unnecessarily stretch the floor on the New York Knicks’ offense.

Josh Benjamin

Mitchell Robinson is an NBA center.

Think of what comes with playing the position. It requires size and strength. Strong defense and rim protection is an absolute must. Durability, above all else, is extremely preferable.

And yet, the 21-year-old Robinson wants to be more versatile than that. Per Ian Begley of SNY, the second-year New York Knicks star will incorporate a three-point shot into his arsenal for the upcoming season.

“I’m shooting the thing now,” Robinson said.

I’m sorry, what? Hold the phone. Stop everything. Cancel movie night, and I don’t care if we were going to watch the cinematic nightmare that is Waterworld. We need to have a serious basketball discussion.

Why is Mitchell Robinson bothering with a three-point shot? He’s a center, not a guard. Moreover, the Knicks have plenty of guys on the team who can shoot the three. Why add to the mix someone who can be better utilized elsewhere?

Robinson’s sole focus should be developing his defense. Adding three-point shooting is not only unnecessary but could also hurt the Knicks badly.

Defense, defense, and more defense

Mitchell Robinson’s defense is what makes him so important to the Knicks right now. Per 36 minutes last year, he averaged 12.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, and an indescribable 4.3 blocks per game.

Those numbers proved not a fluke in the Summer League either. Robinson played 25.2 minutes per game while posting 13.8 points, 10.6 boards, and 3.4 blocks. Needless to say, Knicks fans should expect (literally) big things from Mitchell Robinson in 2019-20.

And Robinson himself is in a unique position. The New York Knicks’ history is fraught with Hall of Fame centers including Willis Reed, Walt Bellamy, and fan-favorite Patrick Ewing. Each and every one of their careers was defined by strong work in the paint and tough interior defense.

Granted, the game was different back then and Robinson isn’t expected to be a top scorer for the Knicks. However, he is expected to be a force on defense as he steps into his new role. He has the size at 7-foot-1, 240 pounds play the part perfectly.

Letting him shoot three-pointers provides him with nothing but a distraction.

No need for threes

Let’s shift the conversation to another great young center. Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert posted 15.9 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game last year. His efforts earned him All-NBA Third Team honors and he was also on the All-Defensive First Team.

Gobert is also a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, including last season. Mitchell Robinson is more than capable of winning the award this season. I even discussed it in a recent piece.

But here’s the kicker. Gobert has never taken a three-point shot in six NBA seasons, nor did Robinson take any in his rookie campaign.

This brings the conversation to the Knicks’ known issues from long range. New York ranked 28th in the league last year in making just 34 percent of its shots from three-point range. This is an area highly important in today’s game and one in which the Knicks must improve this season.

As was just mentioned, Robinson has never attempted a three as a pro. Why start now?

Threes needed elsewhere

Not only that, but the Knicks have plenty of players who can up the team’s efforts from long range. Free-agent signee Julius Randle made over 34 percent of his threes in his breakout last year, but only attempted 2.7 compared to 14.9 overall shots per game.

Similarly, Kevin Knox is expected to improve from long range this year. Rookie RJ Barrett really needs some help developing not only his three-point shot but his jumper as a whole. The same goes for Dennis Smith Jr., and Reggie Bullock will provide excellent three-point shooting off the bench.

That all being said, why would the Knicks risk improvement in three-point shooting by letting Mitchell Robinson incorporate it into his game? Randle can’t do all the rebounding and interior work by himself.

The point is Robinson is on the Knicks for one reason: to be a strong anchor in the middle who protects the rim and whose defense gives opposing teams fits.

In shooting three-pointers, he isn’t focusing on what’s really important.

Final thoughts

Mind you, I’m not saying centers shouldn’t shoot three-pointers. Guys like Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid have incorporated it into their respective games with great success and are reaping the benefits of such. If Robinson is able to follow the same path, more power to him.

But this is an important year for the Knicks. Not in the sense of a potential playoff berth, but rather one where improvement could mean a better future. New York won just 17 games last season and is now in a position to potentially win 30 in 2019-20.

This is Mitchell Robinson’s second NBA season. He’s set to join a long line of great Knicks centers. He needs to focus on his strengths this season and not upset the balance in head coach David Fizdale’s offense.

Three-pointers can wait until later.

 

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