Mitchell Robinson
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Mitchell Robinson is very quietly having a solid sophomore season, but the New York Knicks keep relegating him to a bench role.

Josh Benjamin

Everyone knows Mitchell Robinson can play.

The sophomore 7-footer entered the 2019-20 season clearly in much better shape than his rookie campaign. He was clearly ready to assume the starting center’s role and become the dominant defensive machine New York needed.

Except, that hasn’t happened. The New York Knicks are, not surprisingly, struggling again amidst a rebuild and Robinson has started just six of 14 games played. Taj Gibson has recently assumed the starting center’s duties, with Robinson and Bobby Portis sometimes drawing the honor.

Much of this has to do with Robinson’s continuing struggles with fouls, but he won’t fix this issue in limited minutes.

Mitchell Robinson needs to be playing more often, starting now.

Prospect hype

Remember when the Knicks made Robinson a second-round pick in the 2018 draft? There were no boos, nor jeering at general Scott Perry. Nor were there what has come to be a regular chant of “sell the team.

Rather, there was excitement. Robinson was a five-star talent and former McDonald’s All-American. Had he played college ball at Western Kentucky like originally planned, or anywhere else, he easily could have been a first-round pick.

Instead, the seven-footer turned pro and here we are today. He lived up to the hype as a rookie, averaging 7.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks in 20.6 minutes per game. Per 36 minutes, he posted 12.8 points, 11.2 boards, and 4.3 blocks.

The only problem, of course, was that Robinson also posted nearly six fouls per game per 36 minutes and also dealt with some nagging injuries.

But rookies get past their growing pains and so did Mitchell Robinson, at least in some fashion. He showed up to the NBA Summer League ready to play and help the Knicks build off of winning just 17 games last season.

Sure enough, Robinson played 25.2 minutes per game in Las Vegas and averaged 13.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks. Granted, the NBA Summer League isn’t the bastion of top competition. Robinson was going up a bunch of rookies, second-year players, and/or undrafted free agents. Quite a far cry from the LeBron Jameses and Stephen Currys of the league.

Even still, there was a clear effort to be better, an effort which has followed him to the court this season.

Where's Mitch?

And yet, Mitchell Robinson’s averaging playing time this season is down by just shy of a minute. This could soon change, especially with Knicks head coach David Fizdale prone to shuffling the starting lineup, but it’s certainly not what Robinson or the fans expected.

Keep in mind, none of this is to say Robinson is unsatisfied in his role. At least, he has not vocalized as such up to this point. Even in a reserve role again, he has put up solid numbers.

Robinson is currently averaging 9.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and a pair of blocks per game. His usage percentage is also up to 15.6% compared to 12.1% as a rookie. His box/plus-minus has risen ever so slightly to 6.3 from last year’s mark of 5.7.

As for per 36 numbers, Robinson stuffs the stat sheet to the tune of 17.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per contest.

And, of course, 6.1 fouls per game.

Quietly great

And those numbers may not show it, but Mitchell Robinson is quietly having a solid year for the Knicks. His scoring and rebounding numbers aren’t out of this world, but he’s still shooting 72.2% from the field. Were he playing more often, he would leapfrog Brooklyn Nets center Jarrett Allen and lead the league in the category.

Robinson also has been a solid rebounder once again, especially on the offensive side. His 2.8 offensive boards per game rank 12th in the NBA, tying him Philadelphia 76ers star big man Joel Embiid.

But what really sticks out is Robinson’s player efficiency rating or PER. This number, via a complex formula, combines all of a given player’s contributions into one number. Now, per ESPN, Robinson’s PER of 26.10 ranks seventh in the NBA. The issue is because he doesn’t get consistent minutes, he doesn’t qualify among the league leaders.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, allow this writer to tell you just who is ahead of Robinson on PER numbers alone: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, James Harden, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, and LeBron James.

Final thoughts

Mitchell Robinson’s overall numbers may not be the prettiest, but he’s easily in elite company when it comes to his overall efficiency.

And yet, though Robinson is only averaging 3.3 fouls per game this month, his minutes have been wildly inconsistent. He has played as little as eight minutes versus the Detroit Pistons on Nov. 6 to 31 against the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 27.

Look at it this way. The Knicks are 4-14 on the year, tied for worst in the Eastern Conference and head of only the shorthanded Golden State Warriors for worst in the NBA. In signing guys like Gibson, Portis, and Marcus Morris, it’s clear management wants to emphasize defense and toughness.

Combine this with the Knicks’ record and the team is just a ragtag group of orcs who splintered off from a battle. In Robinson, they have a potential Uruk-hai, a warrior who can lead them and give the opposition fits.

Mitchell Robinson is already getting better in his second NBA season. In fact, he may slowly be bordering on elite. Why would Fizdale make a point of not being consistent with the man’s minutes?

Sure, you don’t want Robinson getting hurt in a blowout, but he has to learn to improve and adjust midgame. The troubles won’t end if the plan is to just keep him from them.

Mitchell Robinson deserves more minutes, plain and simple. If the Knicks are serious about improving, the answer is staring them square in the face.

 

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