Mitchell Robinson

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Schmeelk: Mitchell Robinson Is The Knicks' Best Homegrown Player

John Schmeelk
February 13, 2019 - 1:22 pm
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The Knicks have lost a franchise record 17 games in a row and might be playing the worst basketball in the team’s 72 season history. The Knicks trailed the (arguably) less talented Cavaliers by 17 points in the third quarter of their most recent loss. They made a run by utilizing a zone defense and being fortunate enough to have Kadeem Allen playing the game of his life.

Losing hasn’t been the biggest problem. It was a fait accompli this season, but it is how the team is losing that should disturb Knicks fans. Frank Ntilikina is out with an injury (again). Kevin Knox’s shooting has cratered to .366/.336/.724 with little improvement as a rebounder, defender and passer. Allonzo Trier has shot a combined 10-30 in his last five games with only four total free throw attempts while averaging five points per game. Damyean Dotson is 11-37 in his last five games while averaging only just over six points.

The lone bright spot for the Knicks homegrown youngsters has been Mitchell Robinson. After battling injuries and foul trouble for much of the first half of the season, he is coming into his own. In the Knicks last six games (Robinson has played in five of them), he is averaging 11.4 points on 77% FG, to go along with 7.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in only 20.6 minutes per game. He is also only averaging 2.6 fouls per game during that stretch.

He is also impacting the team in a more positive way than any of his teammates. Despite the Knicks going winless over that same stretch and being outscored by an average of 10.6 points per game, Robinson has an average plus/minus of +.4 per game, the best mark on the team (spare Luke Kornet and Isaiah Hicks who have played limited minutes). DeAndre Jordan, for example, is at -11.2 during those same games.

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Even if you look at Robinson’s numbers over the course of the entire season, his -5.4 net rating when on the floor is better than every other Knick that has played more than 12 games. His defensive rating is third lowest behind only Lance Thomas and Mario Hezonja (only including players with more than 12 games played).

Robinson is still extremely raw, having never played a game of college basketball and sitting out an entire year of basketball before being drafted in the second round by the Knicks. Even without having nearly any experience or extended periods of high-level teaching, his raw instincts and physical abilities have made him one of the biggest positives on the Knicks this season. There’s no reason to think as he continues to play he will continue to rapidly improve.

Robinson is easily the most projectable young player on the Knicks roster right now. He doesn’t even have to add anything to his skill set in order to be an effective NBA player. He only has to improve what he is already good at rim protection, finishing at the basket and rim running off high pick and rolls. If he just gets a little stronger, which would make him a better rebounder, and stays out of foul trouble, he could be an elite level modern NBA big man.

A player like Robinson, if he improves on those aforementioned skills he already has in his repertoire, could be a starter or major rotation player on any good team in the NBA. The same can’t be said for any of the Knicks other recent draft picks. Ntilikina’s shooting is still poor. Knox isn’t shooting well and isn’t good at much else on the floor. Dotson looks like a good three and D player, but Allonzo Trier’s offense has not been nearly good enough of late to make up for his struggles on the other end of the court.

Robinson is already a perfect example of a mold that has had success as a valuable, even All-Star player in the NBA. The younger versions of Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan are examples. Clint Capela is another. They can finish at the basket, switch on defense, and protect the rim. If the Knicks do land two high scoring perimeter players this offseason, Robinson is the perfect player to play with them.

Robinson’s presence and burgeoning skill set presence should make the idea of signing a center with their cap space this summer a non-starter. Some have suggested resigning DeAndre Jordan, but it is hard to argue he has played better than Robinson in the last two weeks. DeMarcus Cousins should also be off the Knicks radar.

In a year full of a lot of rows, Robinson has stood out as the Knicks most exciting young prospect. He has a legitimate chance to be a starting center on a championship level team. He’s the only player on the Knicks roster that can be said about with any level of confidence. The other youngsters still have plenty of room to grow and could get there, but Robinson’s path is far clearer as he starts his NBA career.

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