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Knicks 2018-19 Preview: Mitchell Robinson

Just how much does this raw prospect have to offer in 2018-19?

NBA: Preseason-New York Knicks at Brooklyn Nets Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

When the Knicks drafted Mitchell Robinson with the 36th pick in June’s draft, a lot of fans were not quite sure what to expect, or even who Mitchell Robinson was (including yours truly).

Robinson took the year off from college to train for the NBA due to a strange variety of circumstances and skipped the NBA draft combine, effectively turning him into the biggest mystery in the draft and tanking his stock.

Side note: Just imagine how cool the future MitchRob biopic starring Chadwick Boseman Jr. will be once our guy becomes one of the best centers of all time, given his crazy road getting to the league.

Before the college season, Robinson had been a top-15 recruit, and he apparently drew interest from the Lakers and some other late first round teams before the draft, but ultimately fell in the Knicks’ lap at pick 36.

One elite Summer League performance later, and suddenly Robinson’s not as much of a mystery, and seems like he could be just as important to the future of this team as fellow neophytes Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina.

As far as Robinson’s play is concerned, our own Zach Diluzio did a pretty great job breaking it down after Summer League. Mitch was far from perfect — he fouled a lot (lack of discipline around the hoop, and in particular, reaching in on opponents driving the lane), his screen-setting leaves some to be desired (he shies away from contact a lot, kind of like the Knicks' other franchise big man), and he for sure looked like a guy who hadn’t played organized basketball in over a year. But the tools are clearly there. Mitch was a great rebounder in Summer League, his shot-blocking looks like it could be elite once he reels in the fouling, and he may be the most athletic player to come out of the 2018 draft.

The first two preseason games painted a similar picture, albeit against actual NBA competition. Mitch has already had one of his trademark 3-point closeout blocks, and his game showed many of the same strengths (and weaknesses) that we came to know in July.

The biggest thing that needs fixing is Mitch’s fouling — he racked up four fouls in 10 minutes against the Nets in the second preseason game, and three in 14 minutes against the Wizards in the first game. The fact that Robinson has NBA skill is not at all in question — what he really, really needs is NBA-level discipline on the court.

So, with all that said, I’m not going to spend too much time in this preview focusing on Big Meetch’s strengths and weaknesses. (If you read Zach’s article, you’ve basically seen all of the relevant film and analysis that is needed at this point, in my opinion.) Instead, I’d like to spread my theory for developing this big lump of basketball clay that could potentially become our second frontcourt franchise cornerstone.

Look at some of the best big men in the league that fit the rim-running, shot-blocking, rebounding archetype that Robinson seems like he could realistically become: Clint Capela, Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Jordan and Steven Adams. There’s a common thread that ties almost all of these elite centers together. They were all defensive-minded, raw big men that were brought along slowly to begin their careers, and ultimately it resulted in them becoming forces in the NBA.

Out of those four centers, Adams received the most playing time during his rookie season, at almost 15 minutes per game in 81 contests. Even so, for a player that was drafted 12th overall onto what was at the time a contending team, that number is pretty low. Jordan and Gobert averaged 15 and 10 minutes per game, respectively, with Jordan playing in 53 games and Gobert in 45. Capela played 7.5 minutes per in his rookie year, appearing in just 14 games.

So, for a player of Mitch’s pedigree, but also raw talent level, it seems like patience should be on the menu. With that in mind, I have a somewhat unprecedented approach to his development that I think the Knicks would be wise to entertain.

Imagine this — a player that has clear, coachable flaws in his game, getting coached up by a consistent development team in a familiar setting. For some teams, that’s a pipe dream. For the Knicks, it’s something that could be a reality.

A top-down philosophy is finally permeating Madison Square Garden and the Knicks organization at large. If the Knicks want to get the best out of Mitch, it could be a good idea to split his time between the Big Knicks and the Little Knicks. Westchester Knicks head coach Mike Miller was, technically, Mitchell Robinson’s first pro coach as the Knicks’ Summer League head coach, so there’s already familiarity there.

My theory is this — when the Knicks are playing a home stand at the Garden, keep Mitch in the big leagues. His highest highs at home will be rewarded with cheers and 20,000 people chanting his name, and his lowest lows will be taken in stride.

But when the Knicks go on the road, send the big man to Westchester. He can still use all of the same training facilities that he uses with the big club, and work to perfect any weaknesses with Miller. Rinse and repeat until it seems like Big Meetch is ready for the big leagues full-time (which I suspect would be around mid-season).

Might being relegated to the G-League have ill effects on Robinson’s confidence? I mean, I suppose it’s possible. But if the move is framed as being in Robinson’s best interest and not some sort of punishment, he should hopefully take it in stride. If current two-way player and preseason superstar Allonzo Trier also starts in the G-League, that could further make it a comfortable place for Robinson.

All in all, the key word for the Knicks, Knicks fans, and Mitchell Robinson himself this year will be patience. Developing good habits for Mitch on the court is going to be the key in taking him from high-energy, high-talent raw prospect to rim-running defensive star (or All-Star? Who knows?!). Hopefully the Knicks aren’t afraid to use the G-League resource right in their backyard to achieve it.