All the way back on September 30, 2019, ESPN’s Senior Writer Zach Lowe wrote his annual “NBA’s Six Most Intriguing Players” column. He featured the wonderful and beautiful Mitchell Robinson as one of his six players. I mean, why wouldn’t he? Mr. Robinson was a bright spot in a dim 17-win season last year. His specular ally-oop dunks, über-athletic blocking of 3-point shot attempts, and his overall ability to play great defense just solely based on instinct was something Knicks fans haven’t seen since... well... ever, I think?
In true “I totally am an objective NBA analyst who totally never wrote for The Celtics Hub” and “I totally never wrote the sentence, ‘My second favorite team rotates every few seasons depending on players and style, with the ironclad rule that it can never be the Lakers or Knicks’ in a blog post” fashion, Lowe did nothing but slander the Block Ness Monster. Alright, maybe “slander” is too harsh of a word considering that the criticism Lowe levied are rather fair weaknesses in Robinson’s game. With that said, Zach, if you’re reading, I do expect better from you, as the assessment of Robinson should have been more rounded by highlighting legitimate positives about his game.
This is where I come into the picture, riding on a majestic white horse like I’m Russell from Up if Russell grew up in North Korea.
I’m here to highlight the good that Lowe conveniently forgot to mention in order to paint a more fair picture of a young man with so much promise. Let’s get into some graphs, baby!
We all know that Mitchell Robinson blocks a lot of shots, but interior defense is more than just simply swatting shots away. Even though the skill is fading away into the past, big men still need to defend the post effectively. If teams are going to allow easy buckets on a rather inefficient shot, well, that’s a recipe for an easy loss.
Here is a collection of the top 50 players in post-up defense points per possession who totaled at least 50 defended post-up possessions from 2015–16 to this past season.
Despite being on the lower side of total possessions, Robinson posted an elite 0.61 points per possession. It didn’t matter if players were driving to the lane or trying to post him up, Mitchell Robinson was shutting them down no matter what.
As a rookie, Robinson also put up impressive putback numbers. His 1.22 points per possession on the play type was better than Celtics’ first option Enes Kanter last season (1.09 PPP), a player supposedly known for his offensive rebounding and putback ability. Robinson’s long arms and quick second jump allows him to simply sky over opponents if he is anywhere near the rim.
With increased playing time (assuming this is going to happen), we should see an increase in putback possessions. Let’s hope Robinson continues to crash the offensive glass, as this is a great way for him and the Knicks to get easy baskets.
Mitchell Robinson is already an elite pick-and-roll threat. This isn’t up for debate. His insane athleticism creates as much vertical spacing as prime DeAndre Jordan. Robinson was in the 98th percentile last season in pick-and-roll efficiency, scoring a blistering 1.46 PPP. Imagine being a 7-foot-3 player who is supposedly an elite athlete who can also pop out to shoot threes and cannot sniff anywhere above a measly 1.1 PPP on pick-and-roll possessions. Couldn’t be my Block Ness Monster!
This is a play the Knicks must utilize this season, whether it’s Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, RJ Barrett or even Julius Randle running the pick-and-roll. Robinson’s gravity on this play sucks defenses in, opening up shooting lanes for guys like Wayne Ellington, Kevin Knox and Bobby Portis. All Mitch has to do, though, is actually set a damn screen and make contact!
Robinson shot a perfect 69 percent from the field last year (NICE, and I’m not kidding). He’s hyper efficient; however, it’s solely in the paint.
Unlike Zach Lowe, I will diverge from my homerific, yet complete valid argument for why Mitch was amazing last year. Yes, I did mention that Mitch generates a ton of gravity by being a vertical threat, but that’s pretty much all he is. And if you’re a one-dimensional player, well, you become easier to game plan against.
Robinson mentioned a number of times in the offseason that he is working on this 3-point shooting and will be taking attempts this season. I certainly do not expect him to be efficient in any way, shape, or form. Hell, I don’t know how many attempts he’s even going to average per game. But if he can work over the next couple of years to be around 36 percent from the corners, for example, that will do wonders for not only his offensive game, but help out the entire offense and his teammates. Let’s keep an eye on his shooting chart to see if it diversifies.
Let’s end this article back on a positive note! If I were to say that Mitchell Robinson posted a box plus-minus figure that was better than what Tim Duncan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson posted in their rookie season, you would say something to the effect of “POPPYCOCK!”?
Well, you would be wrong.
There are only nine NBA players in history who posted a box plus-minus greater than 5.0 in their rookie season. Only Michael Jordan, David Robinson, and Chris Paul had better box plus-minuses than the Block Ness Monster. Let that sink in for a moment.
Robinson is in rarified air. You may have your quibbles with the metric — I know I do — but it is one of the more reliable adjusted plus-minuses publicly available that serves its core function: predicting future success. Robinson isn’t as well-rounded as these other great players, however, he certainly can have an impact on the game similar to these guys, but in the context of a role player on offense and anchoring a defense.
Okay, maybe that’s a little too much, but what can I say? I love Mitch and I want him to be successful. It’s much better to be hopeful than being a pessimistic, self-loathing Knicks fan when it comes to the collection of young players this team has on the roster.
Mitchell Robinson is good, despite what Zach Lowe thinks.