There was little reason to watch the Knicks this season when Mitchell Robinson wasn’t on the floor, and although there are obvious candidates who sit above him in the Rookie of the Year hierarchy, Robinson deserves consideration and at least a few votes, and he should absolutely be selected to one of the All-Rookie teams.
Heading into the 2018-19 campaign, New Yorkers knew things were going to be difficult. Besides the specter of an eventual return from Kristaps Porzingis, which of course never materialized, there wasn’t much to even be excited about. However, despite the overall horror show the Knicks were this season, there emerged in the darkness a lone beacon of light: Mitchell Robinson.
A brief look back at how he got here.
Luckily for the Knicks, Robinson scared other teams away by not playing organized basketball last year, so New York was able to snatch him with the 36th overall pick.
Upon being selected, Robinson and the crew he was with expressed the feeling known as happiness:
Although Robinson’s physical attributes were obvious — he’s taller than the average Christmas tree and has a wingspan so long it would impress Inspector Gadget — his status as a second round draft pick meant we were unsure exactly what we would get from the big man. He was considered a project, and certainly not a candidate for being selected to an All-Rookie team or receiving Rookie of the Year votes.
Once the season started, however, Robinson began blocking shots and slamming dunks like a lottery pick. He struggled with getting into foul trouble early on, but it didn’t take long for Robinson to establish that he didn’t care whether or not an opposing player had RSVP’d, because they were coming to his block party.
Robinson might be the best defensive rookie in the NBA, and a Defensive Player of the Year honor is in his future.
In his ninth game as a pro, Robinson recorded nine blocks against the Orlando Magic, setting the Knicks rookie record. For reference, the most blocks Patrick Ewing had in a single game as a rookie was five. Only 10 days later, Robinson swatted six shots against the Boston Celtics. He posted three or more blocks 30 times this year, and only seven times did he fail to record at least one block. Although he didn’t record any blocks against the Detroit Pistons in the last game of the season, he rode a 29-game streak of having at least two blocks up until game number 82. The only rookie to ever have a longer stretch was Manute Bol, who had at least two blocks 45 straight games back in 1986.
Mitchell Robinson has blocked 2+ shots in 20 consecutive games, becoming the 5th rookie in @NBAHistory with such a streak:— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) March 21, 2019
45 Bol, Manute (1986)
25 Robinson, David (1990)
23 O'Neal, Shaquille (1992)
21 Mourning, Alonzo (1993)
21 Bol, Manute (1986)
20 Robinson, Mitchell (2019) pic.twitter.com/NA7GrtKGPi
That’s all well and good, but you’re probably asking how he compares to other current NBA players. Well, Robinson finished second in the NBA in blocks per game, and first among rookies, with roughly 2.5 per contest. In terms of total blocks, he finished fourth overall in the league with 161, behind only Myles Turner, Rudy Gobert and Brook Lopez. By the way, the 21-year-old did all this while playing only 20 minutes per game.
Robinson blocked about 70 more shots than the next best rookie, Jaren Jackson Jr., despite Jackson playing over 250 more minutes than Mitch. He posted almost 90 more blocks than the next highest rookie, Deandre Ayton, who you might know as the first overall selection in last year’s draft.
As of the beginning of March, Robinson led the NBA in blocked three-point attempts with 13, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, who accurately described him in this recent column as “Billy Madison against the elementary school kids.”
Even when he doesn’t block the shot, Robinson makes it difficult for his opponent, as evidenced by the fact that he finished second among rookies in contested shots per game, according to stats.NBA.com, behind only Ayton. When you expand the criteria to all players, not just rookies, Robinson falls to 22nd overall in contested shots, which isn’t bad considering there’s roughly 450 players in the league.
He’s blocked a lot of the best players in the NBA, and those who have yet to feel his wrath should beware that Robinson will eventually come for them, too.
Mitchell Robinson sticks with Harden and GETS THAT BLOCK pic.twitter.com/61kzrHavnT— Matt Spendley (@mattspendley) January 24, 2019
I haven't seen anyone that can guard the Harden/Luka stepback like Mitchell Robinson. He can be standing 8 feet away and still block the shot. pic.twitter.com/PFEQDbwLCQ— Binyomin Goldgrab (@bgoldgrab) January 31, 2019
Okay, so he’s really good at defense. What about the other side of the court?
At this point, we should all be able to agree that Robinson is an imposing defender who has a higher rate of blocking people than an attractive girl on Tinder. But if we’re going to seriously say that he should receive votes for Rookie of the Year or be considered for one of the All-Rookie teams, he should probably also be proficient on the offensive end.
Good news! Robinson’s field goal percentage of around 69% puts him first in the league when counting players that took at least 200 shots, although because he took less than 300 overall shot attempts he won’t show up on a lot of the leader boards. With 128 dunks, he finished second among rookies and 17th overall in the NBA.
He’s a 60% free throw shooter overall, although he improved as the season progressed. Over his last 30 games, Robinson shot free throws at a higher than 67% clip. His improvement indicates that we are unlikely to experience Hack-a-Mitch anytime soon.
He finished 25th in the league in offensive rebounds, with 177. If you extrapolate his statistics to per 36 minutes, Robinson would have averaged 4.8 offensive rebounds per game, putting him in third place overall behind Andre Drummond and Steven Adams. Many of his offensive rebounds lead to immediate points.
Mitchell Robinson of course makes an impact right away with the putback slam pic.twitter.com/SkEwMXwl7v— Posting and Toasting (@ptknicksblog) February 27, 2019
Since coming back from a groin injury that caused him to miss 13 straight games in December and January, Robinson scored at least 10 points 19 times in 38 games. His scoring output rose as the season went on, and over his last 10 games Robinson averaged roughly 12 points per contest.
You’ve made your point. Robinson can play offense, too. Let’s wrap this up already.
While the Rookie of the Year race is really between Luka Doncic and Trae Young, it would be a travesty if Robinson didn’t at least receive a few votes, especially considering he led all rookies in win shares this year, which is one of those new age statistics that estimates the number of victories a given player is personally responsible for.
Rookie leaders in Win Shares:— Basketball Reference (@bball_ref) April 9, 2019
1. Mitchell Robinson 5.9
2. Deandre Ayton 5.8
3. Luka Doncic 4.7
t4. Marvin Bagley 3.5
t4. Landry Shamet 3.5https://t.co/RYwO5fwcrv
The true travesty, however, would be if Robinson somehow doesn’t make one of the All-Rookie teams. He’s got two nicknames, for goodness sake, one for either side of the court: The Blockness Monster and Mitchell Lobinson.
Quite frankly, Robinson probably deserves consideration for Defensive Player of the Year, although that’s admittedly a tall order because of his meager minutes, plus the fact that the Knicks were the worst team in the league this year and finished tied for the worst record in franchise history. There will be time later on for Robinson to make a case for receiving the award for best defender in the NBA, as long as the Knicks don’t do something stupid like trade him.
The bottom line is that Robinson isn’t just good for a second round draft pick. He’s simply straight up good. And he’s on the Knicks. Now let’s see if the voters have been watching.