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ESPN ranked Mitchell Robinson and Julius Randle among the NBA's 100 best players

Should they be higher?

NBA: New York Knicks at New Orleans Pelicans
They used to be opponents. Now they’re teammates. Robinson and Randle, coming to your television screens this fall.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Mitchell Robinson and Julius Randle were recognized by ESPN as two of the top 100 players heading into the 2019-20 NBA season, but the big men deserve to be higher on the list, and the league will soon see what a fearsome frontcourt they make.

Robinson and Randle came in at 98th and 92nd, respectively, on ESPN’s ranking of the best players in the NBA going into this season. Only numbers 100 through 51 were unveiled on Monday, with the rest coming up in installments so ESPN can wring as many clicks out of the preseason ranking as possible. Therefore, it’s technically possible that there are more Knicks to be named, but you probably shouldn’t hold your breath, unless you are looking to experience the euphoria that apparently occurs with anoxia, which is when there’s an absence of oxygen in your body or brain.

Okay, let’s look at how ESPN ranked our beloved Knicks and discuss why they were shortchanged.

Mitchell Robinson

The Knicks were so bad last year that at first it was actually something of a surprise to see Robinson listed. But once the initial shock wore off, that surprise turned to disgust. ESPN claims that out of roughly 450 total NBA players, there are 97 better than Robinson right now. The six players ESPN thinks are better than Robinson but worse than Randle are Robert Covington, Derrick Favors, Jarrett Allen, Justise Winslow and Ja Morant. None of those dudes are bad players, but ESPN is underrating the impact Robinson has when he’s on the floor.

To be frank, Robinson got far too little shine for what he accomplished last season, which included finishing second in the NBA in blocks per game and first among rookies, as well as shooting about 69 percent from the field and dunking 128 times, or second among rookies and 17th overall in the league.

Brooklyn Nets fans who moonlight as Posting and Toasting readers are probably laughing to themselves right now as they claim, to no one in particular, that Allen is clearly superior to Robinson.

And look, it’s true that Allen bested Robinson’s 2018-19 averages for points and rebounds by four and two, respectively, but that was in roughly six more minutes per game. Meanwhile, in those six less minutes of action per contest, Robinson averaged 2.4 blocks to Allen’s 1.5. If only there were a way to project how Robinson’s statistics might look compared to Allen’s if they both played, to pick a number totally at random without any thought whatsoever, 36 minutes per game. Oh, hey basketball-reference. Didn’t see you there.

Note to David Fizdale: start Mitch and play him a lot of minutes.

ESPN projects that Robinson will contribute about 3.9 wins to his team’s win total, and Kevin Pelton, the writer responsible for putting together a short blurb about Robinson in the ranking, said the following:

After spending most of his rookie campaign coming off the bench, Robinson projects as a starter in 2019-20. Among New York’s young players, he is the best equipped with role-player skills to contribute if and when the Knicks add a star.

Julius Randle

Despite a career performance for the New Orleans Pelicans last season, Randle actually dropped on the ESPN ranking from 84th a year ago to 92nd this year. What gives?

Here are a bunch of power forwards and centers who ranked higher than Randle on this year’s list: Montrezl Harrell (72nd), Marvin Bagley III (69th), Deandre Ayton (66th) Domantas Sabonis (63rd), Jaren Jackson Jr. (5th), Clint Capela (53rd).

No disrespect to any of them, as they are all very good players. But Randle has improved in each of his first five seasons, finishing last year with averages of 21.4 points (an increase of about five points per game from the prior season), 8.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists. He shot 52.4 percent from the floor and a career best 34.4 percent from three.

In early December of last year, Randle had a career high 37 points in a three-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, adding 8 rebounds and 4 assists. Two days later, he dropped 27 points and 18 rebounds in a 26-point blowout of the Dallas Mavericks. Two days later, he put up 26 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in a four-point loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Two days later, he had 28 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocks in an eight point win over the Detroit Pistons. This list could go on, but let’s stop there.

Here are the highlights from the first monster showing detailed in the above paragraph:

And yet, he dropped eight spots on the ESPN ranking! Weird. Did the Knicks stink sink people’s opinions of what Randle can do on the court?

Randle is projected to contribute exactly one victory to the team’s win total next year, which seems low. Do you remember the guys who played forward and center for the Knicks last season? Randle is a massive step up.

Here’s what Adrian Wojnarowski, the writer responsible for putting together a short blurb about Randle in the ranking, had to say:

Randle has developed into one of the NBA’s most versatile offensive frontcourt players. At 24, he had the best NBA campaign of his five-year career last season, averaging 21.4 points on 52% shooting to go along with 8.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game for the Pelicans.

Some final thoughts

Clearly, ESPN took winning into account with this ranking. Which makes sense, since winning is the main goal for NBA teams and the Knicks did very little of it last year. But this ranking is supposed to be a list of the best individual players, so putting, say, Fred VanVleet (88th) higher than both Robinson and Randle seems a little kooky.

The Knicks should be significantly better this year than last, and a large part of that prediction can be attributed to the presence of Robinson and Randle. If the team overachieves, don’t be surprised to see Randle on the All-Star team. And if the team really overachieves and the rise of Robinson continues, he’ll be one of the league’s marquee players sooner than later.

Let’s hope both of them saw this list and feel rankled by it. The Knicks are big, man.