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2019-20 Knicks Player Review: Mitchell Robinson

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Robinson is clearly the starting center of the future, but for some reason, not the present.

New York Knicks v Charlotte Hornets
Mitch, like his future, is looking up.
Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

If the barometer for a player’s success in any given year is whether they broke Wilt Chamberlain’s single season record for highest field goal percentage, then suffice to say Mitchell Robinson had a pretty solid sophomore season.

For the uninitiated, Robinson’s field goal percentage of 74.2% is higher than Wilt’s all-time single season record of 72.7% from 1972-73.

Of course, the 2019-20 campaign technically never ended, and no one really knows whether the NBA might still push to play a few regular season games or jump straight into the playoffs. It also feels possible that professional basketball won’t come back until next season. And even then, will there be fans? This train of thought could continue for hours on end, but instead of getting sucked into the bottomless well of coronavirus concerns, let’s get down to business.

Robinson took a step toward stardom in 2019-2020, but we’re still waiting for a larger leap.

Selected 36th overall in the 2018 NBA draft, Robinson was an absolute steal, and although he clearly improved upon an exciting rookie season in year two, his development was stunted for a couple of reasons. Namely, a mixture of foul trouble and the fact that both David Fizdale and Mike Miller believed he was better suited coming off the bench than being appointed starting center now and in the future.

Technically, he got slightly better at fouling less this year, as he averaged 3.2 fouls per game compared to last season’s 3.3. But there were still far too many games where ticky tack fouls added up and forced Robinson to be relegated to the bench. He fouled out seven times this season, one less than the eight times he racked up six fouls in a single game last year. Remember though, there are technically 16 games left in the regular season, meaning he easily could have usurped last year’s total number of foul outs if given the opportunity.

In 14 different games this year, Robinson played less than 20 minutes but had at least four fouls. If he can get the foul trouble under control, he’ll be even more dangerous than he already is. And he’s plenty dangerous.

Speaking of danger, there’s a gigantic danger hanging out in the ether that we probably shouldn’t really talk about, but here it goes. Robinson signed with Rich Paul of Klutch Sports earlier this season, representing his fifth agent to date, which is a few too many for a second year player.

Paul is one of the more famous agents, in that he’s friends with LeBron James and everyone has heard of him, and Robinson’s move to Klutch likely means he’s got an eye on a big payday at some point in the future. Luckily, Mitch is on the books for two more seasons (he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2022), so the Knicks have plenty of time to figure out how to make sure they retain him.

They might want to start by thinking long and hard about the fifth word in this sentence. Start. Robinson only started seven games this season, down from 19 a year ago. It was all well and good when he was a rookie, but at times Robinson was arguably the best player on the team this season, and the explanation that he was playing well off the bench so the Knicks didn’t want to screw anything up by inserting him into the starting lineup doesn’t pass the sniff test.

Robinson should be the starting center for the Knicks, now and in the future, and the sooner the franchise gets on board, the less chance there will be of someone whispering in his ear that pastures might be greener elsewhere.

In terms of his actual production, Robinson showed signs of being an insanely impactful player who is nearly impossible to stop when he’s rolling. He has yet to unleash that long-range shot he keeps teasing us with — he did take at least one 15ish-foot jumper early in the season, which missed — but the things he does do, he does well.

Robinson ripped down at least 10 boards 12 times this year, and that figure should go up in subsequent seasons, especially as his minutes rise. After failing to score at least 20 even once as a neophyte, Robinson put up 20 or more three times this year, all of which were games that the Knicks won. One particularly lovely game came near the end of December, when Robinson put up 22 points, 13 rebounds and 2 blocks in a victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

Some rapid Robinson stats

> Robinson’s 144 offensive rating leads the league.

> With 185 dunks, he’s second in the NBA, behind only Rudy Gobert. He has 11 more dunks than reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

> Robinson and Julius Randle were the only Knicks this year to have a game with at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks.

> Mitch had 16 games with at least 10 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks.

> With 119 blocks, Robison sits in 6th place for total swats this season. He has 13 more blocks than the player in seventh place: Kristaps Porzingis of the Dallas Mavericks.

> Robinson played at least 200 less minutes than every player above him in total blocks. More minutes would likely equal more blocks. Expect Mitch to be a top blocksman every season he’s in the league.

> He’s 29th in the NBA in total rebounds, and 9th overall in offensive boards. Mitch had at least 5 offensive rebounds in a single game 14 times.

> He scored in double figures in 10 of the last 12 games the Knicks played.

> Per 36 minutes, Robinson averaged 15 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks per game this year. Per 100 possessions, his numbers are 20 points, 15 boards and 4 blocks.

Outlook for next season

Robinson already plays the game so far above the rim that his opponents have no chance of defending once he’s risen off the ground. His lengthy arms allow him to fire off ferocious alley-oop dunks with such signature looks that the silhouette of any one of them could be his own personal logo.

The idea that he might be able to add a jumper, or even some dribbling, is tantalizing, but not really necessary. Next season, Robinson must do a better job controlling his limbs in order to avoid fouls. Hopefully he’ll be named the starter sooner than later. Overall, he needs to keep doing what he’s doing, but on a more consistent basis.

If everything goes well, Mitch could average 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game in year three. Why not?