clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

No offense, but what happened to Mitchell Robinson’s offense?

His scoring numbers are noticeably down. But he can still thrive with a few simple changes.

NBA: Orlando Magic at New York Knicks Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t mean to be selfish.

The Knicks have the fifth-best defensive rating in the NBA. That doesn’t happen without Mitchell Robinson who is holding players to 7.4% worse than their average at the rim, and has had numerous game-clinching defensive stops. Robinson has become more than just a shot blocker, averaging a career-high 1.7 steals per game as an effective team defender. His biggest feat this season may be the fact that he’s been able to stay on the court to accomplish his other ones. He’s averaging a career high 30 minutes per game and a career-low 2.7 fouls per game.

But I have to ask: What about the offense?

Despite his increased minutes, he’s averaging fewer points per game than last year at 8.5. His 10.2 points per 36 minutes and 63 true shooting percentage are career-lows after setting career-highs with 15 per 36 on a league-leading 73% last year (and an NBA history-high 74 FG%).

His two free throw attempts per 36 minutes are nearly half of his 3.7 his first two years. Even more disappointingly, when he gets there, he’s shooting a career-low 47%, a disappointing development for someone who shot 68% on them over his final 31 games as a rookie. In Monday’s gross win over the Orlando Magic, he made just 2 of 6 free throws, including air-balling one in crunch time.

While no one expected him to bring out the razzmatazz hop-skiddly-doo seen in his workout videos or even him finally unleashing his three-ball after his umpteenth promise to do so...

...especially not Spencer Dinwiddie...

...some offensive improvement in his third year would be nice—especially for a Knicks team that is essentially tied for 28th in ORTG.

Why are his offensive numbers down? A few factors are at play, including the fact that he’s playing very banged up right now and probably not used to starter’s minutes. But Mitch probably hasn’t gotten worse at lobs or dunking. They’re simply not looking for him as much. Against the Nets, all 10 of his points and 9 of his field goal attempts were off put-backs. Just 36 of his baskets are assisted compared to 22 unassisted (put-backs) an unassisted rate significantly higher than last year’s of 84 to 169. In 2020, Mitchell Robinson’s 1.66 points per possession as a pick and roll possession led the league among rotation big men. However, his 1.5 possessions as a pick and roll roll-man this season rank just 50th in the league after 1.9 possessions per game in fewer minutes (and his PPP is down to 1.26, though still a high mark).

Why are they not looking for him as much? A large part is likely due to spacing. It’s harder for a pick and roll threat to have gravity going to the hoop when the majority of the lineups he’s in are with players also solely a threat down low too. The same principle is likely why Obi Toppin has not been significantly effective as a roll threat so far either. A lack of a (starting) point guard that has a threat of a jumper to make pick and rolls more effective also makes things tougher, and the fact that the starting point guard is lowkey not very good at throwing lobs despite Mitch’s massive lob radius doesn’t help things either.

So what’s the solution? One wise man once said to sit Elfrid Payton to help the offense’s pace-and-space. Another might be to hire one of the best big men development coaches in the country in Kenny Payne, which they did.

Payne is credited as teaching some of the best players in the game like Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, and Westchester Prodigy Skal Labbisiere simple post games to turn them into lethal scorers.

I’m kinda not kidding about Skal either. Even before the Knicks hired Payne and signed Skal, he’s someone I looked at as someone with an effective yet likely replicable post game.

The coaching staff’s work with Mitch on offense isn’t done. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Thibodeau has similar aspirations as me and giddily said, “Offensively, there’s a lot of room for him to grow. He’s putting a lot of time in.”

“You guys haven’t seen it yet, but it’s coming.”

We’ve seen hints of this, but mostly in preseason.

In his limited opportunities, he’s shown more confidence to pass the ball and has made quicker decisions.

Mitch is not your typical dunks-only big man. As shown with his free throw streak to end his rookie year, he has a potentially workable jumpshot, even if he’s not Anthony Davis or Luke Kornet. He also has flashed pretty impressive touch with finger-rolls that remind of Wilt Chamberlain, who Robinson has probably never watched.

He also likely doesn’t need a jumper, and as we’ve seen, him practicing threes may not be the best use of time. Robinson has seen Rudy Gobert and Andre Drummond effectively take a few dribbles and drive by him without a jumper threat. With Robinson’s elite athleticism and decent big-man handles, there is no reason he cannot replicate similar results with practice.

With spacing, Mitchell Robinson can go back to being, at minimum, one of the highest-gravity and most dangerous roll-men in the league. But he truly has the potential to be much more as well, with next-level athleticism which we’ve already seen him turn into an elite team-defender. With proper coaching and guidance, it’s exciting to think about what he could become on that end, though we haven’t seen it yet.