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Why you should be on the lookout for Mitchell Robinson

The debut of new P&T writer Kento Kato!

NBA: New York Knicks at Sacramento Kings Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

9.2 points per game. 8.4 rebounds. 0.5 assists.

Those are Mitchell Robinson’s stats, and at first sight most casual fans or those who don’t watch the Knicks may look at that line and think he’s just another hustling rim-runner who lacks an offensive game and lacks potential. But those who have watched Robinson and the Knicks will know that with him, the numbers do not tell the whole story.

Drafted in the second round, Robinson flew under the radar on draft night but his athleticism and length, along with his insane natural ability and sense of shot blocking, was intriguing for many teams. That being said, he was still very raw on both ends of the floor and his lack of a college career had teams questioning if he was worth a pick. In his first two years, Robinson showcased a lot of what scouts originally saw in him, with highlight blocks and impressive rim-running abilities to go along with it. Fans and coaches alike were also frustrated and left wanting to pull their hair out as he often committed silly fouls.

But this year, along with Tom Thibodeau’s coaching and the increased minutes, Robinson has turned himself into a high potential project and anchor of one of the league’s best defenses. The potential is still there and Robinson still has improvements he can make on both ends, but fans are starting to see why those around the organization believe he can become an All-NBA defender with a DeAndre Jordan-like impact on a team.

Robinson’s impact on offense is still somewhat limited, but he more than makes up for that with everything he does on defense. According to his 1.8 blocks per game are 12th in the league; five of his peers who rank above him play more minutes, and the impressive numbers don’t stop there. The young center is eighth in the league in total contested twos and 10th in total contested shots, showcasing his ability to impact shots with his athleticism and length without fouling. He is also second and third in the league in box outs per game and total box outs, respectively, which has helped the Knicks become the third-best rebounding team in the league.

This has been very important, as teams can be very good at defending the initial shot, but if they can’t secure the rebound it often leads to an easy putback or wide-open 3. Robinson has been way more physical this year, even playing through injuries, and doing a great job battling and boxing out. This has helped both Julius Randle and RJ Barrett rebound the ball well, which also helps the Knicks get out into transition and convert it into easy offense.

So what are his weaknesses? What can he can improve on?

Robinson has struggled with bigger, more traditional big men this season. On opening night, Domantas Sabonis torched him and the Knicks for 32 points and 13 rebounds; three nights later Joel Embiid dropped 27 and 10; earlier this month, Andre Drummond recorded 33 and 23. That being said, he has also held his own against guys like Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert while showing an overall ability to be not just a stat sheet stuffer, but a good defender.

There is a clear distinction, as we now live in an era in which stats and analytics can often be weighed too heavily when judging a player. A player can have high steals or blocks totals but not be a good team defender. While Robinson’s blocks are down this year, he has taken on the challenge of chasing fewer blocks and committing fewer fouls to be the defensive quarterback coach Thibodeau and the Knicks need him to be.

The hope is that as he continues to gain more experience and grows stronger, he’ll continue to increase his blocks while keeping his fouls down and become an even more dominant rebounder. The Knicks may not be the most talented team or win 50 games, but there are many bright spots. Their young center happens to be one of the brightest and most intriguing to watch, for multiple reasons.