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Breaking down why Mitchell Robinson deserves his flowers

Maybe not the hero we deserve, but definitely the one we need

Los Angeles Clippers v New York Knicks Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

If you’ve watched even just one Knicks game this season, you’ll know just how crucial Mitchell Robinson has been. And while we’ve always known that the 25-year-old center was a key part of the rotation, early on in the 23-24 campaign, Robinson is making a very strong case for being the most important and impactful player on the team. Following what was a dominant coming-out party against the Cavaliers in the playoffs last season, the big man has started the season extremely strong on the boards and is currently averaging a career-high 12.4 RPG, which is a whole three rebounds per game more than his previous career-high of 9.4 RPG.

To put Robinson’s rebounding prowess into prospective, Robinson recently became just the fifth player in league history to grab 45 or more offensive rebounds in the first seven games of a season, joining Moses Malone, Dennis Rodman, Andre Drummond, and Jayson Williams. Robinson also currently has just three less offensive rebounds than the whole Thunder team, who currently rank last in the league in offensive rebounds, and has an offensive rebounding rate higher than that of seven different teams. And as we saw in the playoffs last season, his ability to grab offensive rebounds has been a huge crutch for a Knicks offense that has gotten off to an incredibly slow start. While it’s not like the offensive rating numbers, the points per game numbers, or the overall record look great for the team right now, it’s hard to imagine just how bad those numbers might be looking sans Robinson.

The now veteran center has also taken another step defensively as well. His block numbers, 1.1 BPG, have come down significantly since his rookie season, when he averaged 2.4 BPG in just 20.6 MPG, but he’s a far better overall defender now than he was back then and so far, it’s shown in the other defensive counting stats category, steals. Robinson is averaging a career high 1.7 SPG, which is almost double his career average of .9 SPG, and a lot it is due to two simple things: getting in a stance, and being more active. Throughout the first seven games of the season, we’ve seen Robinson hedge out on screens or meet players in a more traditional lower defensive stance, and that’s also been the case when he plays drop coverage, as well. This has helped him stay with guys and just be a better defender overall. We’ve also seen Robinson keep his arms up more, and while this sounds like such a simple thing, for someone with a 7’4” wingspan like him, that can make a huge difference. This evident by the fact there’s already been multiple instances where an opposing player attempts to make a pass, and the ball ends up just hitting his arms without him going for a steal.

Overall, it seems like Robinson has just learned to put it all together. The former second round pick has always been athletic, has always had an insane wingspan, and has gotten a lot stronger over the last few seasons, but it’s always felt like he wasn’t fully utilizing everything. We saw the last couple seasons that Robinson had bulked up a bit, but there were certainly parts of the season where he looked a bit sluggish and slow. We also saw him early on his career, just try to jump as high as possible and block every shot possible. But this season, it seems like he’s learned to get the perfectly balance everything for the first time in his career.

Robinson still shows off the elite leaping ability that got him into the league when he needs to get up for a rebound, or contest a shot, but he’s also being smarter about when he does so. He now knows when to be a bully and be physical, but he also has learned how and when to go about doing that. Both of these things, combined with the aforementioned improved use of his insanely long arms, has lead to a new and improved Robinson that is able to be physically dominant on the boards, contest shots and protect the rim without fouling as much (least fouls per 36 minutes in his career), and get in the way of the passing lanes and disrupt offenses with his mere presence.

There’s still a long way to go in the season, which means that Robinson, who has had some injury concerns in the past, will still need to prove he can do this over the course of an entire campaign. But the good news is, that also means we get to see a lot more of Robinson, who has, without being any kind of offensive threat, been an absolute treat to watch this season. It may be too early for non-Knicks fans to start the Defensive Player of the Year or All Defensive Team campaigns, but I don’t care. Get this man, who, mind you, wasn’t even ranked in the top 100 players on some lists before the season, the recognition and credit he damn well deserves!