After looking at the title of this piece, you may be asking, “who is this Mitchell Robinson?” and I can assure you, you are not the only one asking that question.
It is not common for the 36th pick in the draft to be in the same conversation as a former All-Star and Olympic gold medalist like DeAndre Jordan, but this young 7’1 center is certainly proving himself as an exciting prospect for the future.
For a franchise like the New York Knicks, where their recent history in the draft has been nothing short of woeful, drafting a former McDonalds All American with such great potential in the second round is a positive step.
When a top-rated high school player decides against a coveted college basketball career, they usually follow up their decision with a conventional alternative. This includes playing abroad – think Emmanuel Mudiay in China or Terrance Ferguson in Australia – but this was not the case for Robinson. He has already proven that he is not like many other young ballers and this was particularly apparent when he made the decision to become the first player ever to withdraw his commitment from a college basketball program in order to dedicate a year to training alone pre-draft.
With little-to-no media coverage after high school, Robinson worked silently in the shadows, with his only goal being to make it to the NBA. He was set to be one of 69 potential draftees participating in the NBA Combine, with an opportunity to show off his prowess and impress the NBA scouts in hopes of being drafted, but on the day of the combine, Robinson withdrew.
Heading in to draft night, he was an unknown entity, with nobody knowing how Robinson had developed over the previous 12 months. Was he an unpolished, 19-year-old with untapped potential, or was he too much of a risk for the 30 NBA teams with the opportunity to draft him?
The New York Knicks did not mind the risk and used their second-round pick, acquired from Chicago via Oklahoma City in the Carmelo Anthony trade, to select and eventually sign him.
Robinson has been a walking highlight reel ever since with flashy, impressive dunks. He has a great connection with the other young Knicks guards, and an ability to throw down alley-oop passes on a regular basis and not forgetting his incredible blocking ability.
Robinson has two double-doubles so far in his NBA career. In games where he has attempted a field goal, there has only been one game where his field-goal made percentage has been under 50% – he is averaging a nice 69% this season. He secured a career high 15 points in a close home loss to the Raptors on 9 February, along with 7 rebounds and 3 blocks, all in just 22 minutes.
Despite all of the offensive ability, which is always a sure-fire way to hype up the dedicated Knicks crowd, Robinson is showing he has the potential to be an elite NBA defender, rebounder and shot blocker, averaging 2.1 blocks per game. This ranks him fourth in the NBA, four positions ahead of division rival Joel Embiid. This also ranks him first among all rookies, ahead of first overall pick DeAndre Ayton and sixth pick Mo Bamba. No other rookie has averaged at least 2 blocks per game while playing fewer than 18 minutes.
Currently, he has a 10.1% block percentage, which if it stays the same until the end of the season will rank as the fourth highest block percentage in NBA history and the highest since 1989, joining the likes of Manute Bol and Shawn Bradley in the top 10.
Despite his incredible blocking stats, Robinson has found himself in foul trouble early on in his career. Despite a 7’4 wingspan, it is proving difficult for him to be consistent on defense. One of the main things Robinson needs to improve on is staying accurate when blocking and keeping opposing players away from the charity stripe. This is where DeAndre Jordan comes in.
Jordan is a two-time All-Defensive Team selection and former NBA “best defensive player,” as voted for by fellow players at the inaugural 2015 NBA awards. The former Los Angeles Clipper was traded to the Knicks from the Dallas Mavericks as part of the blockbuster Kristaps Porzingis trade earlier this year.
With Free Agency beginning on 1 July and Jordan being an unrestricted free agent this summer, the Knicks may not have the cap space available to offer Jordan a long-term contract. This is all based on speculation that the Knicks will land two max contract superstars this year, which will take up almost all of their free cap space. In the meantime, DeAndre Jordan can be an invaluable asset for the team, and a tutor for Robinson, with Jordan’s incredible defensive ability on show every night.
As a player, Jordan is effective on both ends of the court. Known for being a double-double machine, he is averaging 11 points per game and 13.6 rebounds per game this season, with 3.2 of those rebounds being on the offensive end. Knowing he may be on the move this July, Jordan has an opportunity to prove himself as a role model to young players as well as a solid starting center for any playoff hopeful team.
During a recent post-game press conference, following a 105-92 loss to the Detroit Pistons, and the Knicks’ 14th straight, New York Head Coach David Fizdale said of Jordan: “He knows that a big part of his role with our team is to help us grow this [Robinson].”
Having recently bought out Enes Kanter, trading Kristaps Porzingis and not choosing Luke Kornet as their starting center, the Knicks are crying out for an all-round big man to lead their front court and it looks as if they plan on developing Robinson in to that player.
Offense is definitely not his weak point but with his plus-minus on the season being negative at -2.0, defense is where he needs work, and Jordan can be the one to help him.
Being surrounded by other players in your position who possess a better skillset and greater ability is key for any rookie, and the trade that bought Jordan to the east may be the key to a successful future in the NBA for Robinson. Although Robinson and Jordan may only play together for just over two months, the wealth of knowledge and experience Jordan has from playing 11 years in the NBA will be priceless to the Knicks in their development of the young center.
It will be exciting for any basketball fan to see how this rookie-veteran duo works out for the Knicks, but even if it is short-lived, the future for Robinson is bright. He has the potential to be a reliable starting center for any franchise, with All-Star qualities developing already only half a season in to his professional basketball career.
Feature photo – USA TODAY Sports / Brad Penner / Double Clutch illustration