Mitchell Robinson represents a 7-foot-1 tower of hope for a team in desperate need of it. His penchant for throwing nightly block parties landed him at No. 20 for The Step Back’s 25-under-25 list.
Three hundred blocks. It’s a feat only accomplished 24 times in league history by 10 different players, the last being Theo Ratliff in 2004. It’s roughly the equivalent of blasting 50 home runs in a single year. Mitchell Robinson sports the best chance of joining that exclusive fraternity, possibly this season.
Being a shot-blocking savant requires a special combination of height, length, athleticism, and an instinctual knack for timing. The first two are tangible, the third is physical and fleeting, while the fourth is anticipatory and impalpable. It can’t be taught or analyzed. You either have it or you don’t. Robinson is a rare player in possession of all four traits and could be the best defensive center in the league sooner rather than later.
After exploding onto the scene as a rookie and leading the NBA in blocks per possession by a country mile, the New York faithful showered Robinson with nicknames like the Block Ness Monster, Mercedes Mitch and New York Block Exchange. Hopefully, more get added to the list so Knicks fans can reenact the Great Bambino scene from The Sandlot.
Despite playing just under 21 minutes per game last year, he averaged 2.4 blocks a night and was fourth overall in total rejections. The three players above him (Myles Turner, Rudy Gobert, Brook Lopez) all played nearly double Mitchell’s minutes. I’m not a numbers guy, but given more court time, he should lead the league in blocks with ease in perpetuity (or for at least the next 6-12 years).
The projections agree. His blocks rise to 4.3 per game with per-36 numbers and a ridiculous rate of 5.7 blocks per-48, putting him in rare air, on par with prime-aged Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo and David Robinson. If his minutes go up 50 percent this coming season — to a reasonable scenario of about 31 minutes a game — he should block around 250 shots.
To reach that elusive 300 block plateau, he’d have to average four rejections over the span of 75 games. No one was able to even reach 200 blocks this past year, with Turner coming up one shy. The biggest challenge standing in Robinson’s way will be health. As a big who lives above the rim, he struggled with ankle problems as a rookie. This summer, he dealt with a knee injury at Team USA camp.
The obstacle of a high foul rate also yokes Robinson’s potential. However, he doesn’t turn 22-years old until April Fool’s Day 2020. His feel for the game will grow and his development curve basically goes up to infinity. Unearthing the upside of a potential defensive player of the year in the second round would be a boon for any team, but perhaps nowhere more than New York.
The Knicks, while remaining prudent, continue to struck out with the big fish the past few summers. To become a free agent Xanadu, they need to build a stable, competent foundation, setting themselves up as a “star-away” destination. To reach that status, Robinson needs to keep developing into a world-beater. For any prospective star, having an All-Defensive center holding down the paint behind them stands as an attractive proposition.
But signing stars in the offseason isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Plucking them ripe off the vine of the second-round and watching them blossom. Happiness comes from within. The Knicks need to be the change they wish to see in the world.
Robinson becoming a powerhouse cornerstone would give legitimacy to New York’s young nucleus. R.J. Barrett is saying the right things but has yet to play in a real game, the jury’s out on Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox, but Robinson provides a known NBA commodity: an uber-athletic 7-footer with an uncanny ability to deny shots from everywhere on the floor. New York was nearly four points better with him on the court last year.
Lazy comparisons fit him in the cookie-cutter mold of a rim runner and basket protector, but he’s not limited to those two facets alone. While Robinson does excel in those areas, he exhibits the skill to be more than that. Most high-flying center archetypes (your DeAndre Jordans, Clint Capelas, etc.) lack shooting touch. Robinson didn’t set the world on fire as a rookie but did make a respectable 60 percent from the free-throw line.
“Next year I’m shooting 3s. I can shoot them. I shot them in high school. They ain’t that much farther. I’m going to continue to work on it,” Robinson said during summer league.
Stretching the floor is an increasingly important part of basketball. If Robinson can add more complexity to round out his offensive game, it raises the ceiling even higher for someone who can already kiss the sky.
The insider’s perspective
Mitchell Robinson, a second-round pick, asserted his shot-blocking excellence in his rookie season. His sophomore campaign will feature more of that but in a polished manner. The agile big will become more disciplined while maintaining his high-energy play. He played 20.6 minutes per game and still finished last season with 2.4 blocks per game and 161 total blocks, second and fourth in the NBA respectively. That said, expect to see Robinson blossom as an all-around defender, not just a shot blocker.