Can Mitchell Robinson save the New York Knicks next year?

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Can Mitchell Robinson transform his untapped potential into being a cornerstone for the Knicks? Or has he already reached his limited ceiling?

Mitchell Robinson was taken with the 36th overall pick in the 2018 Draft. At the time, DraftExpress noted that Mitchell was raw offensively with a limited offensive arsenal but excellent leaping ability.

Though he was initially slated to attend Western Kentucky University, Robinson would go on to become the first prospect to be drafted in the NBA without playing any games on the collegiate, or professional level after high school. He chose instead to train on his own in preparation for the NBA Draft.

His talent and niche skill-set was almost immediately on display with exceptional performances at Summer League, setting records in blocks and offensive rebounds.

Despite his limited offensive arsenal, Mitchell Robinson has quietly put together an excellent 2019-2020 campaign for the New York Knicks, albeit via limited minutes. The second-year player has established himself as an efficient presence in the low post, leading the league in field goal percentage and true shooting percentage despite terrible free throw shooting numbers.

In the modern NBA landscape that is increasingly in pursuit of position-less basketball, Robinson’s weakness is obvious. He is a seven-footer with zero perimeter game. He also lacks the lateral quickness needed to switch off on smaller players. For him to be a key contributor on a good team, that will likely need to change.

How he has been outstanding this year though, is some of his eye-popping impact. Sixth in blocks and seventh in blocks per game, top 20 in win shares, offensive win shares and PER. This is still not to speak of the fact that he leads the league in offensive rating.

Considering that Robinson is still only 22 years old, the athletic big man has considerable potential upside. Defensively, he has the leaping ability and motor to pursue almost any field goal attempt. He also has the basketball IQ to swat attempts downwards to save the possession, but he has also been known to enthusiastically swat shots into the stands with his left hand.

Offensively, over half of his field-goal attempts are dunks as the recipient of many lobs. With pogo-stick hops and lanky arms, his catch radius and ability to finish around the rim makes it clear why that is his offensive preference.

What is unlikely, however, is that he will ever truly develop anything resembling a serviceable perimeter game. His buckets come almost entirely within three feet of the basket, which is a significant reason for his impressive field goal percentage.

The floor for Mitchell Robinson is a Tyson Chandler-like player, a likely perennial Defensive Player of the Year contender with average offensive output. His ceiling could be as high as a poor man’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, especially if surrounded by shooting to maximize his talents.

In either case, Robinson would be doing himself a huge disservice if he didn’t work on his post moves to become a greater threat in the paint. Considering the percentage of his points that come from down low, he will eventually need to do better than receive well-placed passes or lobs in the paint to truly have a positive impact on a team.

Much of this projection and speculation, however, is contingent on the hope or possibility that he eventually finds himself on another team. The Knicks are almost unquestionably the worst run franchise in the NBA right now. Winning is a distant memory and they have not shown the ability to adequately develop or cultivate young talent.

In the best-case scenario, however, where Robinson finds himself on a team with a coach that is equipped to maximize his skill-set and a front office that is willing to put appropriate pieces around him, he can become quite the threat for any defense.

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