There is not an ounce of doubt that New York Knicks third-year center Mitchell Robinson will flourish defensively under new head coach Tom Thibodeau.
What is more intriguing is how will Thibodeau and his staff, which is filled with player development coaches, unlock Robinson’s potential on the offensive end.
New York-based NCAA and NBA skills trainer David Zenon believes that Robinson’s underrated offense will be on display next season.
“He’s been improving his three-point shot and midrange. He’s got a good touch,” Zenon told Empire Sports Media. “I think [New York] fans are gonna be surprised at how well he’s got a good feel for the ball and shoot. That’s the most important thing for him. To be able to develop his confidence with his shot.”
Robinson has yet to attempt a three-pointer in his career. That could change next season if Thibodeau is really true to his words that he’s more than willing to bend some of his coaching philosophies and adapt to the modern NBA.
It looks like he will hold up his end of the bargain.
“What he did last year was put a lot of pressure on the rim. He’s an incredible athlete,” Thibodeau said of Robinson. “But we don’t want to put a ceiling on him. We want to continue to work on all aspects of his game and develop.”
This past season, Robinson set the record for single-season field goal percentage. His historic 74.2 field goal percentage broke Wilt Chamberlain’s previous record of 72.7 percent.
Robinson accomplished the feat despite not having the free reins on the Knicks’ offense. The young big man, who was saddled with foul woes and inconsistent minutes, finished the pandemic-shortened regular season with modest averages of 9.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, and 0.9 steals in just 23.1 minutes this season.
Hopes are high that those numbers will shoot up under Thibodeau. And the wins would come.
Zenon is one of those people who are eagerly looking forward to Robinson’s improved play next season. He has personally witnessed the hard work that the young Knicks big man has put into his game since Day One.
“I’ve worked with him since his rookie year. His trainer (Marcel Scott) from New Orleans is a good friend of mine. And when Mitch needs some workout here in New York, [Marcel] hits me up and worked out something for Mitch to do whatever he needs to do,” Zenon told Empire Sports Media. “I’ve brought him to Lifetime Fitness and to some random gyms in Westchester as well.”
Thibodeau’s history of success with big men has given more credence to Zenon’s optimism.
“I just want him to steadily improve. Defensively, Mitch is a monster. He’s a defensive maven. As for Thibs, look what he has done with his all of his bigs defensively, Joakim (Noah) especially,” Zenon said.
Under Thibodeau’s watch, Taj Gibson became an enforcer and a glue guy, and Noah transformed from an energetic role player into a Defensive Player of the Year in Chicago.
Despite Thibodeau’s ugly exit in Minnesota, Karl-Anthony Towns became an All-Star before he left.
“Mitch is more athletic than those guys. He’s able to do a lot of stuff and cover a lot of ground. I’m excited to see that side of the ball, but I think Thibs will give him a little more freedom on offense and that comes with confidence and I’m sure Mitch has it,” Zenon said.
The 22-year old Robinson figures to be an integral part of the Knicks’ future.
Interestingly, Robinson has signed with Rich Paul’s agency Klutch Sports along with Allonzo Trier last February. Trier has since been dropped while Robinson is set for an upcoming lucrative extension.
Executives around the league will closely monitor how the new Knicks front office led by former Creative Artists Agency head Leon Rose will navigate Robinson’s contract extension.
Former Brooklyn Nets assistant general manager and now ESPN’s Front Office Insider Bobby Marks has broken down the intriguing scenarios of Robinson’s contract extension:
“If the Knicks extend him the maximum of a projected three years, $35 million, his new salary would replace the $1.9 million cap hold for 2022. The Knicks could also amend the contract to decline his option in 2021-22 and sign him to a four-year, $50 million extension. In either scenario, New York would lose up to $10 million in cap flexibility.
However, if there is no extension in place, the Knicks could lose him for nothing because he will become an unrestricted free agent in 2022.”
Marks suggested that the Knicks and Robinsons’ camp should hold off contract extension talks until next summer to give the team more wiggle room to be a major player in the loaded 2021 free agency. However, it comes with a caveat.
“What the Knicks and Robinson’s representatives can do is bypass an extension this offseason and wait until the summer of 2021, when he could be a restricted free agent. By declining his $1.8 million team option in 2021, Robinson would become a restricted free agent and the Knicks could take advantage of his $1.9 million cap hold before signing him to a new contract. However, Houston did the same with forward Chandler Parsons in 2014 and was outpriced by the Mavericks.”
With the financial uncertainty around the league brought by the pandemic as a backdrop, Robinson and the Knicks have a big decision to make that will be critical in their rebuild.