Knicks center Mitchell Robinson is back better than ever

Mitchell Robinson, Knicks
Oct 14, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson (23) dunks against Washington Wizards center Daniel Gafford (21) and forward Kyle Kuzma (33) and guard Bradley Beal (3) during the first quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Mitchell Robinson is back and so is the New York Knicks‘ elite defense.

The Knicks defense was so sharp it shredded the New Orleans Pelicans and erstwhile league-leader Boston Celtics to pieces when they visited the Garden recently.

Robinson was at the heart of the Knicks’ stellar defense, which vaulted to seventh (104.4 defensive rating) in the league since his return from the bottom seventh (118.6 defensive rating) during his 14-game absence.

That’s how big of a swing Robinson’s defensive presence for the Knicks.

Robinson had become a automatic double-double machine since returning from the thumb surgery. Over the Knicks last three wins, part of a six-game winning streak, Robinson averaged 12.7 rebounds, 10.3 points and 1.3 blocks while missing only one out of his 16 shot attempts.

“He’s been great,” Jalen Brunson said of Robinson after they routed the Celtics last Monday. “He’s been able to be dominant in the paint on both sides of the ball. He gives us that extra effort. He’s been unbelievable. I’m just happy he’s on the team.”

It’s rare to see players who are just fresh from inking a lucrative multi-year deal to exert this kind of effort. But Robinson is an exception. He wanted to prove he’s one of the elite centers in the league.

His growth from a skinny second-round pick to one of the most dominant defensive centers in the game should be on top of Scott Perry’s resume as the Knicks GM.

The 24-year-old center has never been this mobile and active before. He’s finally found the sweet spot between his skinny frame in his early years to his overweight built last season coming off another injury.

“I think when you look at his body, the overall conditioning, the strength combined with his conditioning — he’s changing ends of the floor, he’s making multiple-effort plays,” Thibodeau said. “We’re seeing a ton of pick-and-roll. Most teams are heavy pick-and-roll teams … so most of his plays require two, three, four efforts.”

“And then offensively, run the floor, set the screens, roll hard to the rim. And I think our guys are doing a better job now of reading when his man is coming and we’re connecting with that. It’s helping us to create much better rhythm.”

Robinson dominated Robert Williams III, the player often compared him, with 10 points, 13 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks, including a big-time block on Jayson Tatum’s dunk attempt.

“[Tatum] is someone that puts everything on the line. So, when you make a play like that, it’s special,” Robinson said. “He’s always been like that. I think even if Tatum dunks it, he’s going to try to block it the next time. That’s just his mindset.”

Williams fizzled out in their center matchup, producing only 6 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks.

Robinson will face another rising center in Brooklyn Nets’ Nic Claxton Wednesday night.

Claxton is having a career season and received All-Star votes as the Nets big man is averaging 126 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks while leading the league in field goal percentage at 71.4 percent.

Robinson will be highly-motivated to outclass Claxton to show he also deserve some All-Star love moving forward.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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