The New York Knicks are starting to get their defensive rhythm back. A big part of that is the resurgence of Mitchell Robinson, their 23-year old center, who is coming off a monster game in Minnesota on Tuesday night.
Robinson took advantage of Karl-Anthony Towns’ absence as he feasted underneath the rim. He scored 14 points on putbacks and slams, grabbed a season-high 18 rebounds, and fueled the Knicks’ 96-88 victory to move two games just below .500 (16-18).
“That was huge,” said Tom Thibodeau of Robinson’s play. “His activity at the rim, altering shots, multiple efforts, second-chance points, putting pressure on the rim. You can’t say enough about the way he played. I thought his rebounding and Julius’ rebounding were huge for us.”
Robinson had 12 defensive rebounds and six on the offensive glass. Julius Randle added 15 rebounds that made up for his poor 5 for 20 shooting. Their activity at the rim led to Knicks’ dominating the battle of the boards, 54-45, and in second-chance points, 23-11, that spelled the huge difference.
“I thought that we just need to come up with some energy, man,” Robinson said on the TV broadcast after the road win. “That’s it really, you know, hustle makes up for everything. And that’s what we just came up to do.”
Over his last six games, Robinson averaged 10.5 points on an astounding 30 of 33 shooting, 10 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, and 1.0 steal in 27.3 minutes. The Knicks have won four of six in that span. In three of the Knicks’ last four wins, they’ve held their opponents to 91 points or less. With Robinson anchoring their defense, the Knicks’ defensive rating during the previous six games surged to 107.2, tied for fifth with the San Antonio Spurs.
“It’s just conditioning,” Robinson told reporters after the game. “Once I’m conditioned, I can think better, I can play better. So, I’m just acting like I’m a high-energy guy. That’s mainly the key. You can’t really teach that.”
He took exception of a couple of plays in Minnesota where he wasn’t ready to receive a pass in traffic. But once Robinson cleans that up, that will take his offensive role to another level from just a lob or putback threat, opening up more space for the Knicks’ offense.
“I could feel myself getting in condition better like I’m running a lot. I think I still have to get stable and catch the ball like kind of messing a couple of passes but other than that, I feel like it’s working out great,” he said.
He added he’s past halfway to getting back to his old form before he went down with a broken hand and foot that sidelined him for eight months.
“It’s right there. I think I have to push a little bit more,” he said.
Thibodeau earlier demoted Robinson to the bench to work his way into game shape. But a week ago, he was reinserted to the starting lineup after Nerlens Noel contracted the COVID-19 virus. Robinson hasn’t looked back since his return to the starting unit.
With the league reducing the isolation protocols from 10 to six days, Noel will likely be back with the team sometime this week. While his play lately deserves a starting spot, Robinson has no qualms if Noel returns and retakes the starting job.
“If I start, I start. If I don’t, I don’t. I’m still coming with the same energy,” Robinson said. “You have your ups and downs so pretty much I’m just going to stay solid.”
Robinson’s current play is worth more than his $1.8 million salary during the last year of his rookie-scale contract. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent. But the Knicks can lock him up to an extension between now and the eve of next summer’s free agency. A four-year, $54-million contract extension is the maximum the Knicks could offer.
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