Knicks’ Nerlens Noel will have shot at starting center job

Heading into the 2021-22 season, the expected starter at center for the New York Knicks is Mitchell Robinson, but don’t rule out the scenario where Nerlens Noel makes a mad dash at the job himself. Noel was a godsend for the Knicks last season for a variety of reasons, but none more important than his defensive attributes that lead him to his most productive year yet.

According to Michael Scotto of USA Today, the defensive-minded big man will have his fair shot at the starting gig:

In bringing Nerlens Noel back, I was told Nerlens wasn’t promised the starting center spot, but he’ll have a chance to compete for it, and he’ll definitely play meaningful minutes in New York’s rotation.

The Knicks think so highly of Noel, they rewarded him with a three-year, $27.7 million deal this off-season. Considering he’s earning about 10-times as much as Robinson going forward, the only realistic assumption is that he will be gunning for starting minutes. However, Robinson has a heroic return planned, with the Defensive Player of the Year award as his primary objective.

Robinson has been vocal about his increase in muscle mass, which should provide more physicality in the paint against power forwards and scoring centers. Nerlens, though, averaged 2.2 blocks per game last season over 64 games.

The 3-year veteran is capable of even higher block percentages, recording 2.4 during his rookie season in 2018. Since then, he hasn’t played in over 61 games in a season, featuring in just 31 last year before suffering a broken hand. Shortly after his return, Mitch fractured his foot, ending a hopeful season prematurely.

Last year’s numbers saw him post 8.3 points, 1.5 blocks, 8.1 rebounds, and shoot 65% from the field. He played a career-high 27.5 minutes before the injuries began to take over. He has a clear-cut path to be the Knicks’ primary big man, but his success relies entirely on health. Robinson has the tangible traits and capabilities to be a fantastic center in the NBA, but he just needs to remain healthy and available. Noel proved to be a warrior last year, and there’s no question he will give Robinson a run for his money, which could end up being a positive factor to bring out the best in both players.

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