While the long-term starting center for the New York Knicks will likely be Mitchell Robinson, he isn’t expected to take on that role to begin the 2021–22 campaign. In fact, the hope was that Nerlens Noel, who signed a three-year, $27.7 million deal this past off-season, would take on the starting job to allow Robinson to ease his way back to full health.
Robinson played in 27 minutes in the Knicks’ preseason finale, but he admitted that his stamina and endurance still needs plenty of work before he can take on a fall games workload. Robinson was seen huffing and puffing his way up and down the court at times, whereas he showed regular energy and burst last season before going down with a fractured foot and hand.
Nonetheless, Noel is expected to miss the team’s opener against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday evening, which will thrust Robinson into a more prominent role alongside veteran Taj Gibson.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau wants to give Noel the proper time to rehabilitate and make sure he’s fully ready to go.
Luckily, the Knicks have plenty of depth at the center position, thanks to the extensions they offered Noel and Gibson this off-season to cushion any significant blow. The Knicks seemingly undersold Noel’s injury this preseason, as he was unable to make an appearance in hopes of gaining chemistry with his new teammates in Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker.
Gibson, who will earn more minutes in Noel’s absence, proved to be a solid contributor against the Detroit Pistons. Gibson added a new element to his game — a midrange shot and three-point range. The coaching staff tasked the big men to begin working on their shots, as they will be expected to offer a bit of production in the category this upcoming season.
Gibson contributed 21 points over 31 minutes against Detroit, shooting 9-of-14 from the field and hitting one shot from three-point range. That is the type of production the team is hoping to get from their veteran center, and they will be expecting him to exert maximum energy and help supplement the loss of Noel in the short term.