Knicks’ sharp-shooter comes to the defense of injury-prone center

NBA: Playoffs-Philadelphia 76ers at New York Knicks
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks know they have one of the most stacked rosters in basketball after acquiring Mikal Bridges from the Brooklyn Nets and extending OG Anunoby. Their depth now represents one of their strongest points, which was problematic last season, especially during the playoffs.

Bench Strength Enhancing the Starting Lineup

Having Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo coming off the bench in rotational roles will only benefit the starting five. However, they may still face challenges at the center position with Mitchell Robinson returning from injury and the departure of Isaiah Hartenstein to the Oklahoma City Thunder on a three-year, $87 million deal.

Dec 8, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA;  New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson (23) looks on during the first half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

Center Position Challenges and Opportunities

Hartenstein played a massive role for the Knicks as an underrated playmaker from the center position, and Robinson is recognized as one of the best defensive big men in the NBA. However, his reliability due to health concerns continues to be an issue. The Knicks might need additional support, even though Julius Randle doubles as a big man. They could consider bringing back Precious Achiuwa to help smooth over the power forward/center position.

Despite Robinson’s lack of availability and storied injury history, DiVincenzo spoke highly of his work ethic and value to the team, even when he’s not on the floor.

“I think he sees all the outside noise from everything. I think he’s going to use it as motivation,” DiVincenzo said Monday. “But ultimately, I think the beautiful thing about Mitch is, he knows the team’s goal. Not once this whole past year has Mitch ever got in the way of anything that we were trying to accomplish. He’s always cheering with everybody. So I think nothing of that nature will change.”

Robinson’s Impact and Team Dynamics

Robinson played just 31 games this past season, including six during the playoffs, before he suffered a foot injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. He averaged 5.6 points, 8.5 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.1 blocks over 21 starts and 24.8 minutes played. He shot .575 from the field and once again showcased his elite blocking qualities and defense against Joel Embiid during the first round of the playoffs.

There’s no questioning his value when it comes to defending big men, but the Knicks recognize the need for more support, and acquiring a proven commodity via trade may be their best option.

Looking Ahead: Knicks Trade Prospects and Strategy

DiVincenzo continued his positive outlook on Robinson by giving his character a glowing review. On the outside, Robinson may not show just how hard he’s working, but behind closed doors, he’s doing everything he can to positively impact the team.

May 17, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; New York Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo (0) reacts after a made basket during game six of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs against the Indiana Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

“One of the things I learned about Mitch, he’s one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met,” Donte DiVincenzo said on Monday at a meet-and-greet in Soho to highlight a partnership with Revo Sunglasses via Ian Begley of SNY. “He has a social media post…everybody follows that but behind closed doors, he’s working really hard.”

There were rumors that Robinson could be involved in potential trade talks, offloading his $14.3 million cap hit in hopes of extending Hartenstein with the additional money.

Obviously, that is no longer a concern, and the Knicks are likely to retain Robinson unless they can find a team willing to take on his salary and give up an asset in return. New York has been linked to players like Walker Kessler of the Utah Jazz and Nick Richards of the Charlotte Hornets. While it’s unlikely they will find a way to acquire either, pairing Robinson with a player who has a good health history would be a perfect finale to an exciting offseason that would position the Knicks squarely in the championship-contending window.

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