Third-year center Mitchell Robinson should be in line to become the New York Knicks’ starting center.
But not so fast.
Free-agent pickup Nerlens Noel is expected to give him a run for his money in the training camp as new Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau weighs in on who should get the starting gig.
Robinson welcomes the competition.
“I feel like he [Noel] wants to start. I want to start. So we can go at each other and that’s a natural thing. Nobody really talked to us about that stuff [on who will start]. We just know we’ll go at each other,” Robinson said during his zoom call with reporters on Friday.
Room for growth
Thibodeau, Robinson’s third coach in three years, has hinted earlier that Robinson isn’t locked to be the starter.
â€œI think [Robinson] has had some really good moments, but I think heâ€™s got a long way to go, Thibodeau said.
“The work part, the professionalism to continue to grow to impact winning, thereâ€™s a lot of room for growth. I donâ€™t know where heâ€™ll end up. There are things he can do that are very unique. I think weâ€™re very fortunate to have Nerlens Noel. In some ways, heâ€™s very similar when you look at rim protection. Weâ€™re excited about both guys,” he added.
Robinson has skipped the second part of the Knicks’ OTA last September due to personal reasons. But the young center reportedly worked out with Knicks’ assistant coach Mike Woodson who flew to New Orleans after the team’s OTA.
Robinson said everything is well between him and Thibodeau, and the communication lines have always been open.
“We’ve been alright. He just gave me his expectations. The best way I can learn is to talk to him. You know, talk to him every day like I normally would and keep moving forward,” Robinson said.
Noel, who plays a lot like Mitchell, is coming in on a bargain one-year, $5-million deal. He’s basically playing for his next contract.
â€œIâ€™m coming in with a competitive mindset to help this team win,â€™â€™ Noel said. â€œI know my attributes and what I bring to the table. Itâ€™s a young team. I want to give everything I can. Mitchell is a young player Iâ€™ve been watching the last couple of years. His development kind of resembles mine â€” his playing style above the rim, blocking shots.”
â€œI just want to mentor him any way possible. Whatever position we play throughout the season will play itself out. I want to be a big brother to him and give him a lot of advice throughout the season. Weâ€™re both competitors.â€
Noel is coming off his first playoffs experience in the NBA since he was drafted sixth overall in 2013.
As Steven Adams’ backup in Oklahoma City Thunder, Noel put up a solid line of 7.4 points on 68.4 percent shooting, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks last season.
On the other hand, Robinson is coming off a historic season in which he broke Wilt Chamberlains’ single-season record for field goal percentage with 74.2 percent. He believes he will benefit from Noel’s arrival.
“I feel like it’s great for me and great for our team. It’s better for me to have a taller guy that I can practice with, who can go at me a little bit better than we did last year. I feel like we’ll help each other out,” said the 7-foot Robinson.
Last season, Taj Gibson, a 6-foot-9 veteran, won the starting gig over Robinson, who still put up a respectable stats line of 9.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks.
Contract extension year
Robinson has only started 26 games over his first two seasons in the league, with foul trouble limiting his playing time. But entering his third season, the Louisiana native expects a big year, especially with his contract extension coming up.
“Year three, it’s gonna be amazing! I feel like I’m gonna be a better me. I’ll come work extra hard and help my teammates,” Robinson said.
The long break gave Robinson more time to fine-tune his shooting with several videos of him hoisting up from beyond the arc circulating online.
“I worked on my jump shot. I did a lot of running, getting my shots up, working on my game,” Robinson said. “Itâ€™s my year three so Iâ€™m trying to add more stuff to my game, help our team win, be more of a threat on the offensive side.”
“Me coming out shooting threes isnâ€™t the only thing I want to do but it helps us out.”
But more than his improved offensive game, what will keep Robinson in the game and his ticket to a starting gig is his bread and butter, which is defense. He’s excited to learn more under Thibodeau.
“That’s one of my strengths — defense. For him [Thibodeau] coming over here, it helps me a lot, help our guys out. He will make us a better defensive team. It’s gonna be amazing,” Robinson said.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo