Cole Anthony displays New York toughness in Magic’s stunner over Knicks

New York Knicks basketball under Tom Thibodeau is all about toughness and resiliency. But it was Cole Anthony, an Archbishop Molloy High School product, who displayed those traits to rally a young Orlando Magic team against them.

Anthony scored a season-high 29 points and grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds for his first career double-double to help the Magic stun his hometown Knicks, 110-104, Sunday night in the Garden.

Anthony grew up in New York, where his father, Greg Anthony, played his first four seasons in the NBA.

“I was happy to be home. Hostile environment. I came in and I got the dub,” Anthony said after leading the Magic to their first win of the season, exacting revenge of their embarrassing 121-96 beatdown in Orlando at the hands of the Knicks last Friday. “Good times!”

Good times indeed for the Anthony family.

Anthony played an inspired game in front of his family and friends. He gifted his mother, Crystal McCrary, who celebrated her 52nd birthday, with one of the finest performances in his young NBA career.

When he was not busy scoring, Anthony was a daredevil attacking the teeth of the Knicks defense and kept on finding his open teammates. He added eight assists and led the Magic’s comeback from 13 points down in the first half.

The 21-year old Anthony and the 30-year old veteran Terrence Ross dealt the biggest blows that knocked the Knicks out.

Anthony torched the Knicks in the first half with 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting and five threes. Ross caught fire in the fourth quarter, scoring all of his 22 points as the Magic outscored the Knicks, 36-24.

The once-vaunted Knicks’ defense was nowhere to be found with their cold shooting night zapping out their energy.

After making nine of their first 17 three-point attempts, the Knicks missed 27 of their next 31. The shots that buried the Magic in Orlando did not fall in New York. It was the exact opposite of the Knicks’ franchise-record setting 24-of-54 threes two nights ago.

They lived and died with the three-point shot.

“We picked up the ball pressure a little bit understanding who are the [Knicks] shooters, and non-shooters,” said Magic rookie coach Jamahl Mosley. “Our guys did a good job recognizing who was where and we flew around the court. We had multiple efforts making sure we contested shots.”

Julius Randle stuffed the stats sheet with monster numbers (30 points and 16 rebounds). But he only shot 8-for-24 from the field. The Magic baited him to beat them one on one. The ploy worked, which kept the rest of the Knicks’ starting unit out of rhythm.

Evan Fournier missed eight of 11 shots. RJ Barrett misfired a dozen of his 17 attempts.

Their usual gunners — Randle, Barrett, Fournier, Walker, Immanuel Quickley, and Alec Burks — were a combined 8-for-37 from downtown.

Only Derrick Rose waxed hot from the outside, hitting 5-of-8 threes. He had 23 points off the bench as the closer again while Walker watched from the bench down the stretch.

After a season-high 34 assists in Orlando, the Knicks did not move the ball well enough to get rhythm shots. They dished out only 20 assists on 37 field goals. They missed a total of 73 attempts overall that doomed them in their first loss of the season.

The Knicks seemed to have just settled after grabbing a 13-point lead, 47-34, on a 15-0 run. They allowed the Magic to creep back into the game and cut their lead down to five, 57-52, at the half.

“We knew (Magic) would play with intensity but we didn’t play with great urgency. We have to have great intensity. In this league, the players are too good. So, if you allow someone to beat you to loose balls, make hustle plays, you’re playing with fire,” Thibodeau lamented.”

The Knicks paid dearly for their lackadaisical effort losing to the third-youngest team in the league. As a consolation, they avoided a double whammy after surviving another Mitchell Robinson injury scare.

Robinson seemed hurt after colliding with Magic rookie Jalen Suggs for a rebound in the third quarter. After the brief scare, Robinson returned to finish the game. He had 10 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks, but he fouled out for the first time since January 26, 2020.

Taj Gibson returned from a two-game paternity leave but hardly impacted the game in 12 minutes as Robinson’s backup. The only impact he did was cut down into Toppin’s minutes. Thibodeau abandoned the small-ball lineup, which worked well in their first two games when Robinson was resting.

Toppin was held to only one field goal — a left-handed alley-oop slam and got abused in the paint. The Brooklyn native only played 12 minutes, his lowest playing time in three games. Toppin, the toast of New York in the last two games, missed his next three shots and ended the game with a whimper.

Instead, the other New Yorker from the opposing team stole the thunder with a homecoming party.

Anthony, selected seven picks later after Toppin in the 2020 NBA Draft, showed out with his game made in New York playgrounds.

Aside from his mother’s birthday, Anthony also drew inspiration from Mosley’s pep talk in their film session Sunday morning.

“It’s more about the resilience that you have to have in these games,” Mosley said. “There was a point when we got down 10, then I think it was Cole [Anthony] who referenced the fact that ‘hey, we talked about that this morning. Down 10, we can’t hang our heads. We got to keep fighting back.’ That’s what we’ve talked about this morning.”

Fight back, they did.

The Magic wiped out a Knicks’ nine-point lead in the second half. In the fourth quarter, their defense held Randle and Barrett to an identical but brutal 2-for-7 shooting.

“All of us were disappointed and we have to do better,” Thibodeau said. “When you lose, the most important thing is to learn and to move it forward.”

So, when the Knicks have their film session on Monday, the view of Anthony, the undersized Magic point guard, outrebounding them would be a painful reminder of their lack of fight in this game.

“Cole (Anthony) came back home and played with that toughness, that confidence, that resilience,” Mosley said. “The one thing that stands out most is his ability to rebound the basketball, and he made the right plays.”

When a reporter asked how a 6-foot-2 guard grabbed 16 rebounds against a big and physical team like the Knicks, Anthony contested that he’s 6-foot-3 before answering the question.

“Rebounding is all about effort. It’s about who wants it,” said a feisty Anthony.

In a game they were not supposed to win, Anthony stood tallest and played with a big heart, usually displayed by his hometown Knicks.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks center Mitchell Robinson could return Friday against Wizards

mitchell robinson, knicks

There’s a good chance that Mitchell Robinson could return as early as Friday in New York Knicks‘ final preseason game.

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said that Robinson is close to being clear for full contact, according to SNY’s Ian Begley.

“Ideally, yes,” Thibodeau told reporters before Wednesday’s game against Detroit when asked if Robinson could play in their final preseason game. “Every day there’s more contact. There’s more to what he’s doing. And then you want to see how he responds the next day.”

Last week, Thibodeau said that Robison was cleared for some contact. But the Knicks have taken a cautious approach to avoid any setback in the 23-year old center’s recovery. Robinson’s physical activity has ramped up in the last week to get him into game shape.

“There’s still the conditioning element of it. And he’s done a lot. He’s come every night. He’s putting a lot of extra work in. So we feel good where he is,” Thibodeau said of Robinson.

It had been more than six months since Robinson underwent successful surgery to repair a broken bone in his right foot.

Meanwhile, Nerlens Noel will miss his third preseason game, but Thibodeau said he’s close to returning from a sore right knee injury. Noel has been a full participant in the Knicks’ practices since their road win in Washington over the weekend.

Noel earlier indicated that it’s more like a hamstring issue than his knee. Kemba Walker was given the night off as the Knicks will play the Pistons that are missing eight players, including top overall pick Cade Cunningham.

Derrick Rose will start in place of Walker.

The Knicks will wrap up their preseason campaign with a rematch against the Wizards on Friday in the Garden before opening their season against Boston Celtics next Wednesday.

Celtics coach Ime Udoka confirmed that Al Horford would be out against the Knicks after testing positive for COVID-19, per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps.

Jaylen Brown also tested positive for COVID-19 earlier, but his status on the opening night is unclear.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks Injury Update: Mitchell Robinson cleared for some contact

New York Knicks, Mitchell Robinson

On Wednesday, New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau provided an encouraging update on the status of their young center, Mitchell Robinson.

More than six months since he underwent surgery to repair a broken foot, Robinson has been medically cleared to take some contact. But the Knicks remain cautious and not in a rush to bring back the 23-year old center to the active lineup.

[He’s been cleared for] Some contact but he hasn’t gone through contact [drills] in practice,” Thibodeau said after Wednesday’s practice. “So that would be the next step. You can’t go from zero to a hundred, there’s a build-up that he has to go through.”

Robinson, according to Thibodeau, looks great in practice despite being limited to non-contact drills. He didn’t provide a specific timeline for when Robinson will progress to the last hurdle of his recovery.

“He’s coming along. Again, we’re not going to rush it. But he’s making progress every day. He’s doing more and more so we just have to be patient,” Thibodeau said.

“We work our way through it and when he’s ready to go, he’ll go. But he gives us an added dimension. So he’s done a good job with all the things that he can do. He’s picking things up in practice basically doing non-contact [drills] in practice. So the next step will be the contact and then once you can get through that then he’ll be ready to go.”

The Knicks picked up an impressive win in their preseason opener against Indiana Pacers despite the continued absence of Robinson in the lineup. Nerlens Noel also did not play though Thibodeau said he was given the day off. The plan is to rest a key rotation player in each preseason game.

“[We’re] Just letting it happen organically that when someone needs a day [off], they get it,” Thibodeau said. “Our job is to make sure everyone is ready and so every day, everyone who’s here we’re working with to prepare them for when their opportunity comes, and to Jericho’s credit when he was called upon, he was ready to go. And so we expect that of everyone.”

Rookie Jericho Sims, the 58th overall pick, came through with a solid performance in 24 minutes off the bench backing up the 36-year old veteran Taj Gibson.

Sims finished with eight points, six rebounds, and two assists, outworking the tandem of Indiana’s backup bigs Goga Bitadze and rookie Isaiah Jackson, who was selected 36 picks ahead of him.

Gibson stepped up big time as a starter. He was a game-high plus-minus +22 against the Pacers’ starting frontline of Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. The Brooklyn native played a vital role in the Knicks’ sizzling first half that set the tone for the 125-104 rout. He collected 14 points (on 6-of-9 shooting), six rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block in 21 minutes.

The Knicks have three more preseason games before they open their season against Boston Celtics on Oct. 20. Thibodeau did not rule out Robinson returning in one of those games.

“If he can [return], great. If he can’t, that’s fine too. When he’s ready to go, he’ll go,” Thibodeau said. “His health is the priority and so he’s been cleared [for some contact] and that part is very encouraging. And now it’s the conditioning aspect of it to prepare him to play in an NBA game.”

The addition of Sims, who is eligible to play a maximum of 50 regular-season games as one of the Knicks’ two-way players, gives the Knicks some wiggle room to wait until Robinson is a hundred percent ready.

“I’m anxious to see what we look like when Mitch comes back. Obviously, Nerlens is a terrific shot blocker and rim protector and Taj has been great insurance for us. And I thought Jericho gave us really good minutes [Tuesday] night. And he’s a young guy that is learning and he’ll get better as we go along,” Thibodeau said.

While Thibodeau is anxious for Robinson’s return, that has to take a backseat for a while as he’s preoccupied with bringing along his new backcourt of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier to his system.

So far, he liked what he saw in their preseason debut.

“They fit well because they’re interchangeable and Kemba can play with and without the ball and Julius (Randle) can play with and without it. Evan can do the same. RJ (Barrett) can do the same,” Thibodeau said.

“So I think if we play with movement and we share the ball and make the right rim read and the thing I like about all those four guys are terrific downhill players. So if we get downhill then make the right rim reads then the game becomes easy for everyone. Just make quick decisions and I thought we did that.”

All starters finished in double figures, and their ball movement was crisp.

Walker commanded the pick and roll well — pulling up for mid-range jumpers when he was open and passing the ball when he got blitzed. He finished with 12 p points on 50 percent shooting and added four assists in 21 minutes.

Fournier moved without the ball and created opportunities off the dribble. The Frenchman swingman had 12 points and went 5-of-6 from the stripes.

Barrett benefited from his new backcourt’s scoring threat as he got wide open several times. He pounced on the opportunity and scored 17 points on 50 percent shooting, including 3-for-6 from the outside.

Randle still came away with a near double-double of 20 points and nine rebounds despite not dominating the ball as frequently as he did last season. He did that in three quarters. But the most significant impact of the addition of Walker and Fournier to the staring unit was on Randle’s game was the quality of shots. His efficiency improved as he hit 50 percent of his shots against the Pacers.

“So you’re also trying to get ready for a season because you only have four [preseason] games,” Thibodeau said. “You know we have two new guys that we have to get into our rotation along with Mitch combing back and so that’s going to be the priority.

“And then the development of the young guys, that’s going to come in practice and we have to make sure when the ball goes up at the start of the season we’re ready to go.”

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks News: See Mitchell Robinson’s new muscles, Obi Toppin’s worth-ethic is unmatched

New York Knicks, Mitchell Robinson

The New York Knicks are patiently waiting for Mitchell Robinson to make a full return from a fractured foot last season. Robinson underwent two surgeries to correct fractures in his foot and hand, suffered at different points during the 2020-21 campaign. Despite his struggles, Robinson has worked diligently to improve his overall muscle mass and size this off-season, hoping for his newfound strength to translate to elevated performance on the court.

“I want someone to hit me in the chest,” Robinson told the media on Thursday.

mitchell robinson, knicks

Playing in just 31 games last year, Robinson averaged 8.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and shot 65% from the field. His small sample size doesn’t entirely tell a full story of his growth over the past three years, but he’s hoping to take a significant step forward this upcoming season after the team’s success under the leadership of Tom Thibodeau.

Robinson has been vocal about his increased strength, and he will have an opportunity to put it to the test on the regular season begins on October 19, which is just three weeks away.

The New York Knicks are expecting big things out of Robinson…and one of his teammates:

Another teammate who has been working this off-season diligently is second-year player Obi Toppin. Toppin struggled during his rookie season, posting just 4.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, and shooting 50% from the field over 62 games. He averaged just 11 minutes on the court at 22-years-old, one of the older rookies from the 2020 draft class. However, Toppin spent the entire summer improving, working on his shooting and isolation moves.

“Coming in here, especially coming off last year, I knew I had to improve a lot,” the forward said Wednesday. “So, coming in here every single day this summer, that was my motivation. Come in and just be better than what you were last year.”

Toppin’s best mode of getting on the court is by consistently hitting three-point shots and deploying solid defense. Thibodeau prefers players who can guard the perimeter and also drop into the paint to help clog driving lanes. Toppin had issues communicating and getting into the right position last season, but with a year of experience under his belt, growth is on the horizon.

Thibodeau noticed that Obi was putting in the extra effort, which is exactly what he wanted to see from the impending sophomore.

“For me, it’s more of watching the actions. Because oftentimes you get people who will say all the right things and do none of them,” Thibodeau said. “The actions tell me how important it is to him and he’s done all the right things. I think his actions reflect his priority. So I knew he was very committed to improve.”

When the Knicks drafted Toppin 8th overall in 2020, they knew his work ethic was unmatched, and he’s showing that desire early on in his career.

Knicks: Sports injury analyst weighs in on Mitchell Robinson’s slow recovery

mitchell robinson, knicks

With three weeks left before the new NBA season begins, New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson has yet to progress to contact drills. His availability on the opening night remains a big question mark.

“There’s really no timetable,” Tom Thibodeau said after Thursday’s practice. “When he’s ready, he’s ready. We talk to the medical people every day. We talk to Mitch to see how he’s doing. I think it’s important for us to have the big picture in mind with him.”

In such a critical season where his future with the team and his next contract are at stake, this is not the ideal situation. But Robinson has grown so much, and he’s smart enough to know that one wrong decision could cost him not just a million. But a truckload.

Robinson, who grew to 280 pounds, can’t wait to flex the muscles he developed in the offseason. But when asked if he’s ready to play on the opening night, Robinson was non-committal.

“As a player, I think so. But I still need to listen to those guys (medical staff). They’ve been through this stuff. So I’m putting all my trust in them. So even if I know I want to go out there and play, I’ll be smart and let them handle it. I’ll just do what they ask,” said the 23-year old center.

The Knicks are eager to see him back on the court to assess how much he’s really worth. But they are also smart enough to know that rushing him to return could help them in the immediate future but could also hurt them in the end. Under Leon Rose’s regime, where patience and prudence reign, the Knicks are content to see Robinson take baby steps than gamble on giant strides.

“Each day, he’s doing a little bit more. He’s still working on his conditioning, doing a little more basketball, doing small parts of practice. There’s a progression to what he’s doing,” Thibodeau said. 

“Eventually, he’ll be cleared to do all the non-contact [drills], and we’ll start with one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three to the point where he can take contact. To go from zero to a hundred doesn’t make any sense. So each step, once he clears, he goes to the next one. He’s making really good progress.”

Robinson has been doing a lot of individual drills — light jogging, handling the ball while sitting on a chair, shooting out of the chair, stationary shooting, form shooting, cardio exercises in the pool and on the bike. Thibodeau also revealed that Robinson has been doing a lot of extra work on the sidelines with Aaron Brooks, the Knicks’ two-way liaison.

“He’s doing a great job in practice with the things he can do. We just want to make sure he’s completely healed. When you’ve been out with that amount of time, he’s got to get his conditioning up to speed. So that’s really the first step. Then once that happens, he’ll be cleared to do more and more in practice,” Thibodeau said.

It has been six months since Robinson underwent surgery to repair a fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot. Under normal circumstances, it should have been healed by now. But Jeff Stotts, a certified athletic trainer who runs the in street clothes website, which analyzes sports injuries, believes the Knicks are taking the right approach.

According to Stotts’ database, the average time lost for in-season fifth metatarsal fractures has been 42 games (roughly 10 to 11 weeks). It’s shorter (about 15 games) when the injury occurs during the offseason, which is why Zion Williamson, who suffered the same injury recently, is optimistic he could be ready by the opening night. But the timeline is harder to gauge in Robinson’s case since he sustained the injury in-game late in the season.

“The variability of a metatarsal injury can be pretty high because with these types of injuries, they depend on how the injury occurred and when did the injury occur,” Stotts told Empire Sports Media.

“The problem is if it’s located near the base of the foot in that fifth metatarsal — where the fifth metatarsal bridges the bones of the midfoot to the bones of the pinky toe. If it occurs closer to the midfoot, the blood supply in that area is very low, which is why surgeries are often required. Even if surgeries have been carried out, there’s no guarantee that the bone will heal quickly. It can take some time,” Stotts explained.

Ben Simmons missed his entire rookie season because of the same injury. Brook Lopez sat out 100 games when he was still with the Brooklyn Nets. Kevin Durant only played in 27 games during the 2014-15 season.

“Kevin [Durant] had some complications with his fifth metatarsal when he had this. So you have to take your time to recover. Because if you don’t, the re-injury incident is pretty high. There’s also the potential for complications with the surgical hardware,” Stotts said.

Lopez and Durant had re-surgery. Durant even needed a third surgery. Simmons avoided it after he got a bone marrow injection.

In Robinson’s case, given the available information, Stotts believes the Knicks’ big man is on track to full recovery, but he is not quite there yet. The bone tissue, according to Stotts, heals nicely if it’s given an appropriate amount of time which is the frustrating part of these types of injuries.

“It’s likely the Knicks understand these things and what they’re doing is slow playing his recovery to ensure that [Robinson] doesn’t suffer some setback that’s going to ultimately push back his timeline again,” Stotts said.

If there’s anything good that has come out of this ordeal is that Robinson fell in love with the process of taking care of his body and working out. He said he worked closely with the Knicks conditioning coaches, and his trainer Marcell Scott was always on his ears back home in New Orleans to stay on the right track.

“I just fell in love, and now I can’t stay out of the weight room,” Robinson said. “It’s crazy!”

But being in great shape is not the same as being in game shape, according to Stotts.

When asked if Robinson could be ready by the first or second month of the season, Stotts said that’s a fairly reasonable estimation given what we know about his recovery progress.

While Robinson is out, the Knicks will rely on Nerlens Noel and the 36-year old grizzled veteran Taj Gibson to anchor their defense which finished in the top five last season.

“That’s the great value of having a guy like Taj,” Thibodeau said. “[Taj] has been an elite defender throughout his career, so even though he’s a little older now but he stays ready, he stays in great shape.”

“He’s locked into everything that we’re doing. Whether he’s not in the rotation, he’s just practicing hard with his teammates to help the team in any way he can, and then when you have to plug him in off the bench, he can handle that. If we have to plug him in as a starter, he can handle that. He’s played two positions his entire career. He’s started, he’s come off the bench, he’s finished a lot of games, and so he’s invaluable to us.”

Robinson is eligible to sign a $53 million, four-year extension until the end of the season. But the Knicks are still reluctant to discuss extension until they see how he looks on the court after the injury.

The good news is that a 2016 study revealed that NBA players who suffered the Jones fracture did not display a decrease in performance when they returned.

Lopez, Durant, and Simmons all survived and thrived after the injury. Only Rasheed Wallace — who was 38 and at the tail end of his career in 2013 with the Knicks — was forced to retire because of the same type of injury.

But despite the rosy picture, there’s a variable that might untrack Robinson. Whether he admits it or not, there is the pressure to deliver big on a contract year.

“I’ve been focused on getting back. I don’t worry about the contract and stuff like that. I just want to hoop,” Robinson said. “Whenever [my agent] tells me that this is what [Knicks] are gonna do, then we’ll just talk about it at that time. But as far as right now, I’m just trying to get back to playing.”

The most frustrating part of the timing of the injury is that Robinson had started to get comfortable under Thibodeau’s system.

While their relationship started on the wrong foot, Thibodeau eventually became a fan of Robinson. On Thursday, Thibodeau defended why Robinson’s blocks went down from 2.4 and 2.0 per game in his first two seasons to just 1.5 last season despite playing career-best 27.5 minutes.

“Oftentimes, when we talk about defensive ratings and different measurements, sometimes you may see a guy who’s high in steals, and he gets rated highly because of that, and oftentimes he’s the guy that breaks you down. And the same thing if you just go after blocks all the time and you’re not fulfilling your team responsibilities. Again, your blocks may be high, but you may not be effective in terms of your team defense, pick and roll defense, or whatever it might be,” Thibodeau explained.

“The big thing for us is getting his fouls down, and I think he’s done a great job with that. And there’s still the rim intimidation. Guys are looking to see where he is. So I think his discipline has improved greatly. He’s not recklessly, just flying all over the place. He’s got more discipline to his game, and he’s impacting shots in the paint and the restricted (area) in a very efficient way.”

Robinson cut his fouls down to just 2.8 per game, the lowest in his first three years in the league.

Thibodeau was effusive in his praise, unlike last year’s training camp when he remarked that the big man had a lot of room for improvement regarding professionalism and impacting winning.

This offseason, Robinson did a 360-degree turn — growing physically, emotionally, and mentally.

“The thing I liked about what he did is he maximized the time. In terms of strength and conditioning, whatever it might have been, whether it’s the pool or the bike, but physically he’s matured. So he’s not a young kid anymore. He looks great,” Thibodeau said.

“He’s definitely a lot stronger than he was. He’s put a lot of work in, in terms of watching film and he’s doing all the things that he can do. I think he’s very engaged with his teammates. When he’s on the sidelines, he’s into what’s going on and gets there early with the early group and stays late. He’ll come in at night. So he’s in the building all the time. That’s a big plus.”

With all the pent-up emotions, Robinson’s first game back, though it could come with a minutes restriction, should be a cracker.

“I feel a whole lot stronger. My body feels better,” Robinson said. “I’m just going to see how it goes. I want somebody to hit me in the chest. I want to see how it feels.”

Robinson said he misses the action so much, especially during the playoffs when the Knicks lost to Atlanta Hawks, 4-1, as Clint Capela bullied Noel in the paint.

“I missed it! It’s better to be playing than sitting on the sidelines, obviously,” Robinson said. “Of course, you’re learning a little bit more, but I want to be in the fight, man!”

With so much hype about his growth and his great physique, his return to the court just couldn’t come soon enough.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks: The growth of Mitchell Robinson in the eyes of Tom Thibodeau

New York Knicks, Mitchell Robinson

When Tom Thibodeau became the New York Knicks head coach, one of the first things he did was send his assistants Mike Woodson and Kenny Payne down to New Orleans to work out Mitchell Robinson.

Woodson didn’t like what he saw.

“He wasn’t in shape, and I just didn’t know how much he would allow you to push him,” Woodson said in an SNY interview last May.

It was the first wrinkle on the Robinson-Thibodeau relationship. Robinson, who was 22 at that time, followed that up with an abrupt exit from the Knicks’ pre-training camp bubble for personal reasons.

That prompted Thibodeau to say at the start of the training camp last year that Robinson has a long way to go and has a lot of room for growth in terms of professionalism and impacting winning.

“I think [Robinson] has had some really good moments, but I think he’s got a long way to go,” Thibodeau said last year. “The work part, the professionalism to continue to grow to impact winning, there’s a lot of room for growth. I don’t know where he’ll end up. There are things he can do that are very unique. I think we’re very fortunate to have Nerlens Noel. In some ways, he’s very similar when you look at rim protection. We’re excited about both guys.”

But over time, those wrinkles were ironed out. Before the season started, Robinson won the starting job and showed some growth until two major injuries limited him to only 31 games.

This summer, the Knicks sent some of their personnel in New Orleans to ensure that he was on the right track to full recovery.

Six months since his foot surgery, Robinson has yet to participate in contact drills. The Knicks are taking a cautious approach.

At the start of his second training camp under Thibodeau, Robinson was a limited participant. The plan is to bring him along slowly. But unlike last year, there were no asterisks in Thibodeau’s remarks about the Knicks’ young center, who is entering a contract year.

“It’s encouraging because each day, he’s doing more and more. He feels really good, which is important,” Thibodeau said Tuesday at the start of the NBA Training Camp.

Robinson bulked up and became more serious about his craft. The Louisiana native, who never had a coaching structure as solid as he has now under Thibodeau, became a student of the game.

“He’s put a lot of time into film study. He’s done things where he’s sitting in a chair, handling the ball, shooting out of the chair, stationary shooting, form shooting, cardio on the pool, cardio on the bike. You guys can see the physical difference. He’s done a lot of strength training. He’s handled it well as you can handle it.”

Thibodeau’s culture of accountability has allowed Robinson to grow not only physically but internally. The Knicks’ former second-round pick has never been this driven. He speaks about going after the Defensive Player of the Year award. And he’s backing that up with a work ethic that wasn’t there in his early years in the league after flip-flopping his way into the NBA, shunning the college route.

While the injuries cut short his promising third season and first under Thibodeau, the initial setback has set him up for a big bounce back.

“I think sometimes when you have some time off like that, you can take a step back and get a broader view of everything,” Thibodeau said. “I think he has a good understanding of how important practice, preparation is just by observing the playoffs last [season]. When you go back to the last season, he’s had a number of big games against quality teams for us. What he brings to our team is unique, and his contributions to the team are important,” Thibodeau said.

In a marquee matchup against Rudy Gobert, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, back in January at home, Robinson battled him toe-to-toe with a complete line — nine points, 14 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three blocks against only two fouls in a 112-100 Knicks victory. Gobert finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocks.

In a 130-110 rout of the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks early in the season, Robinson helped limit Brook Lopez to just six points on 2-of-7 shooting and two rebounds.

He had back-to-back double-double games against Charlotte (12 points, 11 rebounds, two steals, two blocks) and Brooklyn (10 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks) in February. More than a week later, he started a five-game West Coast trip with an 18-point, 8-rebound, 2-block performance against Golden State.

Robinson collected five double-doubles, 10 games with double-digit rebounds, and 15 games with at least two shot blocks in the 31 games he played. The Knicks went 15-16 with him in the lineup.

While those were not enough for the Knicks to give Robinson an extension this offseason, the time he spent away from the court had made him hungrier.

Thibodeau is watching Robinson grow right before his eyes. The injuries are turning out to be a blessing in disguise.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks center Nerlens Noel gets license to shoot

New York Knicks center Nerlens Noel has only attempted 10 three-pointers and made two during his first nine seasons in the NBA. Last season, he was 0-of-3 from the three-point zone. That is about to change as Noel said he had received the green light to expand his game.

“It’s something that I’ve been working on. Being on one-year deals, you never know how much you can really do. Getting this comfortability with the situation even the day when I signed the contract, they told me to make it a conscious effort to make it a game shot and not just after practice,” Noel said Tuesday at the start of the NBA Training Camp.

Noel is entering the season for the first time in his career with his job and bag secured. After an ill-advised fumble in 2017 that led to an ongoing lawsuit and a series of one-year deals that came after, Noel re-signed with the Knicks on a three-year deal that could be worth up to $32 million if he hits bonuses and the last year getting picked up.

“It’s the best free agency I’ve ever experienced. I knew everything that’s going on. It’s beautiful. A good way to sum it up—the best one,” Noel said.

The stability has emboldened Noel to be a little adventurous this summer. And a part of it is for him to stay afloat beyond his current contract in the league that is constantly evolving.

As the modern game continues to cater to offense, shooting has become premium. Traditional big men are becoming obsolete. And despite possessing one elite skill set—rim protection, Noel doesn’t want to be left behind by the three-point revolution.

Last season, at least 10 centers averaged one three-pointer, per ESPN stats. Nikola Vucevic led all big men with 2.5 threes made on 6.3 attempts while splitting his time with his former team, Orlando Magic, and his new team, Chicago Bulls. Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns, a former Tom Thibodeau player, was not far behind with 2.4 threes per game on the same 6.3 attempts despite being limited to just 50 games.

Former Knick Kristaps Porzingis, who has the same lean frame as Noel, averaged 2.3 threes on six attempts with the Dallas Mavericks last season.

But the top three three-point shooting big men were either the focal point or the secondary offensive option in their teams while averaging over 30 minutes per game.

It will be a stretch to say that Noel, who is likely the Knicks’ starting center while Mitchell Robinson is being eased back into the rotation, will enjoy such a shot diet with the addition of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.

Noel attempted only 3.5 shots per game last season and made 61.4 percent of them, the bulk of it coming around the rim (68.5 percent, which was above the league average of 58.5 percent according to Stat Muse).

So an occasional three-pointer from Noel would be the more plausible scenario—the last option in the offense as much as he’s the last line on defense. Making him an outside threat could draw the opposing team’s last line of defense to come out.

“I’m trying to expand my game to that corner three. I’m definitely going to tread lightly coming in and seeing what it’s like but you know, I got the green light for the most part. So I just gotta keep getting the reps up and make sure it falls by game time and I’ll be able to implement that,” Noel said.

The three-point shot became an important weapon for the Knicks last season on their way to a surprising playoff run. But while they were the second-best team in three-point shooting accuracy (39.2 percent), they also threw the second-least attempts with just 30 per game, 13 fewer than the league-leading Utah Jazz.

According to Derrick Rose, the Knicks plan to bring that up to at least among the league’s top five.

“I think our staple [last season] was defense. Now that I feel like we got better on the offensive side of the ball, it’s about adding little things. Last year, we only shot 30 threes. This year, now we have three-point shooters. We gotta get up to 37 to 40 attempts,” Rose said Monday.

But Rose was quick to add that they will not take a three-pointer just for the sake of ramping up their shot attempts. That’s not Thibodeau’s style.

“I’m not saying we gotta force threes, but take the right threes and don’t pass up any good looks. Push the ball. I felt like last year, we didn’t push the ball. We needed to (push the pace) to get easy buckets and easy looks for Julius (Randle) to get him downhill or to get RJ (Barrett) going downhill to open up the floor for everybody,” Rose said.

The Knicks crave shooting in all positions.

Noel and Robinson provided elite rim protection to the Knicks last season.

Noel was third with 2.2 per game behind Indiana Pacers’ Myles Turner (3.4) and Jazz’s Rudy Gobert (2.7). Robinson was ninth with 1.5 and could have climbed up the ladder if he played in more games.

Turner also landed in the top 10 three-point shooting big men in the league. The Pacers center averaged 1.5 per game on 4.4 attempts, joining reigning NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks’ Brook Lopez (1.4 threes on four shots) as the only big men in the league who offered elite rim protection and outside shooting.

Curiously, the Knicks were heavily linked to Turner in the past though nothing materialized. Perhaps the grand plan is to develop one if they couldn’t trade for a modern big man.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks’ president Leon Rose side-steps Mitchell Robinson contract extension question

Mitchell Robinson

Confidence in New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson has never wavered, and the coaching staff remains optimistic he will be a part of their long-term plans. Robinson has one year left on his rookie contract, which will pay him $1.8 million. However, if Robinson can remain healthy for the 2021-22 season, there’s a good chance he is signed to an extension, and the team is hoping it is more friendly than foe.

Robinson managed to play just 31 games last year, averaging 27.5 minutes during those contests. He contributed 8.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and shot 65% from the field. His numbers took a slight dip, but with a larger sample size, there’s no doubt his offerings would’ve been more adequate.

The 7-foot big man has a unique skill set as a defender, containing the qualities to guard at the perimeter and drop down into the paint with his physicality. All-Star power forward Julius Randle used the word “brolic” to describe Robinson and his muscular gains this off-season.

Considering the hard work that Mitchell has put into his development, it is obvious why the Knicks brass still considers him a big part of the team. However, President Leon Rose was careful not to provide any contract expectations, according to SNY.

Knicks’ president Leon Rose side-stepped a question on a contract extension for Mitchell Robinson, providing a positive review instead:

“It’s a work in progress and as far as contract goes, we love Mitchell Robinson and we look forward to seeing him play,” Rose said.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau raved about Robinson’s performance last year before suffering a broken hand. Upon his return, the high-energy center went down with a fractured foot, limiting his statistical output for the remainder of the season.

“Mitch, I thought last year, was really starting to take off when he got hurt,” Thibodeau said. “And then obviously, he had the set back. And this summer he’s put in a lot of time. He hasn’t been able to play. He’s put a lot of time into conditioning, strength and conditioning and whatever he’s allowed to do – being in the pool, weight training, form shooting, watching a lot of film.”

The Knicks retained Nerlens Noel after a successful campaign last season with the Knicks. Noel was looking for a new home, establishing himself as an elite shot blocker. Having two centers capable of featuring in different scenarios is ideal, as Noel can contribute nicely against less physical interior offensive teams. Robinson, with his added muscle, will likely handle players like Clint Capela, whom the team struggled with during the postseason.

Nonetheless, it is nice to see the front office sticking with their young talent and providing encouragement rather than resentment. While the 23-year-old has dealt with injuries in the past, the Knicks are hoping to reverse that negative narrative and start a more positive trend.

Knicks fully vaccinated, take cautious approach on Mitchell Robinson

knicks, mitchell robinson

New York Knicks GM Scott Perry announced Friday that the entire team, including their coaching staff, are fully vaccinated.

It is an important first step for the Knicks as they look forward to building on their surprising playoff run last season.

“This was all internally driven, and a lot of credit goes to our players, our medical staff,” Perry said via News Daily. “It is something that we’ve been on top of really the entire year.”

“They took this thing very seriously and took the responsibility to get that done. So, we’re very proud of that fact, and we’re gonna move forward,” Perry added during a media briefing with team president Leon Rose and head coach Tom Thibodeau.

New York is one of the two NBA markets that require home teams to show proof of vaccination to access indoor dining, fitness, and entertainment and playing venues. San Francisco, where the Golden State Warriors play, is the other market that has the same health and safety protocols.

The Knicks’ announcement came after the Brooklyn Nets said that they have a couple of players who are still unvaccinated. But Nets GM Sean Marks noted that they are expected to meet the NBA and the state requirements before the season starts.

Fox Sports reported Thursday that Kyrie Irving is one of the Nets players who have yet to receive a vaccine. However, Irving was also seen seated courtside at the Staples Center, a section that requires a vaccination pass, earlier this month in a WNBA game.

The vaccination protocol, along with the continued threat of the COVID-19, will again be a swing factor in the upcoming NBA season.

As of Thursday, the NBA said the league is 90 percent vaccinated.

Last season, many playoff teams missed multiple players at one point due to the COVID-19 protocols that put a huge dent in their campaign. Fortunately, the Knicks dodged that, although Derrick Rose and Alec Burks have contracted the virus at different stages of the season.

The Knicks, except for Mitchell Robinson, are ready to plunge into what is expected a competitive training camp starting next week.

Robinson, who put on some serious weight and looked brolic in the offseason, will not be rushed to come back from his broken foot injury though he’s medically cleared. The Knicks are taking a cautious approach after the young center suffered two injuries that required surgeries last season.

“We love Mitchell Robinson and look forward to seeing him play,” said Rose via New York Post.

Rose spoke to the media for the first time since Thibodeau’s introductory presser or exactly after 421 days.

“We’re following what our medical people say and not going to rush it and going step by step,” Thibodeau said via New York Post. “That’s the great value of having Taj [Gibson] and Nerlens Noel. We love the depth at that position. (We’re) excited about season and not going to rush.”

With this development, Nerlens Noel could continue to start with Taj Gibson backing him up as Robinson will be eased back into the rotation.

This will be a critical year for Robinson contract-wise as he will become a restricted free agent if the Knicks don’t extend him. The former second-round pick is eligible to sign a contract extension up to a maximum of four years, $53 million. But the Knicks want to see first how he looks on the court after two serious injuries.

“Mitchell was just starting to take off when he got hurt,’’ Thibodeau added.“This summer, he’s put in a lot of time, conditioning-wise, strength training. He’s a big part of what we’re going to do.”

So the waiting game continues, which the Knicks can afford to do owing to their depth.

Thibodeau and his staff will also have a decision to make on Luca Vildoza whether the team will guarantee his contract on or before opening night.

Vildoza is back in New York after suffering a foot injury during the NBA Summer League, just a week after his Olympic stint.

Thibodeau will have 17 active bodies at his disposal in next week’s training camp, with Robinson not expected to participate in full-court, 5-on-5 drills.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Grading the Knicks’ NBA 2K22 Ratings: Are they accurate?

knicks

With the release of NBA 2K22 last Friday, we finally have our first look at the 2021-22 New York Knicks roster in 2K. This also means that Miles McBride and Quentin Grimes are playable for the first time ever. Let’s dive into these ratings and see if 2K got it right.

The Ratings

Julius Randle, 87

Can’t really complain about this one. Coming off the best season of his career where he won Most Improved Player(MIP), Randle has earned his place among the top ratings in the Eastern Conference. He should probably be at an 88 or an 89, but his performance in last year’s playoffs definitely played a factor in this year’s rating.

Grade: B

RJ Barrett, 83

This one was really surprising. Not because of how he isn’t higher, but because 2K finally decided to show RJ some respect. 83 is honestly a really great jumping-off point this upcoming season for the 21-year-old. The rating isn’t too low or too high, it’s perfect.

Grade: A

Kemba Walker, 83

Unsurprisingly, this is the lowest rating Walker has had since NBA 2K16. The 5-time All-Star had one of the worst seasons of his career last year and looks to bounce back on his hometown team. His dynamic scoring and playmaking abilities could transform the Knicks’ offense, leading to a ratings boost down the line. However, whether it be from his knee issues or just a regression of his skills, there is also a chance 83 isn’t the lowest we see his rating throughout the year.

Grade: A-

Derrick Rose, 83

After a terrific playoff series against the Hawks last season, D-Rose earned this 83 rating. Although he’s tied for the 2nd highest rating on the team, the former MVP will be coming off the bench this season. Look for him to make a real run at 6th Man of the Year and for this rating to stay pretty much the same all season.

Grade: A

Mitchell Robinson, 80

There’s no question about it: When the 7’0 Robinson is healthy, there are not many other players in the league who can match his level of athleticism and energy. However, he’s coming off multiple injuries, the latter of which saw him miss the final 26 games of the regular season, including the series against the Hawks. If he’s able to stay healthy, there’s little-to-no chance that this rating stays the same. For now, it does make sense after not playing half of last season.

Grade: B+

Evan Fournier, 79

This is the first one that’s way off. 2k has had a tendency in the past to underrate guards/wings that can score in a multitude of ways. Any guard they perceive to not be able to defend well and not have playmaking abilities will have a hard time getting a rating over 80, especially if they play for the Knicks. This one just doesn’t make sense, though. It could be due to the fact that the devs may have been taking his stats with Boston into account too much. Before his trade to the Celtics, Fournier was putting up almost 20 PPG in only 30 minutes per game. Fournier is at least an 82, maybe even an 83. The intangibles he brings on offense, including his shooting and finishing skills, are better than any other 79 in the game. This rating isn’t accurate at all.

Grade: F

Immanuel Quickley, 78

As one of the biggest steals in the 2020 NBA Draft, Quickley improved his rating from a 71 last year all the way up to a 79 by the end of the year. This is why this rating doesn’t really do it for me. To drop down a point after an entire offseason doesn’t make much sense. We’ll see how it unfolds for the second year from Kentucky, but there’s little doubt that he improves enough to get this rating over 80 by the playoffs.

Side note, Quickley is REALLY good at NBA2K.

Grade: C

Nerlens Noel, 78

As the defensive anchor of the Knicks throughout the final stretch of last season that culminated in the team making the playoffs for the first time in 8 years, Noel proved that he wasn’t your average backup center. Defensively, Noel is an incredibly reliable option off the bench. However, his offensive woes will always hamper any rating he’ll ever get from 2K.

Grade: A-

Obi Toppin, 76

If it weren’t for the competency and confidence shown by Obi Toppin at the end of the season last year, there’s a chance he’s nowhere near the 76 that he finds himself right now. The potential is clearly there, but will he find the ability to become more offensively dynamic? Only time will tell. But until we see him take a big leap, the rating he currently holds will stay the same.

The Rest:

Taj Gibson, 76

Kevin Knox, 72

Quentin Grimes, 71

Luca Vildoza, 71

Dwayne Bacon, 71

Miles McBride, 70

Overall, the Knicks have a team rating of 83, which is the highest rating they’ve had since NBA 2K14.