The Knicks had just completed an impressive victory over the Indiana Pacers, an opponent most project as a top-4 in the Eastern Conference. Tom Thibodeau was doing his post-game Zoom session with the media and he finished with a mic-drop about Mitchell Robinson.
“You guys haven’t seen it yet,” Thibodeau said, “but it’s coming.”
Robinson has teased before, of course. He has strung together games of elite finishing and rim protection, only to regress the next night into a foul-prone lost cause. But Robinson’s arc thus far under Thibodeau is encouraging and noteworthy, not only because of the production, but because he’s earned the coach’s trust following their uneven start. It began on the bench for Robinson in preseason, which was followed by Thibodeau’s references to “professionalism” and “discipline” when emphasizing the 20-year-old’s areas for growth. Months earlier, Robinson bailed on the summer voluntary workouts at the Tarrytown practice facility. It was left unsaid publicly, but the Knicks were disappointed.
Robinson doesn’t have much history with stability and structure, at least in his basketball career. He attended three different high schools in Florida and Louisiana, then dropped out of Western Kentucky University without ever playing. As a pro, Robinson’s already had six different agents and three different coaches. Concerns about his maturity precipitated a drop to the second round of the 2018 draft.
So the dynamic between Robinson and the demanding/detail-oriented Thibodeau was worth monitoring. Then Robinson lost the starting job out of camp to Nerlens Noel, who was signed by the Knicks in free agency despite his stylistic similarities to the other center.
Whether or not Robinson was disappointed, he took the right approach to winning back his job.
“I’m not going to sit down and pout about it, I’m not going to make a problem or whatever,” he said at the time. “I just want to get out there and I want to play.”
Robinson impressed enough in practice and preseason to leap over Noel and start Game 1 last month against the Pacers. His six consecutive starts is already a longer stretch than at any point during last season, when Robinson backed up Taj Gibson and played, on average, less than half the game.
Under Thibodeau, Robinson’s play is still sporadic but the improvement and discipline is also evident. It’s only six games, but he’s averaging more minutes (27.8) and fewer fouls (3.2). He has yet to commit more than four fouls in any game, whereas last season Robinson was called for at least five fouls in about 1/4 u00bc of his appearances.
Robinson’s best game was Saturday’s victory over the Pacers, when he scored 16 point on 8-of-10 shooting and grabbed six offensive rebounds. His block on Malcolm Brogdon’s 3-point attempt with 40 seconds left sealed the victory, giving Thibodeau further reason gush about his rising young center.
“Let’s talk about Mitch,” the coach said. “He’s just, every day he’s growing and growing and growing. The way he’s working, studying, preparing for the games. you could see his confidence grow. He’s making multiple effort plays. He’s a hard guy to score over. And he’s really the anchor of the defense back there. And offensively there’s a lot of room for him to grow. He’s putting a lot of time in.”