Tom Thibodeau says Knicks are 'not going to rush' Mitchell Robinson back from injury

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Mitchell Robinson grips New York jersey
Mitchell Robinson grips New York jersey

Knicks center Mitchell Robinson played in just 31 games during the 2020-21 season after missing 15 games with a fractured hand and then suffering a fractured foot on March 27 that required surgery.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau spoke to media on Friday ahead of the start of training camp, and touched on Robinson's health and the expectations the team has for him this season. The big man is still not yet cleared from his foot injury, but has been working hard over the summer to get ready to play again.

"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.

"So he’s a big part of what we’re gonna do and we’re following what our medical people are saying. There’s a plan in place. And we’re not going to rush, we’re going to take it step by step."

Robinson averaged 8.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game over an average of 27.5 minutes per game. He's shown promise on the defensive side of the ball as a rim defender, in addition to shooting 70.5 percent from the field over his three-year career.

With Robinson sidelined, the Knicks turned to big man Nerlens Noel at center in the starting lineup. Noel, at 26 years old, was very productive over 64 games (41 starts) in his seventh year in the league. He gave the Knicks a defensive presence at the rim, averaging a career-high 2.2 blocks per game.

Thibodeau acknowledged how valuable Noel was for the team last season, and expects Robinson to find his way on the court once he's fully healthy.

"That was the great value in having Nerlens. Nerlens stepped into the starting position and he was terrific. The thing we love about Taj [Gibson] – you can start Taj, you can bring Taj off the bench or Taj will sit there and just be a great teammate and he’ll wait to be called upon and he’s always ready to go.

"So we love the depth at that position. But we like where Mitch [is] and the way he’s grown, professionally. We’re excited about the season, we’ll see how it unfolds but we’re not going to rush, we’re going step by step."

Robinson is in the final year of his contract and is set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2022. The Knicks are reportedly open to re-signing Robinson, as team president Leon Rose spoke about negotiations with the 23-year-old center.

"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.

Here are a few other notes from Friday's availability

Knicks will listen to Kemba Walker when it comes to his knee

Walker was limited by a knee injury during his tenure in Boston. Walker’s health is something he and the Knicks will watch closely during the 2021-22 season.

“He feels good. He’s been in (the Knicks training facility). He’s doing a lot of work. And you gotta trust him,” Thibodeau said. “He understands what he has to do to be ready for a season.”

Walker and Immanuel Quickley were on the court Friday when reporters were in the gym. You’d expect Walker to start at point guard for New York with Derrick Rose and Quickley coming off of the bench. When asked about the possibility of Walker playing back-to-backs, Thibodeau said that would be partially decided Walker and New York’s medical staff. “You have to talk to him, you have to see how it feels. You have to talk to the medical people and go from there,” Thibodeau said.

The coach believes Walker and Evan Fournier can give the Knicks shooting, playmaking and versatility on offense.

“We made a major jump in (in three-point shooting last season) but we didn’t shoot enough of them. So to have guys who can create them, put it on the floor, to make a rim read, to have the ability to finish – we think that having multiple guys like that on the floor is something that was necessary for us to grow,” Thibodeau said. “There’s the defensive part of it, too. There’s the challenge of being strong on both sides of the ball. So, we feel that we have to make that same commitment (this season).

“I think that was one of the things our team was great at last year. Defensively, (the team) was one of the best in history in terms of points allowed, field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage. The challenge this year is to be strong on offense and defense. So we can’t lose sight of what won us games – it was our bench and our defense. But adding the offensive part of it... will be a big part of our growth.”

Aug 17, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Kemba Walker (8) poses for a photo during a photo shoot on the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building.
Aug 17, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Kemba Walker (8) poses for a photo during a photo shoot on the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building.

"Pleasure" to work with Scott Perry

Knicks GM Scott Perry worked on a one-year contract in 2020-21. After the club’s surprising postseason run, Perry signed a two-year extension to remain general manager of the club.

Rose was asked about Perry on Friday.

“You've got to see how you work with somebody and that's basically what we did (last year) and it went very smoothly. Scott has done a very good job and I rely on him for many things,” Rose said. “He's a seasoned veteran with a lot of relationships and you know it's been a pleasure. I'm very happy he stayed on with us.”

Rose and Perry have known each other for years. Perry is a longtime executive and Rose was a player agent at CAA before taking the Knicks job.

“I'm just happy he doesn't take advantage of me like he did on the other side,” Perry joked. “Now we're on the same team, and it's been great.”

Rose has been on the job for roughly 1.5 seasons. He says his background as an agent has helped in his role as team president.

“I think being an agent gives me a great perspective from the other side of the table, and allows me to have a greater understanding of the things we come up against every single day and the way the other people think,” Rose said. “So I think it’s a huge benefit.”

Rose spoke to the media on Friday for the second time as team president. That’s by design.

“I was never one to be out front with the media (when I was an agent). I usually was behind the scenes,” Rose said. “I’ve kind of taken that approach since I’ve been here. I feel like coach (Thibodeau) has done a great job of being a spokesperson for us and you (reporters) have had that contact with him on a daily basis and I felt like that’s worked really well.”

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