It’s been three years and it still feels like we barely know Mitchell Robinson.
His athleticism has been off the charts since Day Zero. Nimble-footed, at his size, his timing and defensive instincts helped him make an immediate impact. His presence was felt from the moment he checked into an NBA game.
Selected by the New York Knicks with the 36th overall pick of the 2018 NBA Draft, Robinson quickly made a name for himself. Although a footnote at a time, he wound up being the only thing of substance the Knicks got for trading Carmelo Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Along with Kristaps Porzingis, the pair of big men quickly became the pride of Madison Square Garden.
But three years later, if it feels like we still don’t know much about Robinson, it’s because we don’t.
To this point, he’s been less of a star and more like a shooting star — gone in an instant.
And when he met with reporters as the Knicks prepared to begin training camp, he was upbeat. Noticeably more muscular, Robinson looked nothing like the scrawny kid that was drafted by the team a few years ago.
“Yeah,” Robinson answered matter-of-factly when asked if he’s been hitting the weights. Smiling and flexing for the camera, he didn’t mince any words.
“See? I think I’m stronger,” he said while flexing. “I’ve been in the weight room like crazy... I feel like it’s gonna increase my game. I ain’t gonna be getting pushed around like that [anymore].”
Asked on Thursday if he’s stronger this year, Mitchell Robinson flexes for the cameras: pic.twitter.com/zrZ7d0U9SN— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) September 30, 2021
Hopefully, for the Knicks, it’ll make a difference when it counts. Gaining 60 pounds since he was a rookie, his body's come a long way. The same can't be said of his game.
In just the 12th game of his NBA career — at just 20 years old — Robinson recorded 9 blocked shots against the Orlando Magic. He hasn’t accomplished such a feat since, and in a nutshell, that’s been the story of his career.
In the end, he just might be the most interesting man in New York basketball. Or, at the very least, the most unknown quantity.
The Knicks, in Julius Randle, know themselves to have a budding All-Star who’s ascending, while RJ Barrett is coming into his own with a credible shot at becoming an All-Star himself. There are tons of positive things to say about the likes of Kemba Walker, Derrick Rose and Alec Burks.
But if the Knicks are truly to make something of themselves and continue to ascend in the Eastern Conference — if they’ll ever have a chance to challenge the likes of the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls, much less the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets — they’ll need Robinson to make good on his promise.
Whether he can will depend on when he’s able to get back on the court, if he can stay on it and what he’s able to do with the time he’s given. Especially as the team’s promising young players — including Obi Toppin — fight for minutes.
In the NBA, great general managers are able to tell the future. Rookies are handed bags of money simply based on when they’re selected in their draft, while rookie extensions are often handed out because of a belief that a still-toiling youngster will one day have the opportunity to become great.
As he enters the 2021-22 season on the shelf, Robinson has had the benefit of neither — by virtue of being a second-round pick in 2018 and accepting a three-year deal from the Knicks, his $4.7 million in career earnings will trail the second-year $5.4 million salary of Toppin, a sophomore.
Although Robinson’s abilities can’t be denied, the Knicks’ front office decided it wouldn’t bid against itself, and has opted to take a patient approach with respect to a potential extension.