The New York Knicks have had ample opportunities to develop
young players in the recent past. Yet, somehow, they’ve fumbled
that opportunity over and over again, and Mitchell Robinson’s story
doesn’t stray too far from that reality.
Robinson entered the pros with a lot of question marks. After
ranking as 24/7 Sports’ best center and the ninth-best player in
the 2017 high-school class, Robinson decommitted from Western
Kentucky University after a suspension for a violation of team
rules and chose to prepare for the NBA instead.
Despite the limited tape on him, Robinson’s raw talent was
undeniable, and the Knicks selected him with the No. 36 overall
pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Robinson’s career began with a good amount of success. In his
rookie season, Robinson averaged 7.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.4
blocks in 20.6 minutes per game. In per-36-minute terms, that
translated to 12.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and an eye-popping 4.3
blocks, which was obviously promising.
There were some noticeable flaws though. Robinson was fairly
injury prone early in his career, and he clearly needed to bulk up,
as he was regularly pushed out of position by bigger opponents. In
addition, Robinson regularly found himself in foul trouble. In
fact, despite his limited playing time, Robinson averaged 3.3 fouls
per game in his rookie season, fouling out of eight games. As a
sophomore, it was more of the same.
Prior to the 2021-22 campaign, Robinson answered the bell by
adding some muscle, which helped him avoid those foul troubles.
(Robinson averaged just 2.7 fouls in 25.7 minutes per game this
Robinson’s improved frame may have also helped with those
aforementioned durability issues. After a rough 2020-21 season in
which he played just 31 games, Robinson appeared in 72 games this
season and started in all but 10 of them. But teams need more from
a starting center than relative durability, and having covered
Robinson in New York since he was a rookie, it's obvious that he
badly wants to be a starter.
However, one drawback of Robinson bulking up was losing some of
his explosiveness. After being regarded as one of the best shot
blockers in basketball in his first two years, he has taken a
slight step back over the last couple campaigns. After averaging
2.4 and 2.0 blocks per contest in his first two seasons,
respectively, he averaged only 1.5 rejections in his third year and
1.8 in his fourth despite playing more minutes.
There are holes in Robinson’s game that must be addressed.
Specifically, Robinson has absolutely no jump shot to speak of, and
he lacks the ability to stretch the floor, hoisting up zero
three-point attempts in his entire four-year career. In fact, this
past season alone, Robinson did not attempt a single shot farther
away than 10 feet from the basket. Though it doesn't need to be a
primary part of his skill set, that can be prohibitive to his
team’s offensive spacing and continuity.
Robinson enters this offseason as an unrestricted free agent.
Ultimately, his future will boil down to which team offers the most
money and opportunity. Considering that Robinson has not yet cashed
in with a big deal, that’s the right way to approach free
But where will he end up?
Unfortunately for Robinson, there are few teams below the salary
cap. In total, only five teams — Detroit, Indiana, Orlando,
Portland and San Antonio — will have significant cap space.
Further, there are other attractive centers who will hit free
agency, including Deandre Ayton and Mo Bamba (and Rudy Gobert could be available
on the trade block).
Despite differences in play style, Robinson will probably
attract many of the same suitors as Bamba. Compared to Bamba,
Robinson is already more established, but Bamba has more upside and
he has won over scouts with his shooting ability.
Ultimately, the extension that Robert Williams III signed last
summer is probably a good starting point for negotiations. Williams
signed a four-year extension worth $54 million. That could seem a
tad pricey, but it’s probably right around where a deal will
One additional note: the Dallas-Houston trade that landed Christian Wood in Dallas
resulted in one less suitor. The Mavericks were rumored to be
interested in Robinson, but the acquisition of Wood fills their
hole in the middle.
With that said, let's review the likeliest teams to court
Robinson when free agency arrives.
NEW YORK KNICKS
Robinson has spent all four of his professional seasons with the
Knicks, and he’s seen all the dysfunction up close. He’s played for
four different head coaches and, at just 24 years of age, he’s
somehow the longest-tenured Knick. Still, there’s comfort in
He’s played for Tom Thibodeau for the past two seasons, which
means he at least knows and understands what’s expected of him. And
he finally solidified the starting job in 2021-22, starting 62 of
72 games in which he appeared.
The Knicks have the inside track on re-signing Robinson, who is
clearly their best option at center right now. They can still sign
him to a four-year, $48 million deal before June 30. If they don’t,
they’ll be able to exceed that amount.
But exactly how much will New York be comfortable paying
considering how far they are from contention?
The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor recently cited the Bulls'
interest in adding either Gobert or Robinson. The thinking here is
probably simple: Adding an above-average defensive center will help
balance out the team, as Nikola Vucevic was a defensive liability
in 2021-22. Of all players who played at least 2,000 minutes in
2021-22, Vucevic recorded the sixth-worth Defensive Rating,
according to StatMuse.
Robinson could replace Vucevic in the starting lineup,
but it's more likely that he would either split big-man duties with
Vucevic or that the Bulls would look to move Vucevic. The two could
technically play alongside one another in a twin-tower-style
lineup, but neither is nimble enough to defend some of the more
mobile power forwards.
If Robinson and the Knicks do not reach an agreement before June
30, he’ll probably command a deal in the $12-to-$15 million range
annually, which is far less money than the five-year, $205 million
extension Gobert signed in December 2020. While Gobert is clearly
the better player of the two, Robinson would help the Bulls
defensively in his own right. If Chicago can offer him a starting
job and convince him to go slightly lower at $10.3
million per year with the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, it
could probably be more attractive than toughing it out in the Big
Apple, while the Knicks try to break out of their seemingly endless
The Pistons are another team rumored to be interested in
Robinson. Joining Detroit could be alluring given the presence of
Cade Cunningham, and the team should take another step forward
after Thursday’s NBA Draft, as the Pistons currently own the fifth
overall pick. Most importantly, Robinson would probably cruise into
the starting lineup, as the team lacks any valid 7-foot options at
The Pistons are also one of a select few teams with cap space,
meaning they could actually sign him without making any other
moves. Given the cap space and presumed role he could take on,
Detroit might be Robinson’s preferred destination.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Like Detroit, Portland has a good deal of cap space. There could
also be a vacancy in the Trail Blazers’ front line given that Jusuf
Nurkic will hit free agency, though the reported expectation is
that Portland re-signs Nurkic. But if Portland is primed for bigger
changes and has second thoughts, it's a move the franchise could
make, as the Blazers appear ready to make another run behind star
point guard Damian Lillard.
Robinson isn’t capable of catapulting a team into contention,
but he is more than capable of being the anchor for a team in need
of defensive help. In 2021-22, Portland gave up the fourth-most
points per game, grabbed the fourth-fewest rebounds per games and
blocked the 10th-fewest shots per game.
Considering the Bamba comparison above, it would be mildly
ironic if Robinson lands in Orlando as his replacement, but it
could happen. Why? Orlando could opt to not match an offer for
Bamba, and/or the organization might just see Robinson as a better
player. But remember, the Magic have the first overall pick in the
upcoming draft, meaning they could onboard Jabari Smith, Chet
Holmgren or Paolo Banchero — any of whom can be seen as the team’s
long-term answer in its positionless roster setup.
Robinson is capable of making an impact and finding a long-term
home, but he needs to play for a demanding coach who will push him
to be the best version of himself.
If he can maximize his talent, he can become one of the better
defensive centers in the league. If he doesn’t, he’ll bounce around
the league for the next few seasons.
Looking to go to the hottest concerts, sports, theater &
family shows near you? Get 100% guaranteed tickets to more than
125,000 live events from TicketSmarter, the official ticket
marketplace of BasketballNews.com. Order online now!