Examining potential destinations for Mitchell Robinson

Examining potential destinations for Mitchell Robinson

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 season.)

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 agency.

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 land.

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.


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 familiarity.

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 rebuild.


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 position.

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.


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.

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