Saying Mitchell Robinson has a high ceiling is already one of the biggest cliches surrounding this Knicks squad.
It’s brought up constantly, but despite that, the concept of Robinson’s ceiling remains startlingly nebulous. The glaringly obvious lack of polish, while making Robinson an intriguing prospect, also makes it really freakin’ hard to see exactly what he could be in the long term.
That’s part of what makes Mitchell Robinson so fun to watch on film. For all the mistakes he makes, and for all the experience he lacks, we all get to experience glimpses of the potential that lies in his wiry frame. And when I say “we”, I really do mean it — the Knicks organization had no idea Robinson would be this good this quickly, either. Literally everyone interested in seeing the orange and blue find success on the court is watching with the same feeling of mystical wonder as Robinson does all kinds of wild shit on a night to night basis.
Saturday’s game in Toronto was the perfect example. While the Knicks as a team were heartily demolished by an absolutely loaded Raptors team, there were two plays that really stuck out to me when reviewing the film. Two plays that demonstrate how Mitchell Robinson can impact the game on the defensive end of the floor. Two plays that, despite falling on opposite ends of the spectrum, show the immense breadth of talent he can bring to the table. Let’s take a look.
This one is pretty simple — nothing more than a well-timed rotation leading to a blocked shot. We’ve seen Porzingis do this dozens of times. The first thing that pops out is Robinson’s timing on the rotation, because it’s perfect, something we haven’t seen much of. The timing of a rotation is a fine line to walk — rotate for the block too early, and it gives VanVleet an opportunity to dump it off to Valanciunas for a dunk; rotate too late, and it’s either a goaltend or a make. Blowout or not, this is promising.
The second thing that pops out is…
Remember how I said Porzingis has done this dozens of times? That might be a lie. I don’t think Porzingis could have blocked this shot. That still image shows Robinson’s functional length off a ONE STEP JUMP. That is absolutely OBSCENE. I can count on one hand the amount of guys in the league who can do what Robinson did in this clip. His ceiling as a shot blocker is immense.
When it comes down to it, though, defense from a big man comes down to more than blocking shots. Plus, it’s beyond obvious that Robinson is a natural shotblocker who can do stuff like this regularly. What’s even more impressive is this play right here:
That’s the kind of play that separates the standard rim protectors from the all-NBA defensive talents.
First, Robinson “shows” by stepping out … 35 feet from the rim … to keep Kawhi Leonard contained. He’s on his own for a split second, because Dotson is pinned on a screen, and it’s executed quite well. This is already impressive, and a clear win. The Raptors, though, progress into a natural counter, one that often makes true 5’s look absolutely silly. The roll man (Ibaka) bails out (you can see him turn his head, notice Robinson showing, and immediately roll). The Raptors, being a smart basketball team, immediately went to one of the counters to that style of pick and roll defense — instead of risking a dangerous pass over the top of Dotson and Robinson, Kawhi hits Lowry on the wing, who ostensibly has a better angle to hit a rolling Ibaka.
You can even see Noah Vonleh cheating off the corner, ready to rotate to Ibaka if Robinson can’t recover in time. That’s because this point in the play represents the exact inflection point where most 5’s wouldn’t have had the physical abilities required to recover in time. It’s asking a lot for a true center to show 35 feet from the hoop, let alone recover 20 feet about one full second later. Mitch Rob, however, has no such issues getting back to his man, and after all of that, there’s no easy place to attack for the Raptors. Of course, as a cherry on top, Big Mitch completes the shutout with some excellent one on one defense to force the miss.
On a certain level, Mitchell Robinson snuffed out this play entirely by himself.
Try to imagine someone like Brook Lopez doing this. It’s laughable.
That’s the real ceiling of Mitchell Robinson. A monster defensive backbone who can show and recover on one play, only to block your shot 13 feet above the ground on the next one. He continues to get better with every game. For all the questions about this franchise, on every level, let’s collectively agree to enjoy watching this guy grow, even through the inevitable painful spurt. As trite as it may be … Mitchell Robinson’s ceiling really is above the clouds.
About a week and a half ago, I dissected some of the things Robinson had to improve on as the season progressed. One of the things I mentioned was Robinson’s seeming inability to reverse screens when it would be advantageous to do so. So as I’m watching the Raptors game, I was exceedingly happy to see the following play:
HE REVERSED THE SCREEN! Even more evidence the guy is learning quickly. Good stuff.
Until next time!