Mitchell Robinson contract: Predictions for what NY Knicks will do

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Mitchell Robinson throws down two-handed dunk
Mitchell Robinson throws down two-handed dunk

Mitchell Robinson’s third season ended up with more questions than answers. Will he be the starting center of Knicks years from now? Is he still a cornerstone building block?

The seven-foot center was only able to play in 31 games thanks to a fractured right hand suffered in February and a fractured right foot suffered in March. Robinson’s counting stats (8.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks) also took a slight dive, but he’s shown signs of an improved game in meaningful ways.

Entering this offseason, Robinson and the team have reached the most important juncture of their partnership since the Knicks drafted him in the second round of the 2018 NBA Draft.

Robinson has a team option for the 2021-22 season worth $1.8 million. If his option is declined, he will become a restricted free agent. If the Knicks choose to exercise the option, they can negotiate a contract extension for Robinson up until August 1. If an agreement isn’t reached, Robinson would become an unrestricted free agent next offseason.

Improvement over three years

Just 31 games is a small sample size to evaluate Robinson’s third season with the Knicks, but there were some encouraging moments that stood out. He drastically reduced his foul rate, which had become a concern.

After fouling out 15 times in his first two seasons, Robinson didn’t foul out once in his third year. Robinson tried to block everything when he first came into the league. Many of his fouls came from wild gambles or pursuits of shots that he had no possibility of altering or blocking.

A result was that Robinson always found himself out of position, leaving the Knicks susceptible to drop-off passes or offensive rebounds. Robinson dialing back his aggression has led to good things. The Knicks allowed 106.6 points per 100 possessions in the 831 minutes Robinson was on the floor, according to NBA Stats. That result would’ve been the No. 1 defense in the NBA during the regular season. New York also rebounded better as a team when Robinson was on the floor.

He’s a major aerial threat for the team in the pick and roll. Thanks to great hands, athleticism and a 7-foot-4 wingspan, Robinson is able to catch pretty much any type of lob pass thrown in the vicinity of the rim.

According to the NBA Stats page, Robinson converted on 41 alley oops this past season. That accounted for 41 percent of the team’s completed lobs during the regular season. Robinson’s backup, Nerlens Noel, finished fewer alley-oops (39) despite playing 694 more minutes.

Robinson does have his limitations on offense. He rarely attempts shots that are not at the rim. Though he’s flashed some dribble moves and perimeter shooting during previous offseason workouts, none of that work has transformed his game.

Prediction

Before the start of this past season season, it seemed likely that the Knicks could negotiate a new deal with Robinson, but his injury issues make that decision a lot more difficult.

It would make sense for an extension that is around three years and $30-$33 million. It’s also a possibility that both parties would want to hold off for one more season and explore how Robinson looks returning from injury. That would also allow Robinson another chance to grow his value with a strong individual season. However, it does open up the risk for the Knicks of losing Robinson for nothing as an unrestricted free agent.

For Robinson, centers are not en vogue in the NBA. Teams are not paying a premium for big men who can’t shoot from the perimeter or guard multiple positions. A comp for Robinson around the league in terms of skill would be Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela.

The Hawks center has become a premier player on the defensive end, while doing enough as an offensive rebounder and pick and roll partner with All-Star Trae Young. Capela received a five-year, $90 million deal from the Houston Rockets. Capela’s situation was different as he was a more productive pick and roll player and the linchpin of an all-switching Rockets defense.

Robinson isn’t at that level, but it’s a facsimile for what Robinson can become, especially if the Knicks can find ways to space the floor better and improve their ball movement on offense.

A spaced floor will allow Robinson more room to operate in the spread pick-and-roll and realize his value as a rim runner and finisher on offense while protecting the rim on defense.

With Noel and Taj Gibson both free agents, the Knicks don’t have any other options at the center position. The Knicks at times did look good with Noel in the place of Robinson. Still, Robinson is just 23 years old and has room to grow on both ends of the floor.

Though they have the cap space available to pursue other starting caliber centers like Jarrett Allen or Richaun Holmes or keep Noel, it makes sense to hold on to Robinson and keep him long-term.